There was a time when you couldn’t pay us to use a skin-toning astringent. Ten years ago, toners were notorious for containing a ton of ethanol (a type of alcohol) and being super harsh on the skin, so much so that dermatologists often told us to stay away. But then over the past five years, as toners, essences, and face mists started trickling in from Korea and into the U.S., with gentler ingredients that wouldn’t cause our skin to scream, we decided to give the entire category another chance. And that reconsideration led us to revisit witch hazel, a common and traditional skin-toning ingredient that at one point Allure editors steered clear of. But people have used witch hazel for centuries to soothe and cleanse the skin (and you can’t deny the popularity of Thayers products that contain the stuff), and there’s got to be a reason; which is why we decided to let the experts weigh in, and explain the what, why, and how of incorporating witch hazel into your skin-care routine.
What is witch hazel?
Put simply, it’s a botanical extract derived from a flowering plant found in North America and Japan, according to Erin Gilbert, director of Gilbert Dermatology in Brooklyn, New York. “The of preparations made from its leaves and bark have been used for ages, and it has a number of skin benefits including being soothing, acting as an anti-inflammatory, and having antioxidant properties,” she tells Allure.
Treating acne is one of those benefits, explains Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “It’s commonly used as a means of removing excess oil from the skin, so it can be especially useful in people struggling with acne,” he says. Much like other acne-fighting ingredients, though, witch hazel can be drying to the skin if it’s overused, so Zeichner cautions not to over-apply.
How else can you use it?
Perhaps you’ve heard of its blemish-busting abilities before, but what you might not know about witch hazel is it’s actually used in many hemorrhoid treatments, a little-known fun fact Gilbert shared with us. Why should you care if you don’t have hemorrhoids? Because according to Gilbert, one of her favorite beauty hacks is to use refrigerated medicated hemorrhoid pads or creams to diminish puffy eyes. “It sounds odd, but it works,” she explains.
Other ways you can use witch hazel to your advantage is to prevent razor burn or ingrown hairs, soothe redness and stinging from sunburns, and minimize the appearance of pore size, says Gilbert. For the aforementioned uses, simply deposit some witch hazel solution onto a cotton pad and sweep it across the affected area to feel near-instant relief. Because it’s both calming and clarifying, any irritation is diminished and pores are cleared (kind of like a complexion reset).
Can witch hazel cause adverse skin reactions?
Technically speaking, anyone can have a reaction to just about any ingredient, so it’s always important to patch test on your wrist first to ensure you’re good to go. (Better safe than sorry, right?) That being said, there are actually no reports of side effects from witch hazel, so if you do happen to experience an allergic response of some kind, be sure to contact your doctor, ASAP.
Now, check out witch hazel-containing products we swear by.
If you’ve made the switch to organic skincare or plant-based products and you haven’t revisited your old friend witch hazel yet, it might be time to. It’s one of those ingredients that stands the test of time, much like The Office, witch hazel had a resurgence of popularity in recent years and I’m not mad about it. But if the ’90s were the last time you used witch hazel toner, you might need a little refresher on exactly what it does and how to use it. Below Ava Shamban, M.D., dermatologist and founder of AVA MD and Skin Five Clinics, reminds us of all the reasons why witch hazel always has a place in our products.
- What is witch hazel made of?
- Is toner good for skin?
- Does witch hazel have alcohol?
- What is the best witch hazel for your face?
- 4 Alcohol-Free Witch Hazel Toners
- How often should you use witch hazel toner?
- I tried the popular $10 witch hazel toner that over 3,500 Amazon users swear by — and I get what all the hype is about
- What is it?
- What it’s like to use
- How to use it
- Choose a store to continue
- Witch Hazel Might Just Be the Holy Grail Acne Product Your Skincare Routine Is Missing
- How To Use Witch Hazel As Toner, Because You’ve Probably Been Using It Wrong
What is witch hazel made of?
As Dr. Shamban explains it, witch hazel is derived from a plant or shrub called hamamelis virginiana, and when the extract is mixed with purified water and other ingredients, like aloe or rosewater, it can be a hydrating natural toner for the skin. On its own, witch hazel can soothe itchy skin and inflammation and calm minor acne and other skin irritations. According to Dr. Shamban, when the tannins (a class of astringent molecules) in the witch hazel are applied directly to the skin, they can reduce some kinds of inflammation and swelling as well as fight bacteria.
Is toner good for skin?
Dr. Shamban says toners are great for removing makeup, excess traces of oil, sweat, debris, and some environmental elements from the skin surface—and they do so v. gently. The reason you might have heard otherwise is that there’s a lot of overlap between toners and alcohol-based astringents, which are known to be drying. Not everyone needs to use an astringent—nor should they! Dr. Shamban explains that while toners are intended for most skin types, astringents are created specifically to remove excess oils from the skin and are usually better saved for someone who has an oily form of acne. Or, someone who is regularly exposed to pollution, since they’re more effective at removing sticky substances on the skin. And would you look at that?! Perfect segue into the next question…
Does witch hazel have alcohol?
