Among the ingredients most commonly found in traditional acne treatments are astringents. Witch hazel is a natural astringent that some alternative health practitioners recommend to their clients with acne. It turns out, however, that witch hazel may not be an effective acne treatment. Consult your dermatologist for recommended and proven treatments for acne.
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Acne is a skin disease marked by plugged pores most often caused by the skin gland's overproduction of an oily substance called sebum. This leads to an outbreak of lesions, particularly over the face, neck, shoulders, chest and back. Less commonly, acne may be caused by a bacteria called P. acnes. Acne is not usually a serious health concern; however, untreated acne can result in permanent scarring.
An astringent is a substance that contracts or shrinks mucous membranes and body tissues. Applied topically astringents are skin toners and cleansers. They harden, dry and protect the skin, reduce minor bleeding from abrasions, balance out oiliness and close up pores. Many traditional acne medications contain astringents like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. Womenshealth.gov recommends checking with your doctor before using astringents to prevent acne or acne scarring.
Also known as Hamamelis virginiana, witch hazel is a North American shrub with reported health benefits for both internal and external use. Its leaves, twigs and bark are high in tannic acids, or tannins, giving it astringent properties. According David Hoffman's "The New Holistic Herbal" it also has anti-inflammatory properties and can be used to treat bruising, swelling and hemorrhoids. Because of these properties, witch hazel is a common ingredient in many skin care products. It is also sold by itself in most pharmacies and health food stores, and is one of the most widely used home remedies in the United States.
Witch Hazel for Acne
Compared to the potent astringents in traditional acne medications, witch hazel is extremely mild. While astringents such as witch hazel remove excess sebum from the skin and reduce inflammation of pimples, they have no effect on sebum production, regardless of strength. Therefore witch hazel may reduce acne symptoms but does nothing to break the cycle of recurring acne. Furthermore, according to Dr. David J. Leffell, M.D. of Yale University School of Medicine, no controlled studies have yet been conducted to verify witch hazel's effectiveness against acne.