Witch hazel is a botanical ingredient used in holistic medicine to help treat acne, oily skin, inflammation, open wounds, puffy eyes, sunburn, insect bites, and even varicose veins and hemorrhoids, too.
But is witch hazel a good treatment for people with oily and acne-prone skin?
In this article, I will explain a few things you need to know about witch hazel and why this ingredient is bad for the skin. I will also provide you with a list of alternatives that will actually help you get rid of acne.
Is Witch Hazel Good For Oily & Acne Prone Skin Types?
Witch hazel is a plant that grows wild throughout North America and Asia.
Witch hazel can be found in anything from cleansers, serums, and moisturizers, but it is most commonly spotted in toner-like liquids.
Witch hazel is typically prepared by boiling the leaves and bark in water and then distilling the concoction by mixing it with alcohols such as ethanol, which can already be dehydrating enough to the skin.
“Almost all witch hazel products rely on the skin-damaging type of alcohol to extract the plant for use in skincare. Up to 15 percent of that alcohol remains in the product, and research is clear that much lower amounts than that can trigger skin cell death and barrier damage“
– says Paula Begoun, the woman behind one of my favorite skincare brands – Paula’s Choice.
Additionally, like many plant-derived components, witch hazel is also a source of several antioxidants, many of which benefit the skin short-term, however, one main antioxidant is a group of chemicals known as tannins.
Tannins in witch hazel compress proteins in your skin, causing it to shrink. They do this either by drying or irritating the skin.
This is why astringents are marketed towards folks with oily skin like myself. What tannins do by constricting oily skin is they dry out the oil. Meaning no excess sebum = no shine = perfect makeup application.
However, this is all a temporary effect because oftentimes your skin gets shiny in a few hours after doing your skincare routine and applying your makeup.
Additionally, drying out your skin is never a good idea in the long run. This brings me to the main reason why witch hazel is bad for acne and the skin in general.
The main reason why witch hazel is bad for acne and the skin, in general, is that its drying effect can contribute to barrier damage over a prolonged period of use.
When your skin barrier is damaged, your skin’s ability to function optimally is affected and this, in turn, affects its ability to protect you.
Besides that, an unhealthy and damaged skin barrier cannot function as well as a healthy one, therefore, it is more likely to be susceptible to irritations and allergic reactions and because it’s not healthy.
It doesn’t have the ability to fight inflammation and defend itself against harmful pathogens that are causing the inflammation.
When this happens, everything goes to hell and the skin is desperately trying to protect itself by producing more and more oil in an attempt to lubricate the surface and prevent harmful pathogens from harming it.
This means that eventually, more oiliness and more breakouts will follow the compromised skin.
And this will most likely make you rely on witch hazel even more because you will be desperately trying to dry out your pimples and your excess oil when drying the skin out triggered this problem, to begin with.
Using witch hazel to dry out acne and oily skin is like trying to save a house by prepping the roof while its foundation is collapsing.
2 Witch Hazel Alternatives For Acne-Prone Skin
My go-to acne-fighting, inflammation-reducing, and soothing ingredients are:
My number one ingredient sits at the heart of the solution against the acne battle.
Besides being gentle on your skin, it is an excellent chemical exfoliant that can penetrate deep into the pores and clear them out of excess acne-causing stuff like excess oil and dead skin cells.
This is what clogged skin really needs. The pores need to be cleared out and rid of all the gunk instead of constantly drying out your skin and triggering it to produce more and more of that clogging gunk.
RELATED: Guide to using salicylic acid
Benzoyl peroxide treatment can help moderate to severe acne by eliminating the overgrowth of the acne-causing bacteria in your pores.
It does this by simply infusing your skin with oxygen, which is something a bacterium that lives in the depth of an oxygen-free and clogged pore absolutely hates.
Benzoyl peroxide is a super-efficient ingredient and can work wonders in as low as 2.5% concentration.
In fact, it is the best option if your skin is prone to dryness and irritations because you will enjoy the same effects minus the potential irritation that comes with using products with a higher benzoyl peroxide strength.
RELATED: Guide to using Benzoyl Peroxide
Witch Hazel For Acne FAQs
Below, I will answer a couple of frequently asked questions regarding the effects of witch hazel:
Can Witch Hazel Heal Acne Scars?
Witch hazel doesn’t help post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (which are brown spots left from acne).
It also doesn’t help post-inflammatory erythema (which are red spots left after acne has healed and are most prominent in light skin tones).
And lastly, neither does it help atrophic or depressed acne scarring which is uneven, usually pitted “holes” in areas where the acne was usually severe.
Can You Use Witch Hazel For Body Acne?
While the body skin is generally thicker and more resilient than the facial skin, it is still not a good idea to use witch hazel for body acne as it can have the same drying effect, it may just take longer for you to notice it.
Opt for more reliant acne-fighting ingredients such as salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide for body acne, too, as these ingredients also come in cleanser forms that you can conveniently use while in the shower.
My name is Simone and I am a certified skin specialist. I created this website to teach my readers how to take great care of their skin and I also like to occasionally share my honest opinions on skincare products I’ve tried. You can learn more about me here.
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An extensive, no-nonsense course showing you how to never have acne again, from a licensed Esthetician specializing in oily/acne-prone skin.