Witch hazel can be found in both alcohol-free and alcohol-based products. In general, Dr. Shamban says astringents or alcohol-based formulas are okay for those with acne IF (and only if!) they don’t cause any irritation.
What is the best witch hazel for your face?
When choosing a witch hazel product for your skin type, pay close attention to the other ingredients in the formula. An alcohol-based formula isn’t the only option for acne-prone skin; Dr. Shamban also suggests looking for a witch hazel toner containing AHAs or salicylic acid to help exfoliate. If you want more soothing effects from your witch hazel toner, she suggests looking for one that’s blended into an aloe gel.
4 Alcohol-Free Witch Hazel Toners
Thayers Alcohol-Free Witch Hazel Facial Toner amazon.com $8.00 Mario Badescu Rose & Witch Hazel Toner ulta.com $14.00 S.W. Basics Toner dermstore.com $19.99 Boscia Rosewater Mist with Witch Hazel ulta.com $24.00
How often should you use witch hazel toner?
In general, Dr. Shamban says you can use your witch hazel toner anywhere from twice a week to every day, depending on how your skin responds. But when it comes to an alcohol-based astringent, don’t overdo it. Not only can they disrupt the pH, but if you dry out your skin too much, it can lead to an overproduction of oil to compensate, which, of course, totally defeats the purpose.
Related Story Brooke Shunatona Brooke Shunatona is a contributing writer for Cosmopolitan.com.
I tried the popular $10 witch hazel toner that over 3,500 Amazon users swear by — and I get what all the hype is about
- Thayers Rose Petal Witch Hazel Toner has taken the internet by storm — racking up more than 3,700 five-star reviews on Amazon, with many users calling it their “Holy Grail” product.
- Why do people like it? It’s non-drying, gentle but effective, and free from harmful ingredients like parabens and propylene glycol. Plus, it’s under $10.
- I tried the cult-favorite toner and can see why people love it so much — it’s gentle and doesn’t leave my skin feeling tight or stripped.
- Right now it’s cheapest at Amazon ($8.83), but you can also find it at Target, Thrive Market, and Ulta.
In general, “good” skin-care and beauty products aren’t affordable. The rule — whether earned or simply given — is that expensive products are better than less expensive ones. The exception to this, of course, is the handful of outstanding drugstore products that gain notoriety via word-of-mouth and then, seemingly overnight, snowball into a phenomenon.
The $10 Aztec Clay Mask — with nearly 16,000 reviews on Amazon — is one such product.
Thayers Rose Petal Witch Hazel Toner is another. Despite beginning as just another under-$10 product stocked alongside paper clips and floss at retailers like Target and Amazon — the toner has racked up more than 3,700 five-star reviews on Amazon alone, been recommended by Allure, and been called a “Holy Grail” product by users and celebrity makeup artists alike — including Jo Baker, makeup artist to Emmy Rossum, Salma Hayek, and Olivia Wilde. Right now, a different variation of the toner currently takes all three of the top spots on Amazon’s most popular toners. In all of Amazon’s skin-care offerings, it cracks the top five most popular under $25.
What is it?
Thayers’ Rose Petal Witch Hazel Toner is an alcohol-free toner made from witch hazel, aloe vera, and rosewater. Witch hazel, a botanical extract derived from a flowering plant that humans have used medicinally for ages, is known to be soothing, anti-inflammatory, and have antioxidant properties. More colloquially, people often use it to combat acne since it removes excess oil from the skin. That means that, if overused, witch hazel can be drying — a property that’s only exacerbated by the fact that most toners that contain it also tend to include alcohol.
In contrast, Thayers’ Rose Petal Witch Hazel Toner pairs the clarifying properties of witch hazel with rosewater and aloe vera to hydrate the skin. According to Thayers, the formula’s rose petals work twofold: their natural oils and sugars ramp up the skin’s dewiness, while its vitamin C aids collagen production, strengthens the skin, and fades blemishes and scars. Certified organic aloe vera helps pump moisture back into the skin. Altogether, it’s free of alcohol, parabens, and propylene glycol (a potentially irritating synthetic).
Used after cleansing but before moisturizing, the toner will remove excess dirt, oil, makeup, and any residue left over, prep the skin to absorb the rest of the products in your regime (like moisturizers), and both clean and minimize pores.
What it’s like to use
Until I tried the 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine (and the popular Acwell iteration), my experience with toner was isolated to my early teens. Caught in the first wave of serious acne, I had allied myself with a militaristic understanding of skin-care: the more it stung, the more bacteria it must be killing, and the better it must be working. Under that logic, harsh alcoholic astringents became foundational pillars. Spoiler: they did not fix the issues.
Today, you’d probably have to pay me to slather anything that harsh on my skin again. Dermatologists typically agree that most alcohols only serve to dry out the skin, and a more sustainable approach may be feeding healthy bacteria rather than obliterating as many of them as possible indiscriminately. That way, they can self-manage a healthy microbiome on top of your skin — kind of like an immune system — rather than face the world and its pollutants every day anew.
All this meant I was skeptical of an under-$10 toner that claimed to be gentle and effective — even one that was free of alcohol. However, post-personal use, I get the enthusiastic fandom: for me, the Thayers’ Rose Petal Witch Hazel Toner was indeed gentle, relatively non-drying, and did the job of helping clean off the vestiges of earlier cleansers so the rest of my skin-care routine could sink in more effectively. My pores also looked noticeably smaller, and I’ve started using it as an effective spot-treatment to isolate and treat blemishes as they pop up. If you’re looking for a toner, it’s a solid option — and it’s a big bonus that it’s less than $10 for a 12-ounce bottle.
How to use it
To use it, wash your face, pat it dry, and soak either a cotton ball or cleansing pad with the toner. Lightly spread it across your face and neck. If you’re following with essence or moisturizer, let the toner dry before applying other products on top of it. You may want to transition first with once-daily or every-other-day applications, but, typically, toners are fine to use twice daily — depending on how your skin reacts.
My only notes are that, while the fragrance is pleasant and natural, I typically prefer unscented skin-care. Fragrance at best is an unnecessary additive and at worst can hide harmful ingredients under a loosely vetted definition. If you’re like-minded, try Thayers’ Unscented version – it’s the same price and also has witch hazel and aloe vera.
And since it’s always wise to test new skin-care products on smaller and/or less visible patches of the body before dousing your face, you may want to dab toner on your wrist to test your body’s reaction first.
Choose a store to continue
Aloe vera formula. Alcohol-free. Since 1847. Natural remedies. Flower power. Thayers Rose Petal Witch Hazel with Aloe Vera will make your skin bloom. This natural, gentle skin toner is derived from a time-honored Native American formula. Thayers developed this natural toner for healthy-looking skin, adding moisture while helping to protect skin from airborne impurities, and as an alternative to drying astringents. Thayers grown exclusively for Thayers on family farm in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Our unique blend includes filet of Aloe Vera to dehydrate skin and Witch Hazel to tighten pores and smooth skin without drying. Thayers proprietary Witch Hazel is not distilled, thereby maintaining all the beneficial, natural tannins. Alcohol-free. Paraben-free. Phthalate-free. Gluten-free. Rose water. Cleanses. Tones. Cruelty free. The carefully selected, naturally sourced ingredients in this product may have undergone limited processing. Questions or comments? 1-888-Thayer-1. 1-888-842-9371. www.thayers.com. Monday – Friday 8 am to 4 pm EST. Made in USA.
Witch Hazel Might Just Be the Holy Grail Acne Product Your Skincare Routine Is Missing
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.
RELATED: The Best Vitamin C Serums for Younger, Brighter Skin
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.
RELATED: The 9 Best Anti-Aging Products on Amazon Under $20
How To Use Witch Hazel As Toner, Because You’ve Probably Been Using It Wrong
Witch hazel is set to be a hot ingredient for 2019. A longtime staple of the beauty industry, witch hazel has gone in and out of favour with the experts, but reports from Pinterest have shown searches are up 305 percent, meaning there’s a growing interest at the moment. Here’s everything you need to know about the ingredient, from what it is, how it works, and how to use witch hazel as a toner.
So first up — what is it? Well, witch hazel is derived from a flowering plant (Latin name Hammamelis virginiana) native to North America and Japan. The leaves, bark and twigs of the shrub are used to create a liquid that’s marketed as witch hazel in medicine and skincare.
The benefits are pretty numerous too. “The of preparations made from its leaves and bark have been used for ages, and it has a number of skin benefits,” Erin Gilbert, director of Gilbert Dermatology in Brooklyn, New York told Allure. ” being soothing, acting as an anti-inflammatory, and having antioxidant properties.”
In terms of skincare, witch hazel can help with everything from tightening pores to firming the skin (in higher concentrations) thanks to its astringent nature. Witch hazel is commonly used in skincare products targeting oily or combination skin, as it can help to balance and manage oil. Witch hazel doesn’t just help in skincare, however. It has a number of other uses, from diminishing dandruff to soothing sunburn and bug bites.
Skincare pioneers Simple describe witch hazel as “an excellent natural toner that helps to tighten pores.” Indeed, the ingredient has been known to be a brilliant toner, especially for skin on the oily side. Formulas containing witch hazel can be applied to skin with a cotton pad, following cleansing and before serums and moisturisers.
However, witch hazel can be drying and is astringent, so it’s important to be wary. “Witch hazel can indeed help skin when used as a short-term remedy, but long-term use is a problem, no matter your skin type or concern,” warns beauty website Paula’s Choice.
With this in mind, I would recommend using witch hazel up to four times a week rather than every day, in order to give skin a break in-between. I’d also suggest finding a product that features other soothing, moisturising ingredients so as not to dry out the skin. Instead of opting for a straight up witch hazel formula, try one of the following, which feature things like rose, aloe vera, and tea tree.