Acne Treatments - Witch Hazel

Using witch hazel to clear your skin |

According to the bottle of Dickinson's Witch Hazel I have sitting on my bathroom counter, witch hazel:

  • "Is an all natural astringent for [the] face & body"

  • "Cleans & refreshes... naturally!"

  • "Gently tones skin"

  • "Gently cleanses and conditions skin without removing essential moisture"

  • "Cleans deep down to your pores"

  • "Temporarily relieves minor skin irritations due to: minor cuts, minor scrapes, and insect bites"

Okay, wow!

Witch hazel sounds like the perfect solution for all acne sufferers. It's gentle, it cleans, it's natural, and it's even cheap! But, like with all acne treatments, I'm pretty sure many people have been disappointed by what witch hazel claims to be able to do.

(I'm pretty sure almost everyone with acne is familiar with witch hazel because it is commonly recommended as a natural beauty secret or at-home remedy for acne, just like toothpaste.)

Witch Hazel tones and conditions

Witch hazel is a natural astringent with some anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, and anti-whatever benefits. However, how "gentle" it is or how well it "tones" the skin is largely individual. I actually think product labels with the words "tones" and/or "conditions the skin" are pretty misleading because what do toning and conditioning entail anyway? Does witch hazel tone by clearing pores? Or does it condition by evening out blotchiness?

In my opinion, saying that something "tones" or "conditions" is just a nondescript way of saying that XYZ product has the potential to help, but the makers of the product are not really sure if it actually will, so it's just better to say that it will "tone" and "condition" because those are safe, yet highly marketable terms.

Anyway, witch hazel is cheap and easily accessible. You can find many different brands pretty much anywhere (usually found in the aisle with rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, etc). Most people use this as a toner, applying with a cotton ball after cleansing up to, but not more than, twice a day. Witch hazel is also used in a lot of DIY recipes for homemade toners, masks, moisturizers, etc.

Witch hazel has a very distinct smell. I can't put my finger on what it smells like, but there's just a very detectable scent (that I personally cannot stand). Most witch hazel products also have a 14% alcohol content, but alcohol-free ones are also available.

Because of this alcohol content and because of witch hazel's natural astringent properties, witch hazel is probably better suited for those with normal to oily skin. For people with stronger, more tolerant skin types, it may even be too mild. For those with dry or sensitive skin, on the other hand, it may be too harsh.

So does witch hazel actually clear up acne? In my experience (and my sister's), the answer is no. Witch hazel seems to clean and remove traces of dirt and makeup a cleanser didn't wash away (and if "unclean" skin was the cause of your blemishes, then it would make sense that your skin would clear up with witch hazel) but it's not a zit zapper or "miracle" acne cure. It works for some people, but unfortunately not all.

Last updated: October 8, 2012

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