- Witch hazel is a natural plant extract that is used to treat acne, inflammation and oily skin.
- It is a common, natural astringent ingredient in toner that helps regulate the production of oil in the skin.
- Witch hazel soothes inflamed, irritated and dry skin.
- Witch hazel toners are easy to incorporate into your daily skin care routine.
Witch hazel, or Hamamelis virginiana, is a plant found growing wild on the east coast of the United States. It’s a natural remedy for skin conditions such as acne and inflammation. This extract also helps to tighten the skin and manage overproduction of oil.
Witch hazel is a traditional plant medicine that has been used by Native Americans for hundreds of years. It is available over the counter in distilled liquid, cream and ointment formulations.
Does Witch Hazel for Acne Work?
Witch hazel is a naturally-occurring astringent that helps to dry up excess sebum on the skin. People who use witch hazel for acne use it to fight inflammation and dry acne pustules.
While it seems more likely that witch hazel works best for inflammatory acne, it may also help with non-inflammatory acne. The tannins contained in witch hazel have antioxidant properties and work to tighten pores and draw out excess oil.
Two of the tannins in witch hazel, hamamelitannin and gallic acid, target inflammation. Many people use witch hazel on their skin to relieve the irritation and inflammation associated with mild acne.
People with mild to moderate inflammatory acne may find relief from using witch hazel, and studies have found it to be effective against inflammation. More research is needed to determine witch hazel’s effectiveness for acne.
Witch hazel appears to work in combination with other skin care products, such as witch hazel toners. Toners that contain witch hazel could benefit a number of skin concerns in multiple ways:
- Alleviating inflammation related to skin conditions
- Drying out acne blemishes and tightening the skin
- Removing impurities, makeup and oil from the skin’s surface
- Calming irritated, red skin
WItch hazel’s effects on dry and irritated skin are conflicting and based heavily on anecdotal experiences from people who have used witch hazel toner. Some people report that a topical, distilled witch hazel toner of 5-30% strength, combined with herbal mixtures of the bark and leaves from the witch hazel plant, can relieve dry skin.
On the other hand, some people have reported a worsening of dry skin symptoms with witch hazel use.
Others report that 10% witch hazel moisturizer effectively reduced irritation and redness. This could be because some witch hazel formulations are distilled with alcohol. Alcohol is drying and irritating when used on sensitive skin, so it’s best avoided.
Since one size does not fit all in skin care, it’s best to try witch hazel for a short amount of time to see how it is going to affect your skin.
How To Use Witch Hazel for Acne
Witch hazel is available over-the-counter as a distilled liquid. You can also purchase creams and ointments that contain witch hazel.
If you choose to use witch hazel for acne, it works best as an ingredient in toner. You can purchase pre-made witch hazel toner formulations or you can make your own.
When to use witch hazel
Start out by using witch hazel only once every two to three days. If your skin tends to be oily, it may be appropriate to increase to daily use over time.
You may apply witch hazel either during your morning or evening skin care routine.
Using witch hazel toners for acne
Witch hazel toners are an effective treatment for the inflammation associated with acne. Astringent toners with a high tannin concentration can particularly benefit people whose skin is oily and prone to acne breakouts.
It’s simple to incorporate witch hazel toner into your daily skin care regimen. Here’s how:
- Cleanse your face with a gentle face wash and rinse with warm water
- Moisten a cotton ball or pad with witch hazel toner–don’t saturate
- Starting from the middle of your face, swipe the cotton ball over your skin, moving outward and upward
- Apply your moisturizer of choice
- Continue your usual skin care routine
Who Can Use It?
Witch hazel is best for people with oily, acne prone skin. Its astringent and pore-tightening properties help to fight the inflammation and overproduction of oil associated with acne. Witch hazel toners can also help clear clogged pores–a primary cause of acne breakouts.
Witch hazel can dry the skin out excessively, so people who have dry or sensitive skin should avoid using it. Only those with oily skin should use witch hazel, and it may be best to stick to using it for only short periods of time, with a day or two between applications.
If you think witch hazel may be appropriate for your skin, ask your dermatologist. They will be able to help you determine how often to apply it.
Witch Hazel Side Effects
Generally speaking, witch hazel is considered safe. In some people, however, it may trigger an allergic reaction.
If you experience skin irritation, you may be applying witch hazel too often. Reduce or discontinue use if your skin shows signs of redness or irritation.
Witch hazel toners that contain alcohol could dry out sensitive or already-dry skin. If you’re concerned about irritating your sensitive skin, seek out an alcohol-free toner.
Always check the list of ingredients on the container and patch-test the product before applying it to a broader area of your skin. Patch-testing will help you ensure that you won’t have an allergic reaction to the product.
Currently, there have been no scientifically recorded side effects from witch hazel use. Some anecdotal claims from witch hazel users indicate that it can cause extreme dryness and worsen breakouts, but there is no conclusive evidence to prove these side effects were caused by the witch hazel itself.
These anecdotes are based purely on circumstance. It’s hard to pinpoint what type of formulations and additional ingredients may have been included with the witch hazel.
Can witch hazel make acne worse?
It’s possible that witch hazel could make acne worse if it causes additional skin irritation. If you experience worsening acne after using witch hazel, discontinue use and let your dermatologist know.
If you want to treat your acne naturally but aren’t sure witch hazel is right for your skin, there are alternatives available.
Aloe vera is an effective, plant-derived acne treatment that addresses both breakouts and scars. It’s antioxidant-rich, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial.
Aloe is considered generally safe for use on all skin types and is not likely to cause side effects. It’s available over the counter in formulations such as gel, cream, juice, and cleanser.
Alpha hydroxy acids
Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) such as glycolic acid are often used to treat inflammatory acne. Glycolic acid is available over-the-counter in lower concentrations and is considered safe for most people to use. Higher concentrations are available in prescription form.
AHAs have exfoliating properties and help the skin to retain moisture. They also encourage healthy cell turnover and may minimize the appearance of acne scars.
Benzoyl peroxide is a widely-used, popular acne treatment. It’s available both over-the-counter and as a prescription.
Benzoyl peroxide helps to cleanse and open the pores, and it’s an antimicrobial. It comes in a number of formulations, including creams, gels, toners, moisturizers and cleansers. You may use it as a spot treatment or all-over treatment.
Beta hydroxy acids
Salicylic acid is drying, so if you have dry or sensitive skin, it may not be an optimal treatment for you.
Vitamin A is an antioxidant that may be used to treat acne in multiple ways. It may be taken orally as a dietary supplement or a prescription medication. Topical vitamin A, also called retinol, is a highly effective acne treatment.
Overall, the safest way to use vitamin A for acne is in topical formulations. Oral supplementation requires high doses of A, which may not be effective for treating acne.
Prescription oral vitamin A is a controversial treatment with a high incidence of severe side effects. The safest way to use prescription vitamin A is to only use it for a short time.
Topical vitamin E may help clear acne, but taking vitamin E orally does not appear to help with clearing breakouts. Existing studies on vitamin E for acne involved formulations that contained additional ingredients, so it’s unclear whether vitamin E alone can help clear acne.
Zinc is a mineral that is effective against acne. It’s available in both topical and nutritional supplement form. Zinc works best for mild to moderate acne.
Zinc regulates sebum production and encourages healthy cell turnover. It is also antibacterial and anti-inflammatory.
Witch hazel for acne is a naturally anti-inflammatory astringent that may help some people address mild to moderate acne. It is generally considered safe, although some formulations containing alcohol could irritate or dry the skin.
Witch hazel is easy to incorporate into your skin care routine. Side effects aren’t likely, but if you experience increased irritation or signs of an allergic reaction, stop use and contact your dermatologist.
If witch hazel isn’t right for your skin, other natural alternatives are available, including aloe vera, AHAs, BHAs, benzoyl peroxide, vitamin A, vitamin E and zinc.
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