What Exactly Is Witch Hazel, And Is It Safe To Use On Your Skin?

“Beauty Glossary” is a HuffPost series that breaks down beauty products, techniques, treatments and ingredients so you know exactly what you’re putting onto and into your body. 

A few HuffPost Lifestyle editors keep a bottle of witch hazel in our medicine cabinets, but we have to admit we’re not quite sure how to use it. This clear liquid has been touted as a natural remedy that can treat bug bites and fix puffy eyes. We’ve watched close friends use witch hazel to remove their makeup or mix it with a bit of aloe vera gel to soothe painful sunburns. But is this all a bunch of hype?

Witch hazel is a plant-based topical ingredient often extracted through steam distillation from the bark and leaves of the witch hazel plant, according to Dennis Gross, a New York City-based dermatologist and founder of 900 Fifth Dermatology.

“It’s one of nature’s oldest, and continues to be one of the most effective, beauty ingredients,” says Gross. “Witch hazel extract is a natural toner with anti-irritant properties. The most common use is to remove excess oil deposits in the skin and to clean pores by dissolving any debris.” Hence, the immediate results of a glowing, smoother complexion.

Joyce Park, a dermatology resident at New York University Medical Center, says that witch hazel’s astringent properties cause constriction of body tissues and blood vessels. “This can help under the eyes to reduce puffiness and can tighten pores and reduce breakouts in acne- or rosacea-prone patients,” she explains. The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of witch hazel also help soothe irritated skin, making it great for post-shaving.

The most traditional use for this timeless beauty product is as a toner to restore the pH balance after face washing. But to prevent your skin from drying out or becoming irritated, both dermatologists recommend using witch hazel that comes in an oily vehicle and is alcohol free. Gross adds, “It’s important to remember that any type of over-cleansing puts people at risk for the hazards of over-drying the skin, including breakouts. Anyone with a facial rash should also avoid usage and consult their doctor.”

“Also, since our skin tends to become much drier during the winter months, you can consider switching to a different toner that doesn’t have drying ingredients for this season. Witch hazel is better suited towards oily, acne-prone skin types,” says Park.

Remember these three steps when using witch hazel:

1. Wash your face prior to using this product. Gross points out that this crucial step in your skincare routine sets you up to use other products and more powerful ingredients effectively.

2. Always, always, always use alcohol-free witch hazel! You don’t want to exacerbate dryness or irritation. 

3. Apply a moisturizer, serum and eye cream afterwards. Parks says this is especially key to retain moisture overnight. 

Shop our editors’ picks for witch hazel below.

Thayers Alcohol-Free Lavender Witch Hazel, $7.99; Dickinson’s Alcohol-Free Enhanced Witch Hazel Hydrating Toner, $5.37; Madre Labs Unscented Alcohol-Free Witch Hazel, $6.77


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