Body glitter, Lip Smackers, hair crimpers, and witch hazel for acne. If you grew up in the ’90s, these are just a few of the beloved beauty staples that filled your medicine cabinet. There are some products, however, that don’t pile on the nostalgia: Take toners for instance. Designed to be used after washing, they often stung upon application due to their high level of alcohol. Eventually, these astringents fell out of style in the skincare world because of their overly harsh formulations.
Even though old school toners got a bad rap (and now new and improved formulas are making a major comeback), not all their ingredients are worth leaving in the past. Witch hazel, for example, is having a major resurgence lately, and witch hazel for acne is especially great. Here’s everything you need to know about this blemish-blaster—and why it’s back and better than ever.
What exactly is witch hazel?
Known for its therapeutic properties, witch hazel is derived from the bark and leaves of a flowering shrub found in North America. “Witch hazel contains gallic acid and tannins, which have anti-inflammatory properties,” says dermatologist David Bank, MD, explaining why it’s an ideal option for battling breakouts. “Witch hazel toners and astringents provide a gentle way to remove excess oils and reduce inflammation in acne patients.”
Can everyone benefit from it?
While it’s generally safe for all skin types, it may be more effective if you’re on the oily side. “The tannins and alcohol content of the toners and astringents that it’s added to might be too drying for those with sensitive or dry skin,” says Dr. Bank. To ensure you don’t dehydrate skin, look for formulas that are alcohol-free or have nourishing ingredients such as aloe vera.
How should you use it?
“It’s best used in the form of a toner or cleanser,” advises Dr. Bank. Just like OG toners, the best way to apply witch hazel is with a cotton pad, so sweep it all over your dry face after cleansing and before the rest of your skincare routine. Beyond reducing oil build-up, witch hazel calms and soothes irritated skin. This makes it an effective way to combat body breakouts as well, so rub it on bacne, buttne, or any other pimples popping up in weird places. However, if your skin tends to dry out quickly (read: flakes for days), try using it as a spot treatment instead.
Does it help with other skin conditions?
Witch hazel has been touted as a healing plant for centuries—even Native Americans and early English settlers used it to soothe minor cuts, abrasions, and sores. They weren’t wrong in their thinking since according to Dr. Bank, it can be used today to treat bug bites, sun burns, hemorrhoids, and poison ivy. One thing it won’t help out with? Pre-existing acne scars. Despite its breakout-fighting powers, any permanent indentations or textural changes due to persistent zits needs to be addressed with your derm—not your bottle of witch hazel.
Does it have any negative side effects?
Just like you wouldn’t drench your face in salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide on the reg, don’t go overboard with witch hazel either. Remember: Moderation is key when it comes to anti-acne products. Another thing to keep in mind (especially if your skin can be finicky): “Witch hazel contains eugenol, a fragrance compound that can cause sensitivity,” says Dr. Bank. “So, it’s always a good idea to do a patch test first to make sure you don’t react.”
What are the best products to try?
While there are a ton of great options on the market, here are four standouts products that’ll leave your face happier and clearer than it was before:
Not only is this mist ideal for morning toning and a midday refresh, but it can also be used over makeup as a setting spray.
Its combination of hydrating aloe and antioxidant-rich rosewater leaves behind a clear, more radiant complexion.
These aren’t your average witch hazel wipes: They’re infused with cucumber too, so they help depuff, soothe, and deeply moisturize skin.
Unclog extra-congested pores with this clarifying toner that combines the powers of witch hazel with blemish-busting salicylic acid.
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