Ingredient Love: Witch Hazel

Witch hazel is one of the few untainted herbal medicines still widely available today. While its primary use is for healing minor wounds and bug bites, witch hazel is prized in the beauty industry for its astringent and anti-inflammatory properties.

The watery substance you'll find in most grocery and drug stores is a steam distillation of witch hazel twigs, typically combined with alcohol as a preservative. The witch hazel used in my Rose + Tea Toner is preserved with a small amount of naturally-derived Benzoic Acid — much less drying and harsh on our sensitive skin than alcohol.

In its natural form, witch hazel is a shrub that grows in North America. Have you ever been out in the woods or driving along a scenic route in winter and noticed a yellow flowering bush when everything else is seemingly dead? That's witch hazel. It blooms from late October into January.

witch hazel blooming in winterPhoto via Wikimedia Commons

Native American tribes have long used witch hazel's leaves, bark, and twigs in decoctions and salves for cleaning and healing minor wounds, burns, bug bites and bee stings and reducing swelling. As a tea or tincture, witch hazel relieves sore throats, fevers, menstrual cramps, diarrhea, and intestinal bleeding.

From a beauty perspective, tannins give witch hazel its astringent properties, constricting body tissue. Has your tongue ever felt like sandpaper or your mouth a bit dry after eating part of a banana skin or drinking red wine? This is the astringency of tannins at work! By shrinking the skin, astringents speed along the healing process of wounds or bites and help dry out acne and tighten or close pores. Witch hazel is also antiseptic meaning it helps prevent infection and anti-inflammatory because it reduces swelling and inflammation, another way it tones and tightens skin. It is for these reasons I include witch hazel in my Rose + Tea Facial Toner.

How should you use witch hazel?
Never by itself unless you’re using it to clean and dress cuts or bug bites. If using it on your face as a toner or astringent, mix it with water or other hydrating ingredients. Using witch hazel alone will dry out your precious facial skin. In my Rose + Tea Facial Toner, I pair witch hazel with hydrating aloe, green tea extract, and rosewater (rose distillate).

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