There are a cadre of ingredients you undoubtedly hoard when a zit springs up, from salicylic acid to tea tree oil. As you peruse the acne section of websites, however, one ultra-special one stands out on skin-clearing labels as particularly enchanting: witch hazel. Maybe it’s The Craft fan in me, but it just sounds so spellbinding.
Despite its mysterious name, it’s not something weird that you’d find in a witch’s cauldron—it’s actually just a flowering shrub. “Also called winterbloom, the extract of this plant’s bark, twigs, and leaves have been used for centuries in North America as plant medicine, especially to care for certain skin conditions,” says Jeni Sykes, esthetician at CAP Beauty’s New York City location.
Its skin-boosting powers include oil balancing and fighting inflammation, which both happen to be great for acne. “Witch hazel is both astringent and anti-inflammatory, so it has a drying, toning, and tightening action on the skin,” explains Sykes. “As it does this, it soothes redness and swelling.” Score for that seriously angry bump on my chin the color of a fire truck.
“Witch hazel is both astringent and anti-inflammatory.”
Sykes notes that the herb has long been used for healing cuts and scrapes, so when it comes to pimples, it essentially does the same thing. You just have to be mindful of your skin type. “Witch hazel balances excess oil and refines pores,” she says. But she advises to only use it to spot treat if your skin’s normal to dry, whereas it can be used all over for oily skin via a toner or more creamy product in which it’s balanced out by other hydrating ingredients. Take heed: “Since it’s a drying ingredient, it can be even more so when combined with things like salicylic acid, radish root ferment, or willow bark.”
Think of it like the sensation of drier red wine on your tongue, according to Sykes. “The astringent action of witch hazel is largely thanks to tannins in the herb,” she says, which produce that effect to reduce oil on your skin. The thing is, because it’s drying, that’s why you’ll often find it among other nutrients to fight free radicals without stripping your complexion of its moisture. Consider those blends witchy magic.