Witch Hazel



Witch Hazel description

Commonly used plant extract that can have potent antioxidant properties and some soothing properties. However, witch hazel’s high tannin content (tannin is a potent antioxidant) can also make it sensitising if used repeatedly on skin because it denatures proteins that help keep skin healthy.The bark of the witch hazel plant has a higher tannin content than the leaves, which contain other compounds, including beneficial antioxidants. Producing witch hazel water by steam distillation removes the tannins and can circumvent the need to use skin-damaging alcohol (ethanol), but the plant’s astringent qualities are what most believe give it benefit. But using water or steam distillation rather than alcohol is one way to obtain a gentler form of this ingredient for occasional use; it just doesn’t make witch hazel problem-free, so we don’t advise using it on skin often.Alcohol added during the distillation process is typically used in amounts of 14-15%. That’s more than enough to damage skin, as research has shown amounts as low as 2% can harm skin cells.Witch hazel water is distilled from all parts of the plant; therefore, you never know exactly what you’re getting, although the alcohol content remains since this form of witch hazel either uses alcohol during distillation or it is added afterward to enhance penetration of the witch hazel water.Summing up, depending on the form of witch hazel, you’re exposing your skin either to a sensitising amount of alcohol or to tannins, or both. Moreover, witch hazel contains the fragrance chemical eugenol, which is another source of sensitivity. For a deeper dive into the research on witch hazel, see our in-depth analysis here.

Witch Hazel references

  • International Journal of Trichology, July-September 2014, pages 100-103
  • Chemical Research in Toxicology, March 2008, pages 696-704
  • Skin Pharmacology and Applied Skin Physiology, March-April 2002, pages 125-132
  • Phytotherapy Research, June 2002, pages 364-367
  • Journal of Dermatologic Sciences, July 1995, pages 25-34
  • Journal of Inflammation, October 2011, page 27

Peer-reviewed, substantiated scientific research is used to assess ingredients in this dictionary. Regulations regarding constraints, permitted concentration levels and availability vary by country and region.

Ingredient ratings


Proven and supported by independent studies. Outstanding active ingredient for most skin types or concerns.


Necessary to improve a formula's texture, stability, or penetration.


Generally non-irritating but may have aesthetic, stability, or other issues that limit its usefulness.


There is a likelihood of irritation. Risk increases when combined with other problematic ingredients.


May cause irritation, inflammation, dryness, etc. May offer benefit in some capability but overall, proven to do more harm than good.


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Not Rated