What is witch hazel?
Witch hazels are a family of shrubs, the most medicinally notable species is the North America witch hazel. You will find the extract from this tree in the form of a distillate, also known as hydrosols, hydrolats and floral waters. These therapeutic liquids are what makes up the bulk of face toners. Distillates are produced by steam distillation of bark, roots, leaves, stems, flowers or seeds of a particular tree, shrub or flower. This process is often used to produce certain essential oils and the hydrosol is often known as the byproduct although some producers do steam distill with the intention to just create a catch of hydrolats. Distillates contain the nourishing essence of a plant and the same natural chemicals that are found in the essential oil component, just in much milder concentrations making them gentle enough to apply directly onto the skin.
How does it benefit the skin?
Witch hazel is known as an astringent, this means that it assists with tightening and binding of tissues - in this case our skin. These properties also assist in addressing acne. It is also said that witch hazel possesses strong anti-oxidant properties whilst also offering relief from bites and stings as well as conditions like sunburn, psoriasis and eczema. It is wonderful as a toner as it is said to mop up dirt and make up that a cleanser may not have effectively cleaned from your skin.
Not all extracts are created equal, if it is cheap, there is good reason for that, even if a product is marketed a particular way always always check the ingredients!! Some witch hazels are extracted with the use of alcohol, avoid this and opt for alcohol free witch hazel (a preservative of some description will still be needed though). Most commercial witch hazels have too high an alcohol content to be used on their own as a toner for example. High alcohol content is super drying and damaging to your skin and does the opposite of what you are trying to achieve.