Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 5/7/2021
From the occasional whitehead or blackhead to serious breakouts, acne is a major annoyance that can affect anyone.
While science-based medications like tretinoin and clindamycin are great for treating acne, it’s far from uncommon to want to try something natural before you turn to drugstore treatments or prescription medications.
Witch hazel, a natural remedy produced from the leaves and bark of the Hamamelis virginiana plant, is a common ingredient in skin care products and a popular home remedy for acne.
While there’s currently no scientific evidence to show that witch hazel treats acne, it may offer some benefits for your skin, especially when it comes to preventing the growth of bacteria and controlling inflammation.
Below, we’ve provided more information about what witch hazel is and its effects on acne and general skin health. We’ve also talked about how you can apply witch hazel to your skin if you would like to try it as an acne treatment.
Finally, we’ve covered some science-based options for treating acne and preventing breakouts from coming back.
Witch hazel is a popular herbal medicine that’s available from most local supermarkets and drugstores.
Currently, there isn’