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In Praise of Witch Hazel

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It’s tough to find skin care products for my sensitive, acne-prone skin. I’ve tried so many cleansers, scrubs, and toners that don’t work, or worse—drying out or irritating my skin to the point of a breakout. That’s why I love witch hazel. I’ve been using it as a toner and acne treatment for years, and can’t imagine my routine without it. For me, it does a great job of getting rid of excess oil and bacteria that can cause acne without upsetting my complexion. In fact, it even has calming effects.

What is witch hazel?

Witch hazel is a natural astringent extract distilled from the leaves and bark of the witch hazel shrub. Since the substance itself has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, it’s good for treating acne, soothing irritated skin, and reducing puffiness. That makes it a good swap for many toner products on the market—and a gentler one, because it’s free of ingredients that can be too harsh for sensitive types (like salicylic acid and high concentrations of alcohol).

Product options

The all-purpose T.N. Dickinson’s Witch Hazel is my go-to, and the company also makes a product specific to skin care, the Pore Perfecting Toner. Both contain just 14% of naturally-derived alcohol (as a preservative), compared to 40% or more found in many alcohol-based toners and astringents—and that means they’re much less drying. If you’re ultra-sensitive, you can also find alcohol-free versions of witch hazel, like Thayer’s Alcohol-Free Rose Petal Witch Hazel Toner, which has rosewater and smells lightly of roses. Thayer’s is also a good swap for those averse to the scent of witch hazel—it’s distinctively herbal and some people hate it. But I love it! (And the best part: most brands cost less than $10.)

4 ways to use it

There are a gazillion ways to use witch hazel—you can even take it in pill form to treat colds and fevers. Here are some (topical) ways to incorporate it into your beauty routine.

1: Gentle facial toner. Squeeze some on a cotton ball or pad and apply after cleansing (I use it morning and night).

2: Acne spot treatment. I douse a few cotton balls in witch hazel, throw them in the freezer for 5–10 minutes, and hold them on the pimple, for a few minutes and bam! The zit is noticeably smaller the next morning and gone in just a few days. (Repeat the treatment once daily for the best results.)

3: Post-shaving soother. You know those itchy, red bumps that crop up after shaving, especially around the bikini line and underarms? Witch hazel can help prevent and get rid of those, too. Just swipe some on after shaving—its antibacterial properties kill the bacteria that cause irritation. If you have full-on razor burn, a sunburn, or just some really dry patches, it’ll help sooth those ,too.

4: Under eye de-puffer. In the morning, try witch hazel–soaked cotton balls on closed lids for a few minutes. Refrigerate or freeze them first for an extra calming effect.

Photo: I love Photo and Apple. / FLICKR