Witch Hazel - The Natural Astringent

Witch Hazel (INCI: Hamamelis Virginiana) is native to North America. It has been valued for its healing and tonic qualities for over 200 years, having a rich history of different medicinal uses among native North Americans. 

One tribe might apply fresh witch hazel leaves as a poultice for inflammations, where another would steam the branches in a sweat lodge to help soothe sore muscles. Some made tea from the bark or leaves to treat coughs and purify the system, while others would use the same infusion to apply topically for itching or irritation.

And when the white man arrived on Americas shores, they learned how to utilize this amazing plant in modern cosmetics.

Golden Treasure

In the mid 1800s, Mr. Theron T. Pond of New York learned about witch hazel from a Native American (Oneida) Medicine Man. He was so captivated by it's qualities that he established a partnership with the Medicine man. 

They worked to develop and market a brand new product based on witch hazel extract that they called Golden Treasure. A few years later, the name of the product was changed to Pond's Extract. 

The Pond's brand had begun.

Science Agrees

Today, modern research corroborates what the native American Indians have known for generations. Witch hazel has an impressive list of properties: astringent, antioxidant, healing, and toning.

Because it is such a powerful component in any mix, it also brings cautions. My supplier recommends using no more than 10% of the hydrosol in any product to be used on the face or near the eyes. 

Although witch hazel is also available as an extract (even more concentrated and potent than the hydrosol), I find the distillate a more interesting ingredient to work with. 

Also, the extract is an unattractive brown while the distillate is almost colorless.


Witch hazel hydrosol is made by steam-distilling the bark, twigs and leaves of the plant. It has a crisp and fresh, yet unobtrusive smell that blends very well with florals (such as Orange Blossom) making it ideal in a mix for combination, large-pored or oily skin. I use it predominantly in skin tonics, mists, drenches.

It is unfortunately one of the hydrosols that has a short shelf life – even when stored in ideal conditions. 

Because of this, I only buy it in small quantities at a time.

Additional Uses For Witch Hazel

• treating bruises and insect bites (topically applied)
• helps to shrink and contract blood vessels (hemorrhoid creams)
• for treating acne (as a skin tonic or in creams)

Do Tell

Do you work with witch hazel in your cosmetics?


Penny said…
Hi Lisa,
Saw some comments on crunch betty and thought I might clear a few things up.
We are the second distiller of witch hazel (organicwitchhazel.com ) the balance is all distilled by 1 company no matter what the brand. There is a long history of deception in witch hazel. It started in the late 1800's with people passing off hazel leaf as witch hazel.
Witch hazel INIC is to be made from leaves, witch hazel usp is to made from twigs harvested while dormant and soaked in alcohol then distilled until it is 85% of the original weight in. Unfortunately there is not much oversight in the production of witch hazel and whole trees are used. This means that rather than the active ingredient found in the bark, you have a product made with the pulp wood, which is not a legal ingredient in either product.
As distillers of hydrosol (which lasts more than a year) we distilled pound per pound fresh product to final product. Thank you for your time to look this over and let us know if you would like some links to support this summary. ,
LisaLise said…
Hi there Penny - I'm very excited to meet an actual distiller of witch hazel. Thanks for your comment! I'd love to get in touch with you for more info. My contact info is on the sidebar here, but I will try and contact you through your website.