A few HuffPost Lifestyle editors keep a bottle of witch hazel in our medicine cabinets, but we have to admit we're not quite sure how to use it. This clear liquid has been touted as a natural remedy that can treat bug bites and fix puffy eyes. We've watched close friends use witch hazel to remove their makeup or mix it with a bit of aloe vera gel to soothe painful sunburns. But is this all a bunch of hype? Witch hazel is a plant-based topical ingredient often extracted through steam distillation from the bark and leaves of the witch hazel plant, according to Dennis Gross , a New York City-based dermatologist and founder of Fifth Dermatology. The most common use is to remove excess oil deposits in the skin and to clean pores by dissolving any debris. Joyce Park , a dermatology resident at New York University Medical Center, says that witch hazel's astringent properties cause constriction of body tissues and blood vessels.
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There are many species of witch hazel, but Hamamelis virginiana -- a type of shrub native to North America -- is most commonly used in folk medicine in the US. The leaves and bark are made into teas and ointments. Most often applied to the skin and scalp, witch hazel is widely known for its ability to ease inflammation and soothe sensitive skin. It can also be added to herbal teas and ingested orally in small amounts as a natural treatment for other conditions. Inflammation is a normal immune response designed to protect your body against injury and infection. However, chronic inflammation is thought to play a central role in the development of certain diseases 1.
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Astringent has received quite the bad rap, and in many cases, rightfully so. Many astringent toners of the '90s contained high levels of ethanol alcohol that was dangerously harsh on skin. Nowadays, we have more options when it comes to toners as well as natural plant-based options, like witch hazel.
Best known for shrinking pores and easing inflammation, witch hazel is already a key player in a variety of beauty products. But is witch hazel worth the hype—and more importantly, should you create a spot for it in your medicine cabinet? Unfortunately, much like other herbal remedies, there are very few scientific studies backing the skin benefits of witch hazel.