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These are the witch hazel benefits you should know about.

By Susan Brickell
Updated January 07, 2019

While it might sound like something you'd imagine to be brewing in a witch's cauldron, witch hazel has been used for centuries to cleanse and soothe skin. Found in many facial toners and great for treating stubborn acne, witch hazel's cult following is growing—evident by the sheer volume of products available on Amazon. There must be a reason for the madness, so we enlisted the help of dermatologists to explain what witch hazel is, and the benefits it can offer your skin.

Witch hazel is a liquid extract derived from the leaves, bark, and twigs of a flowering plant called the witch hazel plant (also known as Hamamelis virginiana shrub), which is common in North America, says Rachel Nazarian, MD, a New York-based dermatologist and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology (FAAD). In its liquid form, topical witch hazel is an antioxidant that can calm irritated skin. It's usually combined in an ethanol base that also removes surface oil and sebum, which is why it's used as a skincare ingredient in acne products, she says.

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Because of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, witch hazel is often used to treat everything from bug bites to pimples. It can help relieve itching and inflammation associated with bites, calm redness and irritation from sunburn, and even be the answer to dandruff and itchy scalp, says New York City-based dermatologist Debra Jaliman, MD. Witch hazel removes excess skin and oil from your scalp before shampooing, and helps inhibit bacteria growth, which is what dandruff normally is, she adds.

The best news? It might just be the holy grail acne product your skincare routine is missing. "When mixed with an alcohol base, it can be used to remove oil from acne-prone skin and to decrease redness from cystic acne lesions," Dr. Nazarian explains.

With a natural acidic pH, witch hazel can be used as a toner for those with sensitive skin, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Most witch hazel products come as solutions, so Dr. Zeichner advises that you saturate a cotton ball, gently rub it over skin, and allow the product to dry.

Dr. Nazarian agrees that as a toner, witch hazel can be very beneficial for those who have excess oil production—however, she does recommend using it in moderation. Witch hazel is a safe ingredient, but it is often used in combination with an astringent base. "Even for people with resilient skin, witch hazel can cause irritation and dryness if used too often," she notes.

If you have sensitive skin, or if you're using witch hazel to treat specific areas of the body that are more sensitive (think: armpits or the groin, like treating hemorrhoids), Dr. Nazarian suggests using witch hazel just once weekly. "If your skin stings or turns red upon use, discontinue immediately."

If you have acne-prone skin and are looking for something to help de-gunk oily pores and reduce breakouts, we've got six dermatologist-approved products to help calm and clear your skin.

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