Everything You Need to Know About Using Witch Hazel for Your Skin

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Witch hazel is one of those products that can be used for seemingly everything. Have a bug bite? Witch hazel. Dealing with a honking zit? Witch hazel. Skin looking mad oily? Witch hazel. Seriously, if you're not stocking this in your bathroom, you're truly missing out.

Witch hazel, a botanical extract, is a natural skin healer and cleanser. The twigs and bark of the plant contain therapeutic constituents that, when extracted and distilled, create the clear, fragrant, natural astringent that has been known for generations as a natural skin care solution, says New York-based dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD.

Witch hazel extract can be good for all skin types, says David E. Bank, MD, a dermatologist based in Mount Kisco, New York. Just don't go crazy with the stuff. In excess, it can strip moisture, which is why some dermatologists don't recommend it to patients. Bottom line: Listen to your skin and adjust accordingly.

How do you know what kind of witch hazel is best for your skin?

ICYMI, witch hazel can be found in all kinds of products whether they be toners, astringents, serums, cleansers and more. That said, given that there are so many products out there, how do you know which form of witch hazel is best for your skin? 'The best type and quality of witch hazel is also known as hamamelis virginiana', explains Rachel Roff, esthetician, founder and CEO of Urban Skin Rx. 'Witch hazel is a great toner, but I advise only using an alcohol-free or low alcohol formula', she explains.

Just using any product with witch hazel as an ingredient won't magically transform your complexion into blemish-free, glowing skin. You've got to pick a formula with a witch hazel combo that actually suits your skin type if you want the best results. And, for those of you with sensitive skin? It's ideal to choose a witch hazel toner mixed with aloe or rose water, Roff says. 'For acne prone skin, I recommend a formula combined with with salicylic acid or glycolic acid', she adds. Noted!

It's super easy to apply to your skin.

Let's face it: A lot of beauty products out there can be tricky or confusing to apply. That's not the case with witch hazel. 'I typically like to use an organic cotton pad to apply witch hazel to the skin, but you can also spray it on your skin and let it air dry', Roff explains. All you need to do is mist it onto you skin or swipe it on with a cotton pad and boom, you're good to go on to your next step.

However, witch hazel is not for everyone.

For all of the possible ways that witch hazel can benefit your skin, there are some things to note before incorporating it into your skincare routine. 'Most of the witch hazel products are alcohol-based', says Miriam Vega Gonzalez, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Philadelphia. 'That alcohol base has that cooling effect, which most people interpret as calming. And it probably does calm down whatever inflammation they have short term, but there's no long-term benefit.'

And, if you've got super sensitive skin, witch hazel might be a formula that's a little bit irritating for your skin type. 'It has the potential of causing allergic contact dermatitis because witch hazel is plant-derived', Dr. Vega Gonzalez explains. 'It has tannins and eugenol, which are agents that can often cause reactions in people who are allergic to those substances.'

Don't forget to do a quick patch test before using.

That said, you're all good to incorporate witch hazel into your routine if you're not allergic. 'I don't really recommend it in terms of optimal benefits, but It's also not something I tell people to eliminate from their skincare routine', Dr. Vega Gonzalez says.

If you wanna see how your skin will react to witch hazel, your best bet is to either see a dermatologist or do a quick patch test on the back of your hand, neck, or a small section of your face. Don't have a reaction to the product? Great. Feel free to get your witch hazel on! Here's how to tap into its many beauty and medicinal uses, from makeup-removing to sunburn-soothing.

Witch hazel benefit #1: Tones skin

I would suggest using [witch hazel] as a toner for those with normal to oily skin, says Bankits antiseptic properties help zap bacteria. Simply dab a few drops onto a cotton round and rub it over your face after you've cleansed. You can also try a product like Belif Witch Hazel Herbal Extract Toner ($28, Sephora), which contains a blend of herbal extracts like raspberry leaf.

Witch hazel benefit #2: Fights grease

If you're feeling greasier than a pizza man, witch hazel can help dry things out, says Engelman. It helps remove excess oilmaking it a great option for oilier skin types. (Just be sure to moisturize after using to make sure you don't overcorrect and dry out your skin completely.)

Witch hazel benefit #3: Treats acne

Whether you're pregnant (and thus can't use regular acne-fighting products like retinoids and salicylic acid) or you're just more of a natural beauty girl, you should consider trying witch hazel. Because of its ability to remove oil and calm inflammation, witch hazel is a great option, says Engelman. Use as a spot treatment or as a toner.

Witch hazel benefit #4: Prevents razor bumps

Witch hazel's anti-inflammatory properties might be a blessing for your bikini line. It works well at preventing bumps from forming around your hair follicles (and can help heal any you already have, too). After shaving, swipe a witch hazel-soaked cotton ball over freshly shaved skin to keep skin calm and bump- free.

Witch hazel benefit #5: Relieves sunburn

Obvi, you should always wear SPF, but you might miss a spot sometimes. For those (hopefully) rare occasions, witch hazel works wonders to ease sunburn pain thanks to its anti-inflammatory powers. It also has a cooling effect, says Engelman, so it will feel great going on.

Witch hazel benefit #6: Soothes bug bites

For those times when you can't stop scratching, grab witch hazel. Its anti- inflammatory and astringent properties make it great as an anti-itch for bug bites, says Engelman.

Witch hazel benefit #7: Calms poison ivy

Since witch hazel helps with bug-bite itching, it makes sense that it does the same for poison ivy, too. Along with cool compresses and hydrocortisone cream, applying a little witch hazel can help reduce itching and swelling. (But if your poison ivy rash doesn't improve after a week or has blisters, see a doctor for treatment.)

Witch hazel benefit #8: Tightens pores

If your T-zone looks more like a pumice stone than skin, reach for the witch hazel. It's an astringent, which Engleman says can help tighten up pores (making them temporarily look smaller).

Witch hazel benefit #9: Calms redness

Another witch hazel use: banishing pesky redness. Engelman says witch hazel is a vasoconstrictor, meaning that it helps tighten up blood vessels to reduce redness.

Witch hazel benefit #10: Diminishes dandruff

Scalp flakes happen to the best of us. Rather than worry about the snow show on your shoulders, you can try witch hazel as an anti-dandruff treatment, says Engelman (like using it in a shampoo). However, she points out that it's not as effective as common topical anti-fungal medications. If flakiness persists, talk to your derm.

Witch hazel benefit #11: Fights Infection

Another thing to note about witch hazel: It can literally help fight infections from forming on your skin. 'Witch hazel can act as a barrier, preventing inflammation-causing substances from entering your skin cells', Roff says. 'Witch hazel is great for fighting infection because it helps to kill bacteria and also reduces inflammation with its anti-inflammatory properties.' So yeah, if you're looking for a way to soothe a zit you just popped (agh!), ease a swelling, or soothe an open wound, witch hazel is a natural way to do so.

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