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The magic of witch hazel

Jenny just wants to know: I love a firming skin care product that has witch hazel listed as one of it’s ingredients. Someone told me that witch hazel is why the product firms but the effects are only temporary. And over time my skin will stop responding to the “firming” action and there will be a rebound effect and my skin will get even looser. Is this true? Does witch hazel do such a thing?

The Right Brain responds:

In addition to being the namesake of a popular cartoon character, witch hazel is widely touted as an astringent. What does it do for your skin? Keep reading!

Why use an astringent?

First, let’s talk about what “astringent” really means. Generally the term is defined as a substance that shrinks or constricts body tissues. For example, the puckery mouth feel you get after drinking red wine is cause by a class of chemicals called tannins. The tannins react with the mucosa in your mouth causing it to feel tight and rough. In skin care, astringents impart a tightening sensation to the skin.

What is witch hazel?

Witch hazel is a naturally derived extract made from the bark and leaves of the North American Hamamelis virginiana shrub which grows from Nova Scotia west to Ontario, and south to Texas, and Florida. Native American Indians used witch hazel for a variety of medicinal purposes. Today it is sold primarily in an alcohol solution under brand names such as Dickinson’s.

How does witch hazel work on skin?

There are two theories to account for witch hazel’s astringent properties. First, it is rich in tannins which in theory can cause a mild coagulation of skin proteins. This coagulation can dry, harden, and protect the skin. Second, witch hazel is typically prepared in alcohol which has a cooling effect on skin due to its low heat of evaporation. This cooling effect can cause a temporary contraction of the skin that feels astringent. Neither of these temporary firming mechanisms have a long term effect and are not likely to produce a “rebound” condition in which your skin will become even more loose.

Finally, it’s interesting to note that witch hazel is well studied for its skin protective properties. Pubmed is full of references including one that evaluates witch hazel’s ability to treat diaper rash.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

If you’ve found a skin firming treatment that you like, then stick with it and don’t worry about a rebound skin loosening effect. On the other hand, just remember that witch hazel and other astringents won’t prevent you from getting serious, long-term wrinkles either.

What do YOU think? Do you use skin tightening products? Or would your rather have a nice glass of red wine? Leave a comment and share your thoughts with the rest of the Beauty Brains community.

Reference: Erdelmeier, C. A. J. et al. Antiviral and Antiphlogistic Activities of Hamamelis virginiana Bark. Planta Medica, 62(1996) (3):241-245

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