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Witch hazel is one of the most popular topical herbs and a leading skincare ingredient in the world of beauty. It has a long and remarkable history as a topical extract with anti-inflammatory, cleansing, and calming properties, most often applied to the scalp and skin.
It was first introduced in 1846 by an American chemist and founder of Pond's Extract Company, Theron T. Pond. This magical plant was the superstar ingredient of their first mass-produced skincare product that later became popular worldwide as Pond's Cold Cream. Today, witch hazel has found its way into cleansers and toners of the largest skincare companies, such as L'Oreal, Fenty Skin, Ole Henriksen, Belief, and others.
In this article, we'll talk more about this amazing plant, its uses and benefits, and why you should always have it on hand.
What Is Witch Hazel?
Witch hazel, or Hamamelis virginiana, is a North American flowering shrub that grows in the U.S., southern Canada, and some parts of Japan. It's also known as winter-bloom, characterized by bright yellow and orange blossoms that look like bursting fireworks.
Native Americans used its flexible branches for dowsing – the branches would bend downward to signal water sources underground. They taught this trick to English settlers, and that's how the plant got its interesting name. Historians believe that it's derived from the old English term wych, which means bend.
Witch hazel extract is derived from the leaves, twigs, and bark of the plant, which is most commonly mixed with alcohol and distilled water. In skincare products, it's mostly formulated as alcohol-free preparations, combined with other moisturizing ingredients, such as rose water or aloe vera.
The Top 11 Uses and Benefits of Witch Hazel for Skin
Witch hazel has powerful medicinal properties that can be used in different ways. It owes its healing, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-aging properties to the high content of flavonoids, polyphenols, and tannins [source].
It's most often used for the care and treatment of the skin and scalp, widely known for its soothing effects on sensitive skin [source]. In small amounts, witch hazel extract can be added to herbal teas and inhalation solutions, treating a wide variety of health concerns.
However, we'll focus on its incredible benefits for the skin:
#1: Cleanses the Skin
Packed with tannins, witch hazel acts as a natural astringent and facial cleanser, perfect for those with oily skin. It has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties and is excellent in cleansing pores and removing excess oils without leaving the skin too dry.
You can put some witch hazel on a cotton pad or mix it with your cleansing oil, like jojoba or castor oil, and use it to cleanse your skin.
#2: Treats Acne
In addition to naturally cleansing the pores of sebum and impurities, witch hazel contains flavonoids, procyanidins, and tannins, which have an anti-inflammatory effect, reducing swelling and soothing irritated facial skin [source]. That's why people with acne-prone skin find it very soothing. Witch hazel can prevent the development of acne and blemishes and help heal the existing ones faster.
You can use pure witch hazel extract (alcohol-free) and apply it directly to acne and blemishes using a cotton swab. You could use a toner with witch hazel that will cleanse the pores and condition your skin.
#3: Heals Razor Burns
Thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, witch hazel can be a life-saver for bothersome razor burns and minor cuts. It will help soothe the irritation, redness, and itchiness from razor burns almost instantly.
Put several drops of alcohol-free witch hazel preparation on a cotton pad, and go over the irritated areas on your skin. It can help you heal razor burns after shaving armpits, legs, or face.
#4: Has Anti-Aging Properties
Witch hazel acts as a powerful antioxidant with its high contents of tannins and polyphenols. These antioxidants prevent free radicals damage and act as guardians of your skin [source]. That's why it would be a good idea to include witch hazel into your anti-aging routine.
Alcohol-free toners with witch hazel and aloe vera gel can do wonders for your skin, making it look plump and wrinkle-free. Simply, apply it to your cleansed face with your fingertips or using a cotton pad.
#5: Calms Sensitive Skin
According to research, witch hazel preparations are excellent in providing relief for sensitive skin symptoms, such as irritated, inflamed, or broken skin. It can also calm skin redness, the condition known as erythema [source].
Whether your skin is irritated due to acne or dryness, witch hazel toners can bring you instant relief and reduce redness. You can also try out witch hazel face mists and spray whenever your skin feels tight, dry, or inflamed.
#6: Soothes Itchy Scalp
If you have a sensitive scalp prone to dandruff, witch hazel might become your next best friend. Just like it soothes sensitive facial skin, studies suggest that witch hazel can also provide relief from the itchy and flaky scalp.
Mix several drops of witch hazel extract with jojoba oil or castor oil, apply the mixture to your scalp by gently massaging it. Leave it on for 30 minutes to an hour, and then wash your hair. For best results, you can also add several drops of witch hazel extract to your shampoo.
#7: Helps With Puffy Eyes
There are many causes for puffy eyes and under-eye bags, like allergies, lack of sleep, or some other health issues. Whatever the cause, witch hazel oil can provide instant remedy and relief.
Keep your witch hazel oil in a fridge. Soak two cotton pads with the chilled witch hazel oil and place them under your eyes. Sit back and relax. After 5 to 10 minutes, the puffiness will disappear. Make sure the oil doesn't get in contact with your eyes as it can be irritating.
#8: Acts as a Natural Deodorant
Thanks to its natural astringent and anti-inflammatory properties, witch hazel kills the bacteria under your armpits and removes odors. It's completely natural, and it won't leave any residue on your skin or stain your clothes.
Douse a cotton pad or ball with witch hazel and rub it onto your armpits. Do it after bathing or showering. You can also add several drops of witch hazel extract into your DIY natural deodorant.
#9: Removes Makeup
If you're out of your makeup remover, witch hazel can serve this purpose as well. In fact, it's very efficient in deep cleansing and removing all the excess dirt and makeup of your face.
Add several drops of witch hazel solution to jojoba, almond, or castor oil – whatever you find in your kitchen – and gently massage your face to dissolve all the makeup. Then use a washcloth to wipe it off. If you don't have any oils at hand, you can use your alcohol-free toner with witch hazel and a cotton pad. Just make sure to avoid the area around your eyes.
#10: Heals Bug Bites
With its anti-inflammatory and soothing properties, witch hazel is excellent at calming and healing irritation from bug bites and stings. It'll quickly calm swelling and itching.
Simply, dip a cotton swab into your witch hazel extract and apply directly to the bite. It would help if you cooled it beforehand. You can also make your own insect repellant: Use a half-half solution of witch hazel extract and distilled water. Add about thirty drops of your favorite essential oil, like lavender, eucalyptus, mint, or rosemary. Mix everything together in a spray bottle, and shake before each use.
#11: Reduces Stretch Marks
Research suggests that witch hazel may effectively inhibit enzymes that cause collagen fibers to break, i.e., collagenase. For this reason, it may help prevent the development of stretch marks (and other types of scars) and minimize the appearance of those already there. That's why many women use it post-pregnancy to treat stretch marks.
Mix several drops of witch hazel extract with your favorite massaging oil (jojoba oil, apricot kernel oil, or almond oil), and gently massage the affected area. For best results, let your skin absorb the mixture and don't immediately rinse off.
How to Choose Witch Hazel Skincare Products?
If you're a fan of DIY projects and making your own skincare, you can easily get over-the-counter witch hazel solutions to use for this purpose. You can mix it with other ingredients to treat a specific skin concern. On the other hand, you can purchase some products with witch hazel in them.
In any case, you should pay attention to the product's formula and make sure it's:
Alcohol-free: Alcohol-based skincare products can lead to excessive skin drying and disrupting its natural barrier function. Therefore, look for witch hazel formulas without alcohol, especially if you're buying a product for your face.
With hydrating ingredients: If you have extremely dry skin, you may find witch hazel products too drying. To balance it out, look for witch hazel toners that contain some hydrating ingredients, such as glycerin, aloe vera, hyaluronic acid, panthenol, and others.
Most people can use witch hazel skincare products without any adverse effects. However, some people may be sensitive to it and develop allergic reactions and skin irritations. For this reason, dermatologists recommend doing an initial 24-hour patch test on a smaller area of your skin. If your skin doesn't show any signs of irritation after 24 hours have passed, you can safely apply the product to your face or other larger portions of your skin.
With all the magical skin benefits of witch hazel in mind, you'll probably want to try it out. And you should as it can treat a myriad of skin conditions, from acne and stretch marks to itchy scalp and bug bites.
You can use your witch hazel toner twice a day, depending on your skin condition and how well it can tolerate it. However, no matter your skin type, steer clear of witch hazel toners that contain alcohol. Alcohol can disrupt your skin's PH and natural barrier, leading to worsening of acne and other skin conditions you might have.