A tiny bit of history
The witch hazel tree, Hamamelis Virginiana is native to North America and can be found all along the eastern coast, from Nova Scotia Canada right down to Florida in the US. Native Americans started to figure out it's therapeutic uses around the 1600s. It seems to have been introduced to Europeans in the 1800s but it's quite possible that the first settlers started to use it upon contact with the First Nations.
Witch hazel became popular in the 1900s and was sold by 2 major companies who are still in existence today.
In 1847, Dr Henry Thayer opened a laboratory on Main Street Cambridge Massachusetts. It would later become Henry Thayer & Company, known today as simply Thayer's. They offer a wide range of combinations. Meaning, they have several options of witch hazel mixed with other ingredients like, for example, aloe and rose water.
Thomas Newton Dickinson Sr is credited with starting commercial production of witch hazel. Based in Essex Connecticut. Diskinson refined the distillation method developed by missionary Dr Charles Hawes which was being sold locally in Essex by Alvan Whittmore a druggist and chemist, as early as 1846. Dickinson took over the company in 1866 and he is credited with the addition of the 14% alcohol which would remain a family secret for as long as the Dickinson's remained proprietors of the company. Today, the company known as Dickinson's, has been owned by M.K.Laboratories since 1980.
Witch hazel, Hamamelis Virginiana
Although it can be taken internally (this would have to be discussed with a doctor first since it could have serious side effects), it's mostly used topically. Good for overall skin health, it helps reduce skin inflammations and sooth itching. Great for insect bites, sunburns, poison ivy, eczema, seborrheic dermatitis and many other skin ailments.
In the composition of witch hazel there are varying amounts of active compounds, flavonoids, tannins, small amounts of volatile oil and other components. It would seem that tannins have antioxidant, astringent properties and along with the volatile oils, helps tighten, constrict blood vessels. Now this does not mean if you have broken capillaries that witch hazel will be the miracle cure. For this, unfortunately, only a cosmetic procedure would make a difference. Still, for someone who's prone to mild redness, it could help tone it down slightly. It can apparently help in the case of tiny spider veins.
Some believe witch hazel is a good treatment for acne but overall it doesn't seem to be that effective. It is a natural astringent so it may help with balancing oil production, but, it will not penetrate pores like a well formulated BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid) based product would. Still I've included a link about this. Everyone is different and it may work for some.
Antiseptic, antimicrobial, antioxidant, astringent and anti-inflammatory???
It's amazing that this botanical wonder is still so affordable!
Witch hazel as a toner
When I was a teen I used the Clinique 3 steps skin care routine. Back then it was the "fashionable" thing to do. Almost all my friends where using these products. That's when I took the habit of using a toner. It's not a necessity in a skin care routine but I've always enjoyed that extra step, let's just say that some habits are quite simply, hard to break. Now, how I do wish I had discovered witch hazel in those days instead of spending so much money on useless concoctions. Although Clinique's toners aren't that expensive, they will still set you back $15.00 for the small size. Except for the Mild Toner, which is kind of "goopy", I wouldn't recommend any of them since they're all rather strong.
Let's not mention the other skin stripping and alcohol loaded formulas from the drugstore that I also had the misfortune to try back then. Those would have probably been part of Witch Hazel's beauty regimen but for mine the results where just horrible. Dare I say that in those days I even tried hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol....yikes!
Witch Hazel is the Looney Tunes character, though villainous, keeps a light disposition.
Much of her budget goes into replacing lost hairpins.
Through the years I've used several brands that where all more or less useless. Whether from the drugstore or the department store, they where all a waste of money.
When I started to hang around the Skin Care Board on MakeupAlley (MUA) I would often see questions about witch hazel. At first I just couldn't believe everyone was talking about that oh, so affordable simple liquid, sold in the first aid isle at the drugstore for about $3.00 a 100ml bottle. What? Can it be good to use as a toner? The answer is a resounding Yes!
Most times this was recommended, it was done by barbiH. I suspect she buys this by the gallon. She posted some links about it, 2 of which are at the bottom of this post. Given her extended knowledge about skin care and especially, ingredients, I figured, let's try this. I'm so glad I did. I haven't seen the gallon size yet, but as soon as I do, I'll be getting it too. LOL!
Good for all skin types, even with the 14% alcohol content, it's not drying at all. I have combination skin, oily t-zone and dryish cheeks, especially in winter. Somehow it works nicely on both my oily and dryish parts. Reverend Dickinson sure got his formula right! Among the changes I've noticed on my skin, my t-zone is less oily, mild improvement in overall redness and mainly, the sebaceous filaments on my nose are less noticeable. Neck and décolleté also take advantage of this brilliant liquid without irritation. The smell can be quite surprising. Herbal, medicinal, I'm just not sure. All I can say is that after a week, it grew on me and now I just love it!
Witch hazel is not meant to be used as a cleanser. One poster on MUA once was ranting about the fact that it didn't cleanse well. It does not, but, can pick up some last bits of dirt or makeup. Often in the morning, I skip my cleanser and just use witch hazel on a cotton round. I swipe all over my face, neck and décolleté and more often than not, I do notice that it's picked up some oil accumulated on my skin during the night. I can only see that as a good thing. I feel that it leaves my skin ready for the rest of my routine.
Some, unfortunately, react to it and simply cannot use the alcohol based version. Sadly, in Canada, non alcohol witch hazel is hard to find in stores. I've included a link to Well.ca who sells Thayer's. Others just can't use witch hazel at all so if you decide to try it keep an eye on possible irritation or inflammation. This is I believe relatively rare but can happen. At least since it's not expensive, you'll still be able to keep it in your medicine cabinet or in your first aid kit.
Where to find it
Like I've mentioned, Thayer's is available online. Dickinson's has been spotted in some Walmart stores but I haven't seen it at my local one. Melvita, a French brand, makes a very nice one that can be found in health food stores and even some drugstores. It comes in both a spray and a non spray dark blue glass bottle and is slightly more expensive than the others
The witch hazel I've been using for about half a year is from Rogier, a Canadian company. There's a picture of it below and it's available everywhere. I've seen it in many drugstores and at my local Walmart and Zellers (if you still have one in your area). If it's your first time trying it, get the small 100 ml bottle. If like me you get hooked on it, the 500 ml is worth the $12.00. Again, I just can't believe how cheap it is. It literally makes me want to do a happy dance!
The origins of the name and botanical informations
Witch Hazel article by Steven Foster
Dickinson's history (informative pamphlet)
Dickinson's, more history
Witch hazel and acne
Uses for witch hazel
To purchase Thayer's Witch Hazel
For Barbi. xoxo H
PS: I'm sorry if the presentation seems uneven with some paragraphs. It seems the program didn't want to collaborate. :(