You can cleanse, exfoliate, and moisturize all you want, but sticking to that basic routine just isn’t going to do your skin justice. For a balanced feel and tighter appearance, your pores need that extra step. And that extra step is a facial toner.
We’ve all heard of toners, and while many of us use them regularly, do we know what they actually do? Toners are basically the Swiss army knife of skincare products: They’re a post-wash product that gives your skin that added cleanse, seeping deep to balance excess oil and shrink enlarged pores. In theory, a toner sounds like a great idea. But sometimes, they can contain one of the harshest additives you could ever put on your skin: the notorious, over-drying irritant, alcohol. Are your pores quivering in fear? Because, same. And that’s why so many are turning to witch hazel.
What Is Witch Hazel?
Japanese skincare expert and creator of Kantanno, Betty Zhang, describes witch hazel—also known as Virginia Witch Hazel or Hamamelis Virginiana—as “a flowering shrub that’s native to North America and Asia. The ‘witch hazel’ in skincare is a clear liquid extract that’s derived from processing the bark, twigs, and leaves of the witch hazel plant. This exact has become a popular skincare ingredient in recent years, though it’s long been used in folk medicine to treat skin conditions such as acne, swelling, and bruises.”
While some all-natural ingredients can be controversial—like lavender’s toxic effects on the skin or coconut oil’s pore-clogging effects—witch hazel is, overall, a great alternative to alcohol-filled toners.
“Witch hazel has been touted to have a myriad of powers, but its primary skincare benefit is similar to that of an astringent,” Zheng says. “Witch hazel contains a high dose of tannins, which remove excess oil from the skin and help tighten pores. Witch hazel is also known to have antibacterial properties which soothe the skin, prevent infection, and fight acne.“
Celebrity esthetician Joanna Vargas is also a major fan of witch hazel, and says it has a ton of great skin-nourishing properties. “It’s great for soothing inflammation, it neutralizes free radicals, it’s an antioxidant and it prevents bacteria from forming and spreading,” she explains.
Who Can Use Witch Hazel?
According to Vargas, witch hazel has no limits and can be used on just about every skin type. “If you break out or have acne, witch hazel is good for killing bacteria and speeding the healing of the skin,” she says. “If you have sensitive skin, it’s an anti-inflammatory.”
She also notes that it’s even gentle enough to use around the eye areas for a de-puffing effect. “Just soak two cotton balls in witch hazel and place them over your puffy, tired eyes for ten minutes and they will look super refreshed afterwards,” she explains. “I frequently recommend it to my clients who travel because it’s one of those multi-tasking products that you can always fall back on.”
Want to take the dive into the invigorating power of witch hazel? Try out these expert-approved products, below.
If your skin needs a tune-up, try out this replenishing face mask, crafted by Vargas herself. “I included Witch Hazel Water in my Twilight Face Mask because I wanted an ingredient with healing and soothing properties in this mask,” she says.
This toner is packed with balancing witch hazel, along with the soothing feel of chamomile for a gentler touch.
Winter dryness causing a flaky scalp? You’re not alone. Witch hazel works to balance oil production on the scalp while nourishing your crown with other revitalizing ingredients like activated charcoal, peppermint oil, and biotin.
If you want to treat your whole body to the soothing power of witch hazel, take a dip into this bath oil.
Don’t let the name fool you: This “lotion” is actually a toner, and it’s one of Zheng’s favorite J-Beauty buys. “The toner uses several natural plant extracts to nourish the skin, remove impurities, and refine pores,” she says. “It’s particularly great for oily and combination skin types. It also contains water-clinging ingredients that help the skin better absorb the moisturizer and stay hydrated all day long. Comes in handy during these dry winter months.”
If you want to take Vargas’ tip and use witch hazel for your under eyes, try using this daily serum. It’ll help deflate puffiness and lighten up dark circles.
If you want a no B.S. approach to witch hazel, then this fan-favorite is as good as it gets. This toner features soothing aloe vera, so your skin can get the anti-inflammatory and hydrating relief it’s been begging for.