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Hamamelis Virginiana Extract

Also-called-like-this: Witch Hazel Extract


Witch hazel is a smallish tree (up to 5m) that's native to North-America, has nice yellow flowers and is similar to the hazelnut bush (hence the name).  

As for skincare, it's loaded with active components that have a bunch of magic properties, like astringent, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-bacterial. It's also a well-known vasoconstrictor (it makes the blood vessels narrower) and promotes the healing of broken skin by tightening up the skin proteins and thus creating a protective covering.

The complication, however, is that different extracts and distillates can be made from different parts of the plant (bark, twigs, and leaves are typically used) and different extraction methods from different parts produce different results. So if you see only Witch Hazel Extract or Witch Hazel Water on the ingredient list, it's a bit hard to know what you're actually getting but we will try to summarize the possibilities to give an idea.

The main biologically active components in Witch Hazel are hamamelitannin (a potent astringent and antioxidant), catechins (anti-inflammatory and antioxidant) and gallic acid (antibacterial). The bark extract contains by far the most hamamelitannin and it has the most gallic acid and catechins. The twigs contain fewer catechins, less gallic acid, and much less hamamelitannin (4.77% vs 0.18%). The leaves contain hardly any tannins (0.04%) or catechins and contain a medium amount of gallic acid (compared to the bark and twigs).

Witch Hazel also contains tiny amounts of the essential oil and fragrance component eugenol, but the amount is so small that it's probably not significant for the skin.

Apart from the differences in active components in different parts of the Witch Hazel bush, the extraction methods also vary. Witch Hazel Distillate contains 14% added alcohol according to the USP specifications  and alcohol is, at best drying, and at worst skin-damaging. Luckily, there are also alcohol-free distillates, so if you prefer no alcohol check the ingredient list carefully. Witch Hazel Extracts can also be made in different ways: browsing Ulprospector, we could find hydroglycolic, hydroalcoholic and glicerine/water based extracts.

Well-known skin care expert, Paula Begoun rates witch hazel as poor and says,  "depending on the form of witch hazel, you’re exposing your skin either to a sensitizing amount of alcohol or to tannins, or both." This might be the case if you are dealing with an alcoholic witch hazel bark water or extract, but looking at CosIng (the official INCI name listing of the EU), witch hazel bark water or witch hazel bark extract are not listed ingredients. Bark and leaf or bark and twig or all three are used together to create extracts, so the chance that there is too much hamamelitannin in the final cosmetic ingredient seems small. Also alcohol-free extracts and distillates exist; actually, the majority seem to be alcohol-free nowadays. So all in all, we think "Hamamelis Virginiana Extract" on the ingredient list is nothing to worry about.

We even found a German study that compared the efficacy of Hamamelis ointment to panthenol ointment for soothing the skin in children (from 27 days to 11 years old). They observed 309 children and concluded that both ointments were similarly effective but the one with Hamamelis was even better tolerated (98.2% vs. 92.3% tolerated well the ointments in the two groups).

All in all, Witch Hazel Extract is a sloppy INCI name (btw, not in the CosIng listing), and you do not really know what you're getting. Most probably though, you are getting a goody with nice astringent, soothing, antibacterial, and even antioxidant properties.

Show me some proof

  • Wang, Huafu, Gordon J. Provan, and Keith Helliwell. "Determination of hamamelitannin, catechins and gallic acid in witch hazel bark, twig and leaf by HPLC." Journal of pharmaceutical and biomedical analysis 33.4 (2003): 539-544.
  • Wolff, Helmut H., and Meinhard Kieser. "Hamamelis in children with skin disorders and skin injuries: results of an observational study." European journal of pediatrics 166.9 (2007): 943-948.
  • Korting, H. C., et al. "Anti-inflammatory activity of hamamelis distillate applied topically to the skin." European journal of clinical pharmacology 44.4 (1993): 315-318.
  • Touriño, Sonia, et al. "Highly galloylated tannin fractions from witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) bark: electron transfer capacity, in vitro antioxidant activity, and effects on skin-related cells." Chemical research in toxicology 21.3 (2008): 696-704.

Products with Hamamelis Virginiana Extract

Dickinson’s Original Witch Hazel Pore Perfecting Toner GROUND PLAN 24 Hour Secret Mist PCA C Quench Antioxidant Serum Secret Key Witch-Hazel Pore Clear Toner Aveda Botanical Kinetics™ Purifying Creme Cleanser EO LABORATORIE` Natural Facial Washing Gel Moisturizing MINISO Hyaluronic Acid Essence Toner Skinstitut Even Blend Serum Thayers Alcohol-Free Cucumber Witch Hazel Toner Thayers Alcohol-Free Original Witch Hazel Toner Triumph & Disaster Logic Toner Velvet Report Rose Toner 100% Pure Fermented Rice Water Toner Bohemian skin Gel Cleanser Earth Science Herbal Tonic Mist Eve Hansen Retinol Serum First Aid Beauty Vitamin Hydrating Mist Herbivore After Sun January Labs Restorative Tonic Mist MooGoo Brightening Cream Olay Oil Minimizing Clean Toner PCA Skin Pigment Gel Hq Free QRx Labs Niacinamide + Retinol Serum Serious Skincare Ultra-Mare Pure Marine Infusion Concentrated Treatment Pads Topix Glycolix Elite Treatment Pads 15% TreeActiv Cystic Acne Spot Treatment, Bentonite Clay & Tea Tree Essential Oil cosmoderm Tea Tree Oil Clarifying Toning Lotion 100Ml BRAD Biophotonic Skin Care Essential Elixir Pore-Tightening Resurfacing Replenish Serum Born Again Body Hydrating Skin Tonic Brickell Men's Products Balancing Toner For Men Clinique Clarifying Lotion 2 Derma E Hydrating Mist Era Organics Nourishing And Hydrating Toner FOREO Ufo Matte Maniac Lush Tea Totaler Naked Cleansing Balm MINISO Hyaluronic Acid Essence Toner MINISO Rose Hydrating Toner May Lindstrom The Honey Mud Cleansing Silk Origins Super Spot Remover Blemish Treatment Gel SheaMoisture African Black Soap Problem Skin Toner Skin Therapy Bee Venom SkinCeuticals Equalizing Toner Thayers Thayers Original Witch Hazel Astringent Pads With Aloe Thayers Unscented Witch Hazel With Aloe Vera Alcohol-Free Toner Brickell Men's Products Restoring Eye Cream For Men Dermadoctor Kakadu C Brightening Daily Cleanser Dr Hauschka Translucent Bronzer Grace and Stella Spray All Day Rose Facial Spray Mist OZNaturals Vitamin C Facial Serum Proactive+ Revitalizing Toner