Witch Hazel Is the Underrated Ingredient Your Acne Needs
There's a reason why witch hazel has been used for centuries as a natural skin remedy—it's a powerhouse ingredient that possesses a plethora of benefits for your complexion. It even carries a prominent reputation as the natural solution to acne. We asked two dermatologists to answer all your questions about witch hazel—its benefits, drawbacks, whether it actually helps reduce acne, and much more.
What is witch hazel?
Witch hazel is a plant extract that comes from the leaves and bark of the Hamamelis virginiana plant. It's been known for generations as a natural skincare solution, and is extracted and distilled to create a clear, fragrant liquid.
What are the benefits of witch hazel for skin?
Witch hazel is a very popular astringent that can be used to treat anything from bug bites to first aid because of its antiseptic properties, says Dendy Engelman, MD, board-certified dermatologist. "It also helps reduce inflammation. So, for example, if you experience razor bumps, witch hazel is a great option to treat that issue," she says.
The active chemical compounds in witch hazel have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties, which can help to temporarily minimize the appearance of large pores and redness. "It is also a natural astringent that reduces oil on the skin (which can be great for oily skin, and not great for dry skin)," says Blair Murphy-Rose, MD, board-certified dermatologist. "Witch hazel has even been used to soothe skin conditions and reduce the itch." It's a great multitasker: You can also use witch hazel to relieve a sunburn, calm poison ivy, and even alleviate bug bites.
Does witch hazel help with acne?
Short answer: Yes! Considering witch hazel has anti-inflammatory, cooling, and oil-reducing properties, it makes a great option for those with acne—especially people who can't use retinoids or salicylic acid. "Witch hazel is a natural astringent, so it can help remove excess oil, has both anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties to reduce inflammation, and cuts down on acne-causing bacteria in the skin," says Dr. Murphy-Rose.
Does witch hazel have side effects?
For the most part, witch hazel is generally very well tolerated and won't aggravate the skin. However, Dr. Engelman notes that there's always a small chance that your skin may be reactive to the ingredient, as is possible with any ingredient.
Another thing to note: Even though witch hazel has anti-inflammatory properties, it can cause dryness, so it probably isn't an ideal ingredient for already very dry skin. "Witch hazel may be also formulated with other ingredients that can irritate the skin," adds Dr. Murphy-Rose. "It is always wise to perform a small test spot on your skin (like on your wrist) and wait a few days before using it on your face." Those with dry or sensitive skin may be more likely to experience adverse reactions to witch hazel, so a test spot is especially important.
When should you apply witch hazel?
You can apply pure witch hazel to your face immediately after cleansing. If using a product that contains witch hazel in it, like serum or toner, it can be applied after cleansing and before moisturizing. "For hair products containing witch hazel, the best time to use it is when the product will have the most time to be in contact with the scalp," says Dr. Murphy-Rose.