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Witch Hazel Might Be the Only Product You Need to De-Grease Your T-Zone

Photo by Delmaine Donson/Getty Images

As you may well know, there’s a fine, fine balance between achieving a gorgeous, glowing complexion and walking around with a forehead that looks like an oil slick. So, how can you de-grease without wreaking havoc on the rest of your face? You’ve got options (thank goodness!). While the use of harsh toners and astringents are typically frowned upon, the reemergence of gentle, alcohol-free formulas have piqued the interest of skincare aficionados everywhere; so much so that those who don’t suffer from oily or acne-prone skin have begun to incorporate facial toners and essences into their beauty routines. With the re-introduction of these formulas has also emerged a popular ingredient that’s not new to the skincare game: witch hazel. Whether this is your first time hearing about witch hazel or you completely forgot that it existed, you’ve come to the right place. This botanical extract has been used to cleanse and soothe skin for ages, and it’s especially beneficial for those with oily, pimple-prone skin due to its active tannins, which act as antioxidants.

If you’ve got oily skin, can using a witch hazel toner keep your complexion clean and clear? It just might. Many skincare products incorporate witch hazel, often combining it with powerful acne-fighting ingredients like tea tree oil and soothing components like rose petal essence, to absorb excess shine and soothe inflamed pimples.

If you want to banish bad breakouts without overdrying your complexion, read on to discover all the benefits witch hazel has to offer.

About the Expert:

Marina Peredo, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist at Skinfluence Dermatology in New York City and consultant for Dickinson Brands, the world’s leading producer of witch hazel products.

What is witch hazel exactly?

Witch hazel, AKA Hamamelis virginiana, is an extract that comes from a flowering plant that’s commonly found in North America and Japan. This ingredient is best known for its skin-soothing, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. “Benefits include trapping dirt and oils and preventing breakouts for a flawless complexion,” says Marina Peredo, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist in New York City and consultant for Dickinson Brands, the world’s leading producer of witch hazel products. As amazing as witch hazel is for acne-prone skin, its soothing properties do more than just treat breakouts: It is often found in creams, ointments, and products that treat everything from bug bites to sunburns to even hemorrhoids.

How can witch hazel clear up acne?

1. Witch hazel can stop excess oil in its tracks.

You’ll be happy to hear this: Your shiny T-zone doesn’t stand a chance against witch hazel. Many who suffer from oily, acne-prone skin get stuck in a vicious cycle where their attempts to dry out their skin actually kicks their oil glands into overdrive, leading to excess oil production. “Some toners can eliminate moisture completely, leaving your skin dry and flaky,” says Dr. Peredo. Rather than completely depriving your skin of moisture, try balancing the pH of your complexion instead. This means you still need to hydrate. “Witch hazel helps to eliminate excess oil and moisture without overdrying your skin,” says Dr. Peredo. 

2. It can tone and cleanse your skin when you’re on the go and can’t get to a sink. 

“Witch hazel is a natural toner,” says Dr. Peredo, who recommends using it like a facial cleanser when you’re on the move. Witch hazel toners are especially great for tossing in your gym bag to use post-workout; a few swipes, and it will keep sweat and excess oil from clogging pores after your sweat sesh. “You can keep acne away by using it to remove excess moisture and oil without overdrying skin,” says Dr. Peredo.

3. Witch hazel locks in moisture.

Witch hazel has two awesome, moisture-boosting properties: It balances oil production and improves the skin barrier. Locking in hydration is crucial for keeping your oil glands in check, and as an added bonus, witch hazel is alcohol-free (so it’s easier on your skin). What results is a gentler way to combat acne, especially for those with sensitive skin who can’t handle intense acne treatments like salicylic acid. “While witch hazel has mild astringent properties, it also helps to seal in moisture,” says Dr. Peredo, who tells her clients to reach for DICKINSON’S Original Witch Hazel Pore Perfecting Toner after a shower to enjoy its hydrating benefits. Follow it up with a moisturizer to ensure lasting hydration without excess shine.

4. Witch hazel can shrink zits.

By now we know that witch hazel can absorb excess oil and banish blemishes, but its acne-fighting benefits don’t stop there. In fact, the calming, anti-inflammatory properties of witch hazel can help you reduce the size of pimples, which makes it a powerful acne treatment in its own right. Simply apply witch hazel on a clean cotton pad and swipe it over the affected area to give your skin the pimple-fighting TLC it needs (especially when you’ve got a date, interview, or event lined up and you could use some help!).

How do I use witch hazel for acne?

The easiest way to use witch hazel for acne is to incorporate it in your skin as a facial toner. Used this way, witch hazel can help balance your skin and remove excess oil before it has a chance to clog your pores and lead to breakouts. Simply saturate a cotton pad and swipe it across your face, focusing on areas that are prone to increased oil production, like your T-zone. Unlike harsh toners or astringents that contain alcohol, witch hazel “is very gentle and does not strip the skin of important nutrients,” says Dr. Peredo. We like to think of it as a fancy facial essence you would find at the counter of a high-end department store—without the hefty price tag. “It feels like a very luxurious product at an incredible price point,” says Dr. Peredo. You can also reach for cleansers, face masks, and exfoliants that contain witch hazel.

Are there any side effects I should know about?

Witch hazel is suitable for both sensitive and acne-prone skin, which makes it a great go-to for practically everyone (the exception being those with dry skin). It works “for essentially every skin type and is affordable for everyday use,” says Dr. Peredo. And while witch hazel is a safe solution for most complexions, if you’ve never used witch hazel before, it’s best to do a patch test (as you would before incorporating any new product into your skincare routine). It’s also worth noting that if you have a skin condition like eczema, witch hazel unfortunately won’t relieve the itching associated with the condition.

While witch hazel can nix the shine from your complexion, it is possible to overdo it; so start incorporating witch hazel into your routine slowly to ensure you don’t dry out your skin.

What are the best witch hazel products for acne?

1. GENERATION CLAY Detoxifying Charcoal Australian Clay Mask

Detox your complexion with a mattifying mask that’s the next-best thing to an at-home facial. A combination of charcoal and witch hazel work together to draw out product build-up (we’ve all got it!) and excess oil to keep blackheads and whiteheads away—and Ipsters especially love the way it shrinks pores: “I love how small my pores looked after using this mask,” says one fan. Another raves, “I love clay masks. My face always looks so clear and bright after. I could see this one pulling the impurities out of my nose and chin, which are my problem spots.”

2. GEORGETTE KLINGER Volcanic Mineral Scrub

Slough off dead skin cells and pore-clogging bacteria with this exfoliating scrub that will leave your face feeling smooth, clean, and shine-free. This scrub contains a unique combination of volcanic minerals, green tea, aloe vera, and witch hazel. “Smells good and made my skin feel extra clean,” says one Ipster. 

3. SUNDAY RILEY Martian Mattifying Melting Water-Gel Toner

If you want to wave your zits goodbye, reach for this powerful concoction that contains bentonite clay, green tea, witch hazel, and marshmallow extract to reduce redness, soak up excess oil, and shrink pores, The result? A smooth, more matte complexion you love. “Absolutely one of my favorite products ever!! Worked great on my oily acne prone skin,” says one Ipster. “This stuff is freaking amazing. The smell is clean and it is fantastic at oil control,” raves another.

Witch hazel is a superhero ingredient that can banish blemishes and keep oily skin in check, all while offering soothing, hydrating properties that are made even more effective when used alongside chemical exfoliants like AHAs and BHAs. It’s time to buddy up with witch hazel to clear out your pores and leave your greasy days behind you.

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About the author
Katrina Mitzeliotis Lanza
Katrina is a freelance writer and on-air correspondent with over a decade of experience covering beauty, fashion, and entertainment. When she isn't freelancing, you can catch her on QVC or chasing after her two-year-old son.
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Article Last Updated September 17, 2020 12:00 AM