Though I wish I had the type of skin that exuded ‘I-woke-up-like-this,’ Instagram filter-free brilliance — the reality is quite different. Ever since my teenage years, I’ve battled constant, consistent breakouts, specifically around my t-zone. Though the severity of my acne has shifted as my hormones matured, I’ve tried pretty much everything to soothe my ever-sensitive skin. I’ve tested the extreme route, including Accutane and various antibiotics. Though this undoubtedly helped, it also left my pores overly dry and irritated — not to mention the risks it posed internally. I’ve also tried prescription topicals, and basically anything and everything CVS sold.
But then I discovered a power combination that finally left me feeling clear and radiant — and believe it or not — it came from Mother Nature herself: witch hazel. This ingredient in some of my fave all-natural beauty products has been a game-changer in cleansing my pores, removing makeup and preventing breakouts. By using at sundown and sunrise, alongside a blue light device, I’ve been able to find what works for me. Though it took until the age of 30 — and plenty of trial and error — I’m amazed by the impressive difference this seemingly simple addition has made. Here, a guide to witch hazel — along with some uses and products to try yourself at home:
So, what is witch hazel?
Nah, it isn’t a top seller from Salem, Massachusetts. And nope, Sabrina probably didn’t use it to clear up her zits in high school before a date with Harvey. It won’t cast you under a spell — but in my opinion, it is pretty magical. Witch hazel is actually a medicinal shrub that’s found in North America and has been used for generations, according to holistic health expert and best-selling author, Amy Leigh Mercree. “Extracts and teas derived from its bark and leaves have been used to heal numerous ailments including skin conditions for millennia. Native American tribes used the plant frequently for many maladies,” she continued.
You can buy forms of pure witch hazel, which can be quite intense on your pores since it does have a drying property. Or, you can choose a formula that incorporates other vitamins and minerals to soften the exposure. Just be wary of drugstore buys, according to Mercree, who says some include 14 percent alcohol, as well as fragrances and acids. As with any product you apply to your body’s largest organ — our skin! — being mindful of the back label is essential.
Why it wards away breakouts
Witch hazel is one of those antioxidants that anyone with oily or acne-prone skin should consider. As Mercree explains, it contains tannins and polyphenols that protect our pores when applied topically. “These compounds help speed healing and prevent skin cell damage therefore curbing the aging effects of sun and pollutants on skin,” she continues. “Witch hazel is also an anti-inflammatory. It soothes the soreness of sunburns, dandruff, and calms acne flare-ups because of this property.”
Personally, I use witch hazel in the morning under my moisturizer as a toner. And at night time, once I remove my makeup, I use witch hazel to rid of any leftover foundation, mascara, lipstick, you name it — and then apply an anti-aging serum and light-weight, oil-free moisturizer. This ensures my pores are completely clean and protected before I nod off or tackle my overbooked calendar. Marcree explains the astringent qualities of witch hazel is super-helpful, since it clears away oil and sebum that can clog pores and breakouts. She also notes it can dissolve existing build-up, and battle blackheads and whiteheads.
5 ways to make toner with witch hazel
1. Fight sun damage: hibiscus tea toner with witch hazel
Hibiscus is known for its ability to cleanse, tone and balance the skin’s delicate pH. Hibiscus is rich in alpha hydroxy acids that naturally exfoliate and amino acids that provide a tightening effect to the skin without stripping the natural oils (sebum). The tea also has a high vitamin C content, which helps fight sun damage and the signs of aging. Combine 1/4 cup cooled hibiscus tea with 1/4 cup witch hazel and swipe on after cleansing. You can also add 1/2 teaspoon vitamin C powder.
2. Tame oily skin: green tea face mist with witch hazel
Contrary to popular belief, all skin types need a toner. This mist addresses hydration for oily skin without clogging, and tightens pores thanks to the witch hazel.
Combine ingredients in a 4 ounce spritz bottle. Shake before each use to combine.
3. Wipe out breakouts: Toner cleansing pads with witch hazel
The combination of witch hazel and aloe is perfect for a post-exercise wipe down for your face and chest. Combine 1 part aloe to 3 parts witch hazel and stir together until combined. You can also add a couple of drops of essential oils for your skin type, if desired. Stack face pads in a jar and pour the mixture over them. Give it about an hour for the pads to soak up all of the liquid.
4. Soothe skin: Rose water toner with witch hazel
Combine 1/2 cup rose water (you can either make your own or buy it from a health food store) with 1/2 cup witch hazel (make sure it does not have alcohol) and 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice. Stir to combine and transfer to a sealed container. Clean face and remove make-up. Then apply toner with a cotton ball and follow with moisturizer.
5. Lighten age spots: Lemon toner with witch hazel
The best way to use vitamin C on your age spots is lemon juice. The citric acid in lemon juice can help gradually fade the spots and help even your skin tone. Combine the juice from 1/2 lemon + 1/2 cup witch hazel.
Products to try
If you are experiencing pesky flare-ups like me, consider implementing witch hazel into your routine. Though you should start slow since it can be drying, these organic, natural products made for your face and body could improve the overall quality and texture of your pores. Here, a few to consider:
As my personal go-to, this astringent can’t be beat. This USDA organic hydrating toner is made with witch hazel and tea tree, which offers impressive anti-inflammatory features. While the witch hazel balances my oils, the tea tree and willow serve as antibacterial forces to soothe pores. It goes on easy and doesn’t dry out, either!
A gentle, alcohol-free toner that includes soothing rose and aloe vera. Worth it for the aesthetically-pleasing bottle alone!
Don’t forget to give the area below your chin a little TLC. It’s meant to be an anti-aging superstar that smooths your delicate neck and decollete areas. It’s made with what they call a ‘symphony of healing herbs’ — including witch hazel, aloe and other natural ingredients.
If you want to try a witch hazel wash, this is a great place to start. As a foaming gel cleanser using wasabi, witch hazel, aloe and nettle, it digs deep to clear out any impurities, all while soothing your skin.
Replace your old toner with this bad boy, which alleviates many skin concerns — from dehydration and dryness to uneven skin tone. As the name suggests, it’s formulated with vitamin C, witch hazel, peach extract, chamomile and other goodies from the ground. Though it does have an artificial fragrance — the peachy scent will leave you energized!14