3 Tips For Using Witch Hazel on Acne Prone Skin

Witch hazel is a natural botanical component used in holistic medicine to treat inflammatory skin conditions like acne, open wounds, sunburn, insect bites, and even vascular conditions such as varicose veins and hemorrhoids.

The ingredient itself can be found in many skincare products, including cleansers, serums, and moisturizers due to its high antioxidant concentration. Some of these antioxidants include proanthocyanidins, which are concentrated in the plant’s leaves and have shown an ability to trigger the release of growth factors in the skin, leading to improved skin appearance, elasticity, hydration, and sebum content, which can help reduce the signs of aging.

In this article we’ll review several dermatology tips for using Witch Hazel on acne prone skin in order to maximize its effectiveness for treating acne and minimize the potential side effects. Then we’ll provide a few superior skincare ingredients for dealing with acne breakouts that do not come with the potential side effects of Witch Hazel.

1. Do a Witch Hazel patch test

Witch Hazel should be patch tested on a small area off skin before being applied on your entire face to ensure you do not have an allergic or adverse reaction.

Although Witch hazel is a powerful, active skincare ingredient that can help shrink the pores and remove excess oil from the skin, it can cause unwanted side effects in some people.

We recommend doing a patch test by dabbing a little bit of the product behind your ear before applying it to the entire face or other larger areas is a good way to avoid discomfort due to allergic reactions.

If you are allergic to witch hazel, the area where it’s applied will become red and swollen, which should be a clear indication that you should avoid using the product on larger areas of the face and body.

2. Use a non-comedogenic moisturizer

Using Witch Hazel can cause excessively dry skin, so it’s important to use a non-comedogenic moisturizer to protect and hydrate the skin barrier. While Witch Hazel’s ability to remove excess oil from the skin can help with conditions like acne it can also cause dry skin.

Additionally, using a gentle, zinc-based sunscreen in the morning will help prevent the pimples from scarring or turning into hyperpigmentation spots.

3. Use Witch Hazel no more than 2-3 times per week

The best way to use witch hazel for acne is to incorporate it into your skincare routine as a facial toner a few times a week.

When used this way, witch hazel can help balance out oil production, remove excess oil that’s clogging the pores, and soothe inflammation caused by an overgrowth of bacteria due to its anti-inflammatory properties, without excessively drying out the skin.

How to make a Witch Hazel toner for acne

When I was trying to clear my acne I experimented several Witch Hazel tonics and found the biggest success with a toner that I would use twice per week. Below I have an instruction list of how to make and apply the toner on your skin:

  1. Measure the Witch Hazel:
    • Start with about ½ cup of witch hazel extract as your base.
  2. Dilute with Water:
    • Add an equal part of distilled water (½ cup) to the witch hazel in the mixing bowl to dilute it.
  3. Add Aloe Vera:
    • Mix in 2 tablespoons of aloe vera gel. This helps in soothing the skin and adding moisture without causing oiliness.
  4. Incorporate Essential Oils:
    • Add a few drops (usually 5-10, depending on your preference) of tea tree oil and/or lavender oil.
    • Always patch test when using essential oils to ensure there’s no allergic reaction.
  5. Include Vitamin E Oil (Optional):
    • If using, add a few drops of Vitamin E oil for its skin-healing properties.
  6. Mix Thoroughly:
    • Stir the mixture well to ensure all ingredients are evenly distributed.
  7. Transfer to Bottle:
    • Use the funnel (if available) to pour the mixture into your clean storage bottle.
  8. Label Your Product:
    • Make sure to label the bottle with the date you made the toner, as homemade cosmetics can expire or lose effectiveness.
  9. Usage:
    • Apply with a clean cotton ball or pad after cleansing your face, typically in the morning and evening. Do not rinse off.
    • Always follow with a moisturizer.

Remember to do a patch test with this formula before applying it all over your face.

Is Witch Hazel safe for acne-prone skin?

Yes, Witch Hazel will not clog the pores and safe for acne-prone skin. Additionally, Witch Hazel can help neutralize acne due to its antibacterial and astringent properties. However, its important to keep in mind that while Witch Hazel can be effectively for treating acne it can cause significant irritation for those with sensitive skin, so its best to use Witch Hazel sparingly.

Is Witch Hazel safe for cystic acne?

Witch Hazel should not be applied on cystic acne. Even though Witch Hazel is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, Witch Hazel is known to aggravate sensitive skin. Cystic acne in extremely inflamed and sensitive, and is likely to significantly pores with cystic acne.

If you are dealing with cystic acne you should make an appointment with a dermatologist immediately in order to determine the root cause of your acne and understand whether you should be using skincare products (like benzoyl peroxide), antibiotics, or some type of procedure.

Is Witch Hazel safe for fungal acne?

Yes, Witch Hazel is safe to use on fungal acne because it is antibacterial and anti-fungal. The propyl gallates found in witch hazel can prevent the Malassezia yeast from oxidation, which makes Witch Hazel an effective natural treatment against fungal acne.

However, if you do decide to use Witch Hazel on fungal acne make sure there is no alcohol content, as alcohol can aggravate hair follicles infected with fungal acne.

Does Witch Hazel Have Any Side Effects?

Witch Hazel’s effectiveness against acne is largely due to its drying effect on the skin. While this can help reduce acne breakouts, it cause cause several unwanted side effects on the skin:

  • Dryness and Irritation: Due to its astringent properties, witch hazel can strip the skin of its natural oils, leading to dryness, irritation, or even flaking, particularly in individuals with dry or sensitive skin types.
  • Redness and Inflammation: Some people might experience redness or increased inflammation, particularly if they have reactive skin or conditions like rosacea or eczema.
  • Allergic Reactions: As with any botanical product, there’s a possibility of an allergic reaction, which can include symptoms like itching, redness, and rash.
  • Tightness of Skin: The tannins in witch hazel, which contribute to its astringent qualities, can sometimes make the skin feel overly tight or uncomfortable, particularly after repeated use.
  • Overproduction of Oil: For some people, especially those with naturally oily skin, the astringent effect of witch hazel can trigger the skin to produce more oil to compensate for the dryness, potentially worsening acne or leading to clogged pores. So as soon as you stop using Witch oil your pores will begin to clog.
  • Contact Dermatitis: With prolonged use, some individuals might develop contact dermatitis, a type of skin rash caused by contact with a specific substance.

Additionally, some people can also develop allergies to witch hazel, and while the research around this particular issue is scarce, it doesn’t exclude the fact that the immune system might recognize the ingredient as a trigger and rebel against it by causing an allergic reaction.

Because of the potential side effects associated with Witch Hazel use a patch test is highly recommendedby dabbing a little bit of the product behind your ear before applying it to the entire face or other larger areas is a good way to avoid discomfort due to allergic reactions.

If you are allergic to witch hazel, the area where it’s applied will likely become red and swollen, which should be a clear indication that you should not attempt to use the product on larger areas of the face and body.

6 Witch Hazel Alternatives

Although Witch Hazel can help reduce oil and acne causing bacteria there are a few superior alternatives for acne-prone skin that we have included below:

1. Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) and an oil-soluble component that can cut through the superficial skin oil and travel deeper into the pores. This allows it to dissolve the gunk in blackheads made up of dead skin cells, white blood cells, oil, and other cellular debris, that’s causing the pore to clog.

Salicylic acid allows natural oils to flow freely out of the pores instead of remaining stuck inside and causing issues such as blackheads, pustular pimples, and cystic acne.

2. Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide works by infusing the pores with oxygen and destroying the airless environment bacteria needs to thrive and proliferate.

This ingredient works great in lower concentrations and it usually comes in a cream form which can help protect the skin from excess dryness. If considering benzoyl peroxide its best to start with using it 1-2 times a week, similar to Witch Hazel.

Benzoyl peroxide isn’t the best option for non-inflammatory acne such as blackheads, but it’s definitely superior when it comes to addressing deeper cystic acne.

3. Vitamin A

Vitamin A and other retinoids work by speeding up cellular turnover (the rate at which your skin produces new cells and sheds them from its surface.)

By introducing a topical retinoid into your skincare routine, your skin cells will travel faster to the surface, purging clogs in the process and revealing a brighter, smoother, and healthier complexion. While this helps to quickly clear acne from the skin it will make the skin more sensitive, especially to the sun.

4. Niacinamide

Niacinamide helps alleviate acne breakouts by strengthening the skin barrier without clogging the pores, which helps better protect the skin from inflammatory pathogens.

In addition to reducing acne breakouts, Niacinamide contains numerous antioxidants that address several skin concerns, including excess oil production, wrinkles, inflammation, acne, and hyperpigmentation.

5. Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral that helps soothe and repair the skin, which helps reduce inflammatory conditions like acne through both oral consumption and topical application.

6. Hydrocortisone Cream

Hydrocortisone cream is a topical steroid that can help reduce inflammation on the skin, which includes everything from eczema to acne. Although hydrocortisone cream can reduce cystic acne you need to be aware of the potential side effects. If you apply hydrocortisone cream to your entire face instead of only the areas with cystic acne you risk tightening and drying out your entire face. For people with painful cystic acne targeted amounts of hydrocortisone cream can be effective and soothing for alleviating your breakouts. I recommend discussing this option with a dermatologist if you are seriously considering it.

What is Witch Hazel?

Witch hazel is a plant that grows wild throughout North America and Asia.

It’s known by its Latin name Hamamelis Virginiana, which is the name you will most likely notice written on the ingredient list of skincare products that contain witch hazel.

The ingredient itself can be found in many skincare products, including cleansers, serums, and moisturizers, however, it’s believed that it’s most efficient and easily absorbed when used in a liquid form, such as toners.

Witch hazel in holistic medicine is typically prepared by boiling the leaves and the bark in water and then distilling the concoction by mixing it with alcohols such as ethanol.

However, witch hazel used in skincare products is a synthetically made alternative that’s more stable and easier to formulate with.

This alternative is also safer and easily tolerable by the skin because it has been purified from potential allergens and other inflammatory components.

Synthetic vs. Natural Witch Hazel

The Witch Hazel used in skincare products is a synthetically made alternative that’s more stable and easier to formulate with. Generally speaking it’s also alcohol free which makes it less likely to aggravate sensitive skin.

What Makes Witch Hazel Effective?

Antioxidants contains in Witch Hazel’s bark, called tannins, help relieve the pores of excess oil and grime due to their astringent properties.

Two tannins specifically – hamamelitannin and gallic acid – have been effective in targeting inflammation and relieving irritated and inflamed skin due to acne breakouts.

Additionally, another antioxidant in Witch Hazel called Hamamelitannin, has shown to be effective in scavenging free radicals caused by UV damage and has the ability to prevent cell damage caused by other organic radicals and active oxygens.

Like many plant-derived components, witch hazel is a source of several antioxidants, many of which benefit the skin short-term.

Proanthocyanidins are also available from many other plant sources, including apples, bilberry, grapeseed, and black chokeberry, and are generally considered to be excellent free-radical scavengers, regardless of whether they are ingested or applied to the skin.

Lastly, witch hazel also contains propyl gallate, which is yet another potent antioxidant that’s found both free and as a part of the tannin group. Propyl gallate protects oils from oxidation, which could potentially have an antimicrobial effect on human sebum.

All these components make witch hazel effective in reducing inflammation on the skin, scavenging free radicals caused by various environmental factors, and tackling various skin conditions.

Originally Published: October 29, 2023

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sam wood is GoodGlow's Chief Editor
Analyzed by Sam Wood

Hi, I’m Sam Wood, the chief editor, lead acne expert, and health coach at GoodGlow, as well as a best-selling author for one of the top acne books on Amazon. I struggled with acne for over 10 years, and began studying the effects of diet on skin quality while pursuing a degree in Nutrition Sciences at the University of Missouri. After shifting from mainstream skincare trends to in-depth research in medical journals, I experienced significant personal success in managing my acne. This inspired me to start GoodGlow, where I simplify complex scientific findings into easy-to-understand advice. With over 10 years in the field, I’ve helped more than 2,500 people achieve clearer skin through natural, holistic methods, and I’m dedicated to personally assisting those seeking guidance on their acne journey.

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