Witch Hazel: Can It Put a Spell on Your Acne Breakouts for Good?

Jun. 11
One natural way to fight acne may be in a simple herbal extract known as witch hazel. 
When breakouts erupt, it’s never convenient. For those that regularly battle the fight against acne, what you use on your skin makes all the difference in taming redness and pimples. That’s why your skincare arsenal should have what it takes to banish those breakouts.
Witch hazel might just be the next simple and natural thing you need to help you reign over your skin and win with a clearer complexion. Keep reading to learn more about it!
So, What is Witch Hazel Anyway?
First of all, let’s clear up the mystery behind witch hazel. It has nothing to do with witches or sorcery, but the benefits may make you think your skin has indeed undergone a spell of improvement.
Witch hazel is an extract that comes from a shrub called Hamamelis virginiana. Native Americans have been using it for centuries to relieve skin irritation and inflammation. Luckily, you can easily get the benefits of this shrub by simply grabbing a container of this plant in liquid extract form. 
It is made from the leaves, bark, and twigs and distilled. Often, it is combined with other ingredients, usually purified water and alcohol though less-drying formulas are made with aloe and rosewater. 
As for the name ‘witch hazel,’ it is derived from ‘wych’ which means ‘flexible,’ named so for the branches of the plant while the ‘hazel’ is a nod to its similarities to hazelnuts. 
What Can Witch Hazel Do for Skin?
While witch hazel has been used orally for other ailments, there isn’t much evidence that it can be beneficial in that regard. Additionally, it contains tannins that may upset the digestive tract. But applying it directly to the skin has different benefits that can reduce inflammation and irritation. That’s why it can be beneficial to acne-prone skin. 
Turning back to those tannins which may upset your digestive system, on the skin, it’s a whole different story. Tannins are astringent molecules, and when topically used on the skin, they can help calm it down, fight bacteria, and even help repair broken skin. In addition to those tannins, it contains gallic acid and antioxidants which stop inflammation and free radicals.
Witch hazel tends to come in containers that are easily mistaken for rubbing alcohol, though you can find it as an ingredient in lotions and creams. Even with a 10% content of witch hazel, studies found it to be nonirritating, nonstinging, and noncomedogenic. 
What About Witch Hazel and Acne?
Getting back to that acne problem, witch hazel might be beneficial for you if you use it as a toner or in lotions because of its bacteria-fighting properties. It can help the more extreme varieties of inflammatory acne like pustules and cysts as well as noninflammatory forms like blackheads and whiteheads. 
As an astringent, it dries out the blemishes and releases plant-based compounds into the skin to break the vicious breakout cycle. It also tightens up pores and calms skin so with each use of witch hazel, your skin will look less agitated. 
Know the Potential Side Effects of Topical Witch Hazel
Of course, everything has a downside and with witch hazel, it can be very effective for some but for others, not so much. A key example is eczema. It can reduce the inflammation but it doesn’t relieve the itch. 
While witch hazel seems to get rave reviews for use on acne, there are many who find it to dry out the skin too much. That can be problematic since when skin becomes dry, the sebaceous glands begin to churn out more sebum to condition the skin. The dead, flaking skin cells then get trapped in that sebum and lodged into pores where they create further breakouts. 
Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide still top the American Academy of Dermatology’s list for recommended acne treatments, though the studies mentioned earlier do prove this natural ingredient can benefit acne-prone skin. One of the most important factors for how it may affect your skin is to look for a pure formulation of witch hazel. If it contains alcohol or fragrance, chances are that it will irritate your skin and lead to irritation. 
Witch hazel is deemed safe for use on skin but if you’ve never used it before, you can test it out on the inside of your arm. Look for redness, dry skin, or a rash. If nothing materializes after several days, it should be safe to use on your face.
If you have rosacea, sensitive skin, or extreme skin dryness, be sure to check with your dermatologist first to prevent causing further irritation and setbacks for your complexion. 
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