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The Benefits and Risks of Witch Hazel in Skin Care

I believe in natural products, but I realize that natural doesn't always mean safe.

Witch Hazel

Witch Hazel

What Is Witch Hazel?

Witch hazel is a staple in many skincare routines as a skin toner after cleansing, but it also has many first-aid uses. From relieving inflammatory skin conditions and cleaning wounds to soothing a razor burn, witch hazel is a multifaceted bathroom cabinet item. Like all skincare products, witch hazel is not for everyone. As an example, it is a wonderful astringent for oily acne skin but can be irritating and drying to dry, sensitive skin.

A problem many face with store-bought witch hazel is that many brands contain a high concentration of alcohol. Alcohol will dry out and irritate sensitive skin. An alternative? Make your own witch hazel toner, and then add a moisturizing agent! The homemade option ensures that you don’t encounter drying alcohol in the product.

What Is Witch Hazel Extracted From?

Witch hazel is extracted from the bark, twigs, and leaves of the Hamamelis virginiana flowering shrub.

The plant may also be called spotted alder or winter bloom.

Benefits of Witch Hazel

Witch hazel contains a high concentration of tannins, a group of antioxidant chemicals. Tannin is the secret weapon because it is astringent, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial. Tannins help to shrink pores and regulate excess oil on the skin.

Helps Control Oily Skin and Acne Breakouts

The properties of witch hazel are useful tools for acne sufferers because they help to reduce redness and inflammation.

In nature, tannins play an important part in reproduction and regeneration. Some of these properties translate into skincare when we use a plant extract like witch hazel. Unfortunately, store-bought witch hazel is often over-processed during distillation and will have little to no tannin remaining.

Soothes Razor Burn and Bumps

When we shave, friction between the blade and the skin can cause skin irritation and inflammation. Sometimes hair will curl when it regrows and cause ingrown hairs. This irritation can be painful. Witch hazel can help soothe and clean the skin after shaving to avoid irritation. It can also be applied days after shaving to curb any chance of infection.


Alcohol-free witch hazel extract is useful to treat the following skin conditions or irritations:

  • Bug bites and stings.
  • Bruises and scabbed cuts or wounds.
  • Poison ivy and poison oak.
  • Soothe sunburn, chemical, or heat burns.

Good Concentration of Flavonoids

Flavonoids are antioxidants. In the plant world, a high concentration of flavonoids will protect the plant from harmful UV rays. Studies are underway to find if witch hazel can have the same benefit for our skin. In addition, flavonoids may help protect the blood vessels that run through the dermis. The dermis is the middle layer of the skin. As research continues, the hope is that witch hazel may be an effective treatment for varicose and spider veins.

Risks of Witch Hazel

Alcohol-free witch hazel is an effective natural toner, but it is not suitable for all skin types. The astringent property is great on oily or acne-prone skin but can be harmful on very dry, sensitive and mature skins.

Witch hazel is not a cure for acne. In fact, overuse of alcohol-free witch hazel may damage the skin’s barrier, allowing bacteria to attack the skin and leading to more breakouts.

Commercially, witch hazel is often distilled with ethanol (denatured alcohol). Around 14% of that alcohol will remain in the extract. During the distillation process, some of the tannins are destroyed. It is the tannin that offers the most benefit to our skin. The alcohol is very drying and may aggravate inflamed skin.

By making your own home-brewed witch hazel, you eliminate the alcohol to ensure that you receive the exclusive benefits of witch hazel.

Witch Hazel Toner Base Recipe

I prefer to mix witch hazel with another ingredient. Witch hazel alone is too drying for my skin. There are a few good options to choose from. First, make the witch hazel base recipe and keep it in the refrigerator as your starter. I make small batches at a time to ensure that the witch hazel stays fresh.

DIY Witch Hazel Base Recipe

1 tablespoon of witch hazel bark

1 cup of boiling water

Coffee filters


Put a heaped tablespoon of witch hazel bark in an 8 oz coffee cup.

Pour boiling water over the bark and allow it to steep for 2 hours or longer.

Strain the witch hazel into the bottle through the coffee filter.

Discard the bark and coffee filter.

Place your witch hazel liquid in the refrigerator until you need it.

This recipe yields about half a cup of witch hazel liquid extract.

Add Moisturizing Aloe Vera Gel

5 tablespoons of base witch hazel

3 tablespoons of aloe vera gel

4 oz bottle


Combine all the ingredients into a bottle.

Shake well.

Aloe Vera Gel

Aloe Vera Gel

Add Calming and Nourishing Herbal Teas

4 tablespoons of base witch hazel

4 tablespoons of tea

4 oz bottle


Steep one tea bag in boiling water for an hour and allow to cool.

Remove the tea bag and discard it.

Combine the tea and witch hazel in a bottle.

If you feel that the toner is too drying, add 1 or 2 teaspoons of aloe vera gel. You will need a bigger bottle of course.

Consider these teas:

Hibiscus tea – high in vitamin c to help fight aging.

Rooibos tea – high in alpha hydroxyl which may calm inflamed skin

Chamomile tea – the anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties may calm sensitive skin

Peppermint tea – good for oily skins

Ginger tea – helps fight aging

Herbal Teas

Herbal Teas

Add Calming Cucumber Water

4 tablespoons of base witch hazel

4 tablespoons of cucumber water

4 oz bottle


Cut about 10 slices of cucumber and place them in a glass of cold water.

Allow to steep overnight.

Combine equal amounts of base witch hazel with the cucumber water.

If you feel that the toner is too drying, add 1 or 2 teaspoons of aloe vera gel. You will need a bigger bottle of course.

Cucumber water is high in vitamin C and ascorbic acid to soothe skin and helps fight aging.

Cucumber Water For Witch Hazel Toners

Cucumber Water For Witch Hazel Toners

How To Store My Witch Hazel Toner

As with any natural product, it does not have a long shelf life. You can store witch hazel water in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or, in a cool dry place in your bathroom for daily use.

How To Use My Witch Hazel Toner

You have a few options. You can spray the toner on your face then wipe it off. Another option is to pour some toner on a cotton swab and wipe it over your skin. Use it in the morning and evening after each cleanse.

In Conclusion

I am not dismissing witch hazel, but it is a natural extract with a cautionary tale.

If you want to use witch hazel as a toner, consider using it on a small area of skin for a few days to see how your skin reacts. If you do not see any dryness, redness, or rashes then you’re probably ok to use it. It is very drying on dry sensitive skin.

Homemade witch hazel is far better than store-bought because it will not contain alcohol.


Wilson, Celeste. Isla Verde Spa Training Academy Certificate of Aromatherapy Course.

Wilson, Celeste. National Higher Certificate in Beauty Therapy. The Durban University of Technology.

Worwood, Valerie Ann. The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy. 25th Anniversary Edition.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2021 Celeste Wilson