Hamamelis virginiana, also known as witch hazel, is a species of flowering shrub native to eastern North America. The leaves, bark, and twigs of this plant are processed to create a clear liquid that’s sold commercially as witch hazel. Most of the available witch hazel preparations contain between 14% and 15% denatured alcohol, which can be damaging to the skin. However, witch hazel water does not contain alcohol, which means that it does not cause as much skin dryness.
Witch hazel water is well known for easing inflammation and soothing sensitive skin. It is also used in skin care products because it is a source of several types of antioxidants, including tannins. Tannins are phenolic compounds rich in hydroxy residues that impart astringent properties, resulting in a constricting and drying effect when applied to the skin. They work by cross-linking with proteins in the skin known as keratins, creating an invisible film that can temporarily degrease skin, tighten and tone skin, and minimize the appearance of enlarged pores. Tannins also have antibacterial properties, which can be helpful for those with acne prone skin. It should be noted that tannins can cause sensitization reactions with some people.