What Is Witch Hazel?
Witch hazel is made from the bark and leaves of the witch hazel shrub, Hamamelis virginiana. Witch hazel is well known for its household cleaning benefits, deterring pests, and of course, its benefits to the skin.
Witch hazel is one of those old-school ingredients that has regained popularity of late. Ask your grandparents, they will probably be familiar with the ingredient. It purported to help control oil production, soothe the skin and act as an astringent.
Normally, witch hazel extract is created by putting the bark and leaves of the plant through a steam distillation process to break down the plant matter and draw out the active chemical compounds.
The use of witch hazel in skin care products is relatively common, and this ingredient can sometimes be found as an extract in facial cleansers or medicated pads used to treat hemorrhoids.
However, it is important to note that witch hazel has not been well studied for its efficacy.
What Are The Components Of Witch Hazel?
Witch hazel is a plant-derived ingredient and as such is a complex mix of a number of different compounds. Below is a discussion of the different components and their potential benefits
Witch hazel is high in tannins, a polyphenol that may reduce inflammation in the skin and works to combat free radicals with its antioxidant properties.
Free radicals are produced by a process called oxidative stress. Free radicals are produced through UV rays, smoking, diet, and pollution. Free radicals may damage the skin, DNA, and collagen.
Plants like witch hazel produce tannins to help them to grow and protect themselves in the wild. Tannins are vital for a plant’s reproduction and regeneration process, and some of those features translate into effective skincare properties that can reduce irritation and balance the skin.
This chemical compound has also been shown to have antibacterial properties which may be helpful for people trying to support the treatment of acne.
However, it is important to understand that most witch hazel that is purchased from a drug store will not contain tannins. This chemical is usually found in the witch hazel extract, and many drug store products only use it in a distilled form, along with many other ingredients.
Witch hazel is a good source of flavonoid compounds. Flavonoids are antioxidants that can have a positive effect on all layers of the skin.
In nature, flavonoids help plants protect themselves from harmful UV rays, and they have the same effect on human skin tissue as well.
On the top layer of the skin, called the epidermis, flavonoids work to combat free radicals that can damage skin cells and lead to aging skin. Just below the epidermis is the middle layer of skin, called the dermis. Flavonoids may help protect the blood vessels that run throughout the dermis, thus allowing the skin to stay better moisturized and well-nourished.
Because of its flavonoid content, studies have been conducted to see whether witch hazel would be an effective treatment for varicose veins or spider veins. While the research is not yet conclusive, the evidence does suggest that this extract may be an effective tool for ensuring the health of blood vessels, especially the vessels that run within the layers of the skin.
Witch hazel is considered to be an astringent, meaning it causes body tissue to contract. An astringent works by constricting the blood vessels or the pores under the surface of the skin. The ability to minimize tissues makes products with this extract a viable option to shrink pores and possibly to get rid of acne.
What Are The Benefits Of Witch Hazel?
The purported benefits of witch hazel include:
Controlling oil production
As witch hazel is an astringent ingredient it may help to minimize the production of the skin’s natural oils.
Witch hazel’s natural soothing and antibacterial properties may help to support the skin’s wound healing process. However, it is important to keep in mind that drying out a wound can slow down healing. There are better alternatives to witch hazel when talking about wound healing.
Witch hazel can be mildly drying. This can be beneficial to the healing of blemishes. This combined with witch hazel’s mild antibacterial and soothing properties may help to support the treatment of blemishes.
Witch hazel is often recommended as an alternative treatment to help dry out cold sores.
The astringent properties of witch hazel help to make the skin appear firmer and make pores seem smaller. While this effect is temporary, the astringent nature of witch hazel may also help to remove excess makeup, dirt, and oils from the skin.
Is Witch Hazel Vegan?
Witch hazel is a vegan ingredient as it is derived from plant-based material.
If you are looking for a vegan product, check with the brand and ensure they are cruelty-free.
What Are the Side Effects of Witch Hazel?
While some people choose to take witch hazel orally for various health concerns, there is no concrete evidence that witch hazel taken orally has any positive effects on the skin.
Still, small amounts of witch hazel taken orally may likely not cause side effects, but using it in large quantities may cause nausea, vomiting, and liver damage that could be fatal.
When used topically, witch hazel does not carry significant side effects, although it can cause an allergic reaction in some people, especially those with sensitive skin
Other than that, the use of witch hazel on the skin does not come with many side effects. If you notice redness, swelling, or excessive dryness of the skin, after using a product with witch hazel extract, you should discontinue use and contact your skincare specialist.
Is Witch Hazel Safe?
Witch hazel has been evaluated by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel is a group responsible for the independent review of the safety and efficacy of skincare and cosmetic ingredients.
Based on the available data the Expert Panel concluded that witch hazel is safe in its current applications and concentrations.
Dawid-Pać R. Medicinal plants used in treatment of inflammatory skin diseases. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 2013;30(3):170-177.
Shenefelt PD. Herbal Treatment for Dermatologic Disorders. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011. Chapter 18.