Witch Hazel Is the Underrated Ingredient Your Acne Needs

Dermatologists weigh in on the many benefits of using witch hazel for skin.

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Bowl with natural cosmetics creme and yellow blooming witch hazel (Hamamelis), medical plant for skin care and alternative medicine, light gray background, copy space, high angle view from above
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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.

Best Witch Hazel Products, According to Dermatologists

Humphreys Calm & Clarify: Witch Hazel + Lavender Organic Toner

witch-hazel-Humphreys Calm and Clarify Witch Hazel and Lavender Organic Toner

"We have been using Humphreys toners at our office for years," says Dr. Engelman. "We love using this toner to prep the skin for facials and treatments and it smells divine. Humphreys does a great job with their formulations and has very high standards for their product development, which I appreciate."

Thayers Alcohol-Free Rose Petal Witch Hazel Facial Toner

witch-hazel-Thayers Alcohol-Free Rose Petal Witch Hazel Facial Toner

"The Thayers toner contains its organic witch hazel that is slow-processed without heat or alcohol in order to retain more tannins, therefore bringing about increased skin benefits," explains Dr. Murphy-Rose. "This toner also contains skin-soothing aloe."

Dickinson's Original Witch Hazel, Refreshingly Clean Cleansing Cloths

witch-hazel-Dickinson's Original Witch Hazel, Refreshingly Clean Cleansing Cloths

"These cloths are a great grab-and-go product that I carry with me all summer," says Dr. Engelman. "They are perfect for soothing bug bites, and I use them on my kids during the summer."

Differin Pore Minimizing Toner with Witch Hazel

witch-hazel-Differin Pore Minimizing Toner with Witch Hazel

"Another great toner is the Differin Pore-Minimizing Toner with Witch Hazel that soothes skin and clears pores while reducing excess oil without stripping," says Dr. Murphy-Rose.

M-61 PowerSpot Moisturizer

witch-hazel-M-61 PowerSpot Moisturizer

"For those who are prone to breakouts, this lightweight moisturizer is great," says Dr. Engelman. "It contains salicylic, glycolic, witch hazel, tea tree, which are all great ingredients for balancing and soothing blemish-prone skin."

Juara Clove Flower and Turmeric Anti-Aging Serum

witch-hazel-Juara Clove Flower and Turmeric Anti-Aging Serum

"In addition to witch hazel, this antioxidant botanical serum contains anti-inflammatory turmeric, skin-brightening clover flower, and hydrating watermelon and sea algae," says Dr. Murphy-Rose.

Glo Skin Beauty Phyto-Active Conditioning Oil Drops

witch-hazel-Glo Skin Beauty Phyto-Active Conditioning Oil Drops

"This is a beautiful conditioning oil for locking in moisture and giving the skin a healthy glow," says Dr. Engelman. "It contains a blend of plant stem cell technology, squalane, witch hazel, and a jojoba and argan oil blend to leave the skin revitalized."

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  2. Chularojanamontri L, Tuchinda P, Kulthanan K, et al. Moisturizers for acne: What are their constituents?. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2014;7(5):36-44.

  3. Trüeb RM. North American Virginian Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana): Based scalp care and protection for sensitive scalp, red scalp, and scalp burn-Out. Int J Trichology. 2014 Jul;6(3):100-3. doi: 10.4103/0974-7753.139079.

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