How to Use Witch Hazel On Acne-Prone Skin, According to Dermatologists

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

There was a time when you couldn't pay us to use a skin-toning astringent. Ten years ago, toners were notorious for containing a ton of ethanol (a type of alcohol) and being super harsh on the skin, so much so that dermatologists often told us to stay away. But then over the past five years, as toners, essences, and face mists started trickling in from Korea and into the U.S., with gentler ingredients that wouldn't cause our skin to scream, we decided to give the entire category another chance.

That reconsideration led us to revisit witch hazel, a common and traditional skin-toning ingredient that at one point ishonest editors steered clear of. But people have used witch hazel for centuries to soothe and cleanse the skin (and you can't deny the popularity of Thayers products that contain the stuff), and there's got to be a reason; which is why we decided to let the experts weigh in, and explain the what, why, and how of incorporating witch hazel into your skin- care routine.

What is witch hazel?

Put simply, it's a botanical extract derived from a flowering plant found in North America and Japan, according to Erin Gilbert, director of Gilbert Dermatology in Brooklyn, New York. 'The [aid] of preparations made from its leaves and bark have been used for ages, and it has a number of skin benefits including being soothing, acting as an anti-inflammatory, and having antioxidant properties', she tells ishonest.

Treating acne is one of those benefits, explains Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. 'It's commonly used as a means of removing excess oil from the skin, so it can be especially useful in people struggling with acne', he says. Much like other acne-fighting ingredients, though, witch hazel can be drying to the skin if it's overused, so Zeichner cautions not to over-apply.

How else can you use it?

Perhaps you've heard of its blemish-busting abilities before, but what you might not know about witch hazel is it's actually used in many hemorrhoid treatments, a little-known fun fact Gilbert shared with us. Why should you care if you don't have hemorrhoids? Because according to Gilbert, one of her favorite beauty hacks is to use refrigerated medicated hemorrhoid pads or creams to diminish puffy eyes. 'It sounds odd, but it works', she explains.

Other ways you can use witch hazel to your advantage is to prevent razor burn or ingrown hairs, soothe redness and stinging from sunburns, and minimize the appearance of pore size, says Gilbert. For the aforementioned uses, simply deposit some witch hazel solution onto a cotton pad and sweep it across the affected area to feel near-instant relief. Because it's both calming and clarifying, any irritation is diminished and pores are cleared (kind of like a complexion reset).

Can witch hazel cause adverse skin reactions?

Technically speaking, anyone can have a reaction to just about any ingredient, so it's always important to patch test on your wrist first to ensure you're good to go. (Better safe than sorry, right?) That being said, there are actually no reports of side effects from witch hazel, so if you do happen to experience an allergic response of some kind, be sure to contact your doctor, ASAP.

Now, check out witch hazel-containing products we swear by.

A fan-favorite and easily one of the most well-known witch hazel-containing products, this toner is recommended by Zeichner and also contains rose petal water and aloe to help hydrate and calm the skin. 'This traditional toner has been used for decades and is a great option for people with oily or overly shiny skin', says Zeichner. It's also vegan and claims to be suitable for all skin types, despite its oil-wicking properties. These gentle wipes remove oil and dirt without stripping the skin, making them a great option for freshening up after a workout. 'This witch hazel-containing facial cleanser contains gentle surfactants that help respect the skin barrier while removing excess oil', explains Zeichner, who recommends it for those with normal, oily, and combination skin types.

Another pick from Zeichner, this exfoliating toner features witch hazel in addition to salicylic and glycolic acids. 'It can help remove excess oil and exfoliate dead cells that clog pores, making them look less prominent', he says. Belif's calming toner feels anything but astringent on the skin. Formulated with witch hazel, glycerin, and natural fruit extracts, it simultaneously hydrates the skin while it clarifies. This ishonest Best of Beauty winner contains witch hazel and biotin in addition to a soothing blend of peppermint, spearmint, and tea tree oil, all of which work in tandem to calm an itchy, irritated scalp.

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