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Everything You Need to Know About Witch Hazel, According to a Skincare Expert

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Witch hazel is often cited as a go-to product in natural skincare routines, making frequent appearances in Instagram beauty shelfies—but what exactly is witch hazel and how do you know if it’s right for you? According to the medical advice of aesthetician and dermatological nurse Natalie Aguilar, “Witch hazel is a plant widely known for its astringent, anti-inflammatory, and cleansing properties. It’s most popularly used in a liquid form such as a toner. And no, it has nothing to do with spells or magic!” (But it can definitely work magic on your skin).

About the Expert:

LA-based licensed aesthetician and dermatological nurse Natalie Aguilar is a true “skin therapist” who’s worked with Rita Ora, Emma Stone, Alfre Woodard, and Sofia Vergara, to name a few. Her exclusive N4 Skincare studio in West Hollywood is a haven for her celeb clients, and she's an expert on a wide range of skincare treatments and best-of products for every skin concern.

Witch hazel has been a popular skincare solution for everything from acne and minor skin irritations to more severe skin issues like bug bites and poison ivy. Want to know more about this skin-saving natural ingredient? Keep scrolling to find out more about what witch hazel is, and how you can use witch hazel products for your skincare needs.

So, what exactly is witch hazel?

To get technical, witch hazel (or Hamamelis Virginiana) is an essential oil from a shrub native to parts of the U.S. and Canada. It’s often the source of skincare debates (we’ll get to that later), but it’s peaking in popularity once again as a toning solution for acne-prone skin. It acts as an astringent, meaning it contracts and tightens your skin and pores. In other words, witch hazel is mother nature’s toner.

The process for creating witch hazel is pretty simple. First, the liquid is extracted from the plant’s twigs, leaves, and bark. Then, it’s distilled with purified water, and that’s it—natural and simple skin-purifying goodness! Many over-the-counter formulas include rosewater or aloe vera to offset witch hazel's sometimes-stripping properties, while others also include alcohol, which can be too harsh for sensitive skin.

Benefits of witch hazel for skin

There's so many different ways people use witch hazel—here are the most popular uses for healthy, glowing skin. 

Reduce Inflammation: Witch hazel is great for treating acne due to its serious anti-inflammatory properties. It contains biomolecules called tannins which help to reduce swelling, repair broken skin, and even fight bad bacteria when applied directly to the skin.

Minimize Pores: Your pore size is largely due to genetics, but an astringent like witch hazel clears your pores and tightens them, which can help them to appear smaller.

Control Excess Oil: Oily, acne-prone skin can benefit from witch hazel as it controls excess oil which leads to blemishes. However, don’t overdo it! Stripped skin will overcompensate by producing even more oil, which totally defeats the purpose.

Soothe Skin Irritation: This do-it-all ingredient also has uses beyond your beauty routine. It has been used as a natural remedy for everything from treating itching caused by hemorrhoids to reducing varicose veins and scalp irritation. It's also been used to treat skin conditions like cold sores, sunburns, insect bites, and even to soothe diaper rash and razor burns.

Antioxidant Protection: Witch hazel can help preserve your skin by detoxifying harmful pollutants, and it also has antioxidant properties that can protect your skin from future damage.

And while we can't vouch for the benefits of witch hazel as a natural remedy for eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis, or other chronic conditions, we do know it makes for a powerful add to most skincare regimens. Of course, you can and should consult a dermatologist if you're unsure how you can best add or use witch hazel in your routine–with so many different ways to use it, you're sure to find one that works for you.

What skin types can use witch hazel?

“Skin types that benefit the most from witch hazel products are those with oily skin and/or skin prone to breakouts,” says Natalie Aguilar. “I definitely recommend my clients with reactive, dry or dehydrated skin to avoid witch hazel because it can cause irritation.” To discover if this product is right for you, always start with a tiny amount first or conduct a patch test to see if you experience any skin irritation. With this in mind, witch hazel is generally considered safe to use on any skin type.

How to add witch hazel to your skincare routine

Natalie Aguilar has simple advice for incorporating witch hazel into your routine. “Witch Hazel is best used 2-3 times a week, after cleansing, because it removes traces of cleanser, makeup, dirt, or oil. I prefer using witch hazel and other toning-like products immediately after cleansing and not waiting for the skin to dry up." While some still prefer to use witch hazel daily, Natalie says, “I certainly do not recommend using it twice a day, as it can be too drying and can irritate the skin.”

“It’s also important to use witch hazel with a cotton ball [or a reusable pad], as this will ensure the removal of make-up, chlorine, excess oil and sebum, as well as any traces of pollution. This type of application is also preferred so it wipes off excess amounts of witch hazel left on the skin that could lead to irritation.”

3 Witch Hazel Products We Love

You can find witch hazel or witch hazel extract in toners, facial sprays, cleansers, and even lotions. After selecting an appropriate solution (one that’s alcohol-free or not too strong in alcohol), it can be a great way to achieve clear, balanced skin. Check out these recommendations that are sure to upgrade your routine.

1. ORIGINS Super Spot Remover Acne Treatment Gel

ORIGINS Super Spot Remover Acne Treatment Gel
Courtesy of ORIGINS

Like an eraser for blemishes and acne, this lightweight gel combines witch hazel with salicylic acid to keep your pores clean and unclogged. This one’s especially great if you have skin irritation or inflammation, as it’s packed with red algae which helps correct and even out your skin tone. Combined with the anti-inflammatory properties of the witch hazel, your skin will be left soothed, clear, and controlled.

2. MURAD Clarifying Toner

MURAD Clarifying Toner
Courtesy of MURAD

Toner is an essential part of any skincare routine, and if you have acne-prone or oily skin, this luxurious toner has your name on it. Witch hazel tightens pores while cucumber extract calms your skin and gives your complexion a boost of glowy radiance. It has a particularly cooling formula that feels great at the end of a long day, or you can spritz it on in the morning for an energizing, refreshing start to your day.

3. BELIF Witch Hazel Herbal Extract Toner

BELIF Witch Hazel Herbal Extract Toner
Courtesy of BELIF

While witch hazel is usually best-suited for oily skin, this toner is actually designed to hydrate dry or dehydrated skin types without stripping or causing any skin irritation. Moisturizing ingredients and essential oils like jasmine, oat extract, raspberry extract, and chickweed extract help to balance the pore-clearing power of witch hazel in this botanical toner. Simply moisten a cotton pad and swipe it across your face every morning and night for brighter, more balanced skin.

Want more skin-loving ingredients like witch hazel? Take our Beauty Quiz now to get started. Already an Ipster? Refer your friends to earn points, which you can use toward products. Either way, don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and Twitter @IPSY.

About the author
Kindra Moné
Kindra Moné is a writer and content creator who works with brands and magazines to create culturally relevant fashion and beauty content. She is also the founder of The Moné Edit: a community and podcast at the intersection of style and wellness.
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Article Last Updated May 18, 2021 12:00 AM