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If you're anything like us, when someone talks about witch hazel in skin care, you immediately think of the old-school toner you used back in your middle school days. And while the ingredient may have flown under the radar for the past few years, mark our words, it's poised for a major comeback. So much so, in fact, that it's forecasted to be one of the top beauty trends for 2019, according to Pinterest. (Related: You're About to See Elderberry Skin-Care Products Popping Up Everywhere)
Why is witch hazel back on the scene? Many people are interested in natural remedies, ingredients, and approaches to skin care, which may explain the resurgence, says New York City dermatologist Cindy Bae, M.D. There's also a host of new products touting the ingredient, with all kinds of unique formulations meant to help mitigate its potentially drying side effects (more on that later).
Ahead, everything you need to know about witch hazel and what it can do for your complexion.
What is witch hazel?
"Witch hazel is a botanical extract derived from flowering plants," says Deanne Mraz Robinson, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale New Haven Hospital. What makes it unique is that it contains tannins, naturally occurring compounds that are found in various types of plants. (Yes, these are the same tannins found in grapes and, ultimately, wine.)
What are the skin benefits of witch hazel?
Okay, so why are tannins important for skin? They work as an astringent, absorbing excess oil, explains Dr. Bae, which is why witch hazel is so often used in toners and other mattifying products. (Related: Do I Need to Use a Toner?)
But while that may be a well-known use, witch hazel also has anti-inflammatory properties that make it a good skin-soothing ingredient for redness too, adds Dr. Bae. (This is why it was also traditionally used to calm irritation from caused by insect bites, stings, sunburn, poison ivy, and even hemorrhoids.)
How do I know if I should use it?
The bottom line: Witch hazel can be a great ingredient for certain skin types, but it doesn't necessarily fall into the "everyone can and should use it" category. Have oily or acne-prone skin? Witch hazel is your new BFF, both for those excellent astringent properties and its anti-inflammatory benefits. Not only will it help tamp down excess oil, but it can also help minimize the redness and inflammation that occur when pimples pop up. (Related: The Best Skin-Care Routine for Oily Skin)
That being said, witch hazel is admittedly a somewhat drying ingredient, so Dr. Robinson advises that those with dry, sensitive, or eczema-prone skin avoid it. If your skin is on the more normal to combination side, go ahead and try it, but pick products that don't contain any additional alcohol, so as to mitigate any potentially drying effects, suggests Dr. Bae. The good news is that many brands are going alcohol-free and will label their products as such. But when in doubt, just do a quick scan of the ingredient label. Following any witch hazel-based product with a moisturizer can also help. (Related: 10 of the Best Gel Moisturizers for Oily Skin)
What kind of witch hazel products are best?
Dr. Bae suggests looking for the ingredient in a liquid or pad form, which will be most effective for reaping all of those oil-absorbing and shine-stopping benefits. You can also look for it in combination with other ingredients, not only to help balance it out and make sure it's not too drying, but also to reap even more skin-care benefits. Many formulations now combine witch hazel with hydrating ingredients. (Related: Here's Why Mushrooms Are the New "It" Skin-Care Ingredient)
There's no shortage of witch hazel toners to choose from. A few we like:
You can also find witch hazel in a host of other purifying products:
- SheaTerra Organics Kigelia Neroli CoQ10 Face Toner contains kigelia neroli (an African fruit that helps tone and balance the skin), plus purifying witch hazel, all in an alcohol-free formula. ($24, sheaterraorganics.com)
- Dickinson's Hydrating Toner with Rosewater is also alcohol-free. It has both hyaluronic acid and vitamin E for added hydration, not to mention that it uses an extra-pure version of distilled witch hazel that isn't diluted, so you reap as many benefits as possible. ($6, walmart.com)
- To stop shine and help even skin tone, reach for the new Ole Henriksen Glow2OH Dark Spot Toner, which packs a powerful combo of witch hazel and complexion-brightening glycolic and lactic acids. ($28, sephora.com)
- The InstaNatural Acne Cleanser packs a trio of blemish-busting ingredients: pore-clearing salicylic acid, antibacterial tea tree oil, and, of course, witch hazel. ($17,
- For a deep clean, use the SpaScriptions Peel-Off Black Mask weekly. Charcoal powder pulls out gunk and grime from pores, while witch hazel and green tea soothe any redness or irritation. ($10, globalbeautycare.com)