Skin care trends come and go, but one ingredient that has truly stood the test of time is witch hazel. While this botanical ingredient has been around and on the skin care radar for quite some time, it has recently made a resurgence in popularity. According to Google Trends, the search for witch hazel has been on the rise in 2023, with the breakout question "what is witch hazel good for?" and the phrase "witch hazel for hemorrhoids cure" rising a whopping 550 percent. Not to mention, TikTok has jumped in on the action, too — #witchhazel has almost 72 million views on the social media platform.
And all of this buzz might be for good reason, experts say this ingredient has a plethora of benefits, from being an antioxidant to its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. So we asked ourselves, what are the best ways to use witch hazel? That's why we consulted two board-certified dermatologists to help us break down this popular ingredient.
What is witch hazel?
In case you were wondering what this ingredient with a mystical name even is, Dr. Gabriella Vasile, a board-certified dermatologist in Georgia and South Carolina, says it comes from the plant, Hamamelis virginiana, contains tannins and has been used as a natural remedy for decades. However, she says it's only FDA-approved to be used topically.
"Tannins, which are extracted from the plant’s bark, are thought to play a role in the therapeutic effect of witch hazel. Tannins act as an astringent, causing contraction of tissue in the outer layers of the skin, thus keeping the internal environment protected. Thus, witch hazel acts more on the skin surface and isn’t absorbed systemically," says Vasile.
What are the benefits of witch hazel for your skin?
Experts agree that the skin care benefits of the astringent are endless. Several dermatologists previously told Shop TODAY that witch hazel is a popular ingredient used in toner since they say it can tighten pores, reduce acne inflammation and control your skin's PH and oil balance. However, derms say it can also be used on your skin as more than just a toner.
New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Marisa Garshick explains that the anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties of witch hazel make it helpful in not just treating acne, adding that it can soothe post-shave-irritation and other first aid care. "Because it is an antiseptic, it can be used to help with the healing of minor cuts and scrapes. By helping to soothe the skin and calm inflammation, witch hazel can also be used for bug bites," says Garshick.
Vasile notes that while you should always be using your SPF, witch hazel can have a calming effect on sunburns. "The polyphenols and antioxidant properties can help to reduce photo-aging and sunburn by protecting the skin against oxidative stress and inflammation," says Vasile.
What else can you use witch hazel for?
Google Trends was showing an overwhelming search interest in using witch hazel for hemorrhoids (and during pregnancy). That's because the anti-inflammatory properties of the ingredient strike again; both dermatologists agree that applying it can reduce the swelling that's associated with hemorrhoids, but Vasile notes to consult with your doctor first before you use any new treatment during pregnancy.
"Witch hazel constricts the enlarged vessel, reducing swelling and pain associated with hemorrhoids," says Vasile.
And that's not all, Vasile explains that although it's not quite as effective as prescription treatments, it can also help with a certain scalp condition. "Its anti-microbial properties can also help to reduce the yeast that leads to dandruff, or seborrheic dermatitis," she says.
From toners to lotions to wipes, Garshick also notes that because this ingredient comes in a variety of forms, it can easily be used and applied to sensitive areas of your body to help you achieve the desired effect, ultimately reaping the many benefits.
Is this ingredient safe for everyone?
While experts say anyone can benefit from witch hazel, you might want to think about your skin type first. "It is especially important for those with dry or sensitive skin to use an alcohol-free witch hazel product to minimize the potential for dryness or irritation," says Garshick.
Vasile agrees and recommends to use it with caution since it can be drying over time and lead to sensitivity if over-used. She also explains that because of its oil-reducing and de-greasing effects, it tends to work better on oily skin. If you do have dry skin, Vasile says there are many great alternatives that are healthy for your skin, such as niacinamide.
But if you were wondering if you can use it with your other products, Garshick notes that you can combine ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin or aloe vera can be hydrating and soothing to your skin.
Best products for witch hazel, according to reviews
If you're looking for a good place to start, this product from T.N. Dickinson's is made from 100 percent natural witch hazel and can be used on both your face and body, according to the brand. It also has almost 7,000 Amazon reviews and an average 4.6 rating, many verified reviewers said that it wasn't harsh on their skin. However, one thing to note is that this product has 14 percent alcohol listed as an ingredient.
The same company also offers the product in wipe form infused with aloe leaf juice. The brand says these cleansing cloths are perfect for quickly refreshing your skin, minor irritations and soothing skin conditions. With a five-star rating at Target, one reviewer wrote, "I keep them in my gym bag to clean my face after hot yoga. It has made a difference and I see less breakouts since using them. They don’t smell nor leave me feeling sticky."
Reviewers swear by this alcohol-free facial toner from Thayers. In fact, it has over 115,000 ratings on Amazon. According to the brand, this toner can help maintain the skin's moisture barrier, balance the pH and oil on the skin and minimize the appearance of pores. One verified reviewer wrote, "I love this product. I have dry skin and this is very gentle on my face. It removes the remnants of my makeup without stripping all the oils leaving my face with some moisture."
According to dermatologists, Differin is a popular over-the-counter brand to help treat acne. So it's no surprise that this witch hazel toner has almost 9,000 Amazon ratings. According to the brand, other ingredients include vitamin B, rose hip extract, aloe and chamomile to help unclog pores while maintaining moisture and soothing the skin.
If you have dry and sensitive skin but still want to incorporate witch hazel into your routine, this thick moisturizer contains the botanical ingredient, along with hemp seed oil and vitamin C, says the brand. Many Target reviewers said they loved that it was fragrance-free and one wrote how it's the only product that works for her combination skin, "I have not had any issues with my face since I started using it. Are usually get really dry near my chin and on my forehead and then oily in other places but it has evened my skin and makes it feel amazing!"
According to the brand, this witch hazel toner is alcohol-free and infused with rosewater to help reduce fine lines and hyperpigmentation of the skin. With over 4,000 Amazon ratings, one verified reviewer said it even helped with hormonal acne, "this is the first product I have found that has actually made a difference. When used regularly, my skin stays clear and my overall complexion has improved greatly. Even those nasty 'once a month' zits have stayed away."
Since dermatologists say you can combine witch hazel with other skin-loving ingredients, this spray toner might be one to add to your routine. According to the brand, the main ingredient is vitamin C but it's also infused with witch hazel, MSM and lavender oil to calm irritation, redness, as well as balance oil and provide brighter and healthier-looking skin.
Meet our experts
- Dr. Marisa Garshick, M.D. FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology, serving patients in New York City and Clifton, New Jersey.
- Dr. Gabriella Vasile, D.O. FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist and board-certified Mohs surgeon at Goodman Dermatology, serving patients in Atlanta, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina.