The Benefits of Witch Hazel for Your Skin

Can the time-tested astringent actually minimize the appearance of pores?

flowering witch hazel hamamelis, dried leaves, cream and essence for homemade skin care cosmetics and bath additive, isolated with shadow on a white background
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Hamamelis virginiana, commonly known as witch hazel, is a flowering shrub that is native to the Atlantic coast of North America. With its beautiful yellow flowers that bloom in the autumn season after its leaves fall, witch hazel is truly a unique plant.

“The twigs and bark of the witch hazel plant contain therapeutic constituents that when extracted and distilled create the clear, fragrant, natural astringent that has been known for generations as a natural skin solution,” says Dendy Engelman, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and director of dermatologic surgery at Metropolitan Hospital in New York City. In fact, witch hazel’s uses can be dated back to the Indigenous Americans, who used it as a remedy for minor wounds and irritations.

Now, when it comes to skincare, witch hazel is most commonly incorporated into liquid solutions like toners, which claim to minimize the appearance of pores, tighten skin and relive irritation. We asked top dermatologists to break down the known benefits of witch hazel and the best ways to incorporate it into your routine below.

What are the benefits of witch hazel for skin?

Witch hazel extract has long been used for its astringent and anti-inflammatory benefits. It is a "gentle skincare solution to cleanse, soothe and heal skin," says Kavita Mariwalla, M.D., double board-certified dermatologist and Mons surgeon at Mariwalla Dermatology in New York. Here's what the skincare ingredient can do:

1. It can shrink the look of pores.

      The twigs and bark of the witch hazel shrub contain tannins, which are compounds that bind and precipitate proteins and contribute to the astringent properties. When topically applied to the skin, tannins can shrink or constrict skin tissue, making skin feel tighter and making pores appear smaller.

      2. It can depuff skin.

      The tannins in witch hazel can make the skin under eyes look less puffy. "One of my favorite benefits of witch hazel is its depuffing properties, which are especially great during allergy season," says Dr. Mariwalla.

      3. It can relive skin irritation.

      Witch hazel's tannins can help reduce irritation. Under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Skin Protectant Monograph, witch hazel is also an approved active ingredient for over-the-counter astringent products to relieve minor skin irritations due to insect bites, minor cuts and scrapes.

      4. It can remove excess oil.

      Witch hazel is traditionally distilled from the twigs and the bark of the shrub with the help of alcohol. The alcohol in the formula from the distillation process can help reduce oil and shine.

      5. It can soothe skin inflammation.

      Witch hazel's tannins are powerful antioxidants. These antioxidants neutralize free radicals found on the skin from environmental stressors like pollution and provide anti-inflammatory benefits such as reducing redness.

      Are there any risks or potential side effects?

      "While witch hazel is generally a safe ingredient, it can potentially cause irritation if overused," says Dr. Mariwalla. Dr. Engelman adds, "some might also find it to be drying." If you have dry skin or want to minimize any potential effects, try an alcohol-free witch hazel astringent or a toner made specifically for dry skin, formulated with soothing aloe or nourishing rose water.

      What's the best way to use witch hazel in your skincare routine?

      Witch hazel "is known to be a multitasker that helps prep your skin for the day or remove traces of makeup after cleansing," says Dr. Mariwalla. It's easy to add to your skincare routine: "Apply witch hazel toner to clean, dry skin with a cotton ball or round and then continue with the rest of your skincare as usual," says Dr. Engelman. Start with once daily use and decrease or increase usage as tolerated.

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