How does witch hazel work in skin cleansers?

By: Alexander Page

Witch hazel was once believed to have special abilities, and it is still commonly used in modern skin cleansers. See more pictures of unusual skin care ingredients.
Johannes Simon/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Contrary to its name, witch hazel has nothing to do with witches or witchcraft, but the name may have been derived from the special abilities the plant was once believed to have. Also, the branches of the plant were once used to locate water underground -- a technique called dowsing, which was also commonly referred to as "witching a well." Of course, advancements in technology have made this method of finding water obsolete, but witch hazel remains a fixture in modern society as an ingredient in many skin care products, such as cleansers. It grows as a large plant, and its stems and leaves can either be put through a steam distillation process or provide an extract so that it can be used in cleansers [source: Personal Care Products Council].

Some skin cleansers' ingredients are there to help us get clean, and others are simply there to make a cleanser smell good or give it a certain color. Witch hazel, however, serves a more serious purpose. It's included to help keep your skin healthy and moist. Witch hazel is often used as a skin conditioning agent and may help relieve or reduce dry, irritated skin [source: Personal Care Products Council]. Some people have also used it to alleviate symptoms of skin conditions such as eczema, but no research has concluded that it actually works [source: Mayo Clinic].


Witch hazel is high in tannins, which work to help reduce swelling [source: WebMD]. Its extract may be used as an astringent to tighten and firm skin to reduce the appearance of pores and signs of aging [source: Jaret]. Some people also use it to reduce puffiness under the eyes.

For more information on witch hazel and how it works in skin care products, take a look at the links and articles on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Jaret, Peter. "Men's Skin Care for Your Face." WebMD. July 21, 2009. (Accessed 09/08/2009)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Atopic Dermatitis." Aug. 22, 2009. (Accessed 9/22/2009)
  • Personal Care Products Council. "Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Water." (Accessed 09/08/2009)
  • WebMD. "Witch Hazel." 2009. (Accessed 9/22/2009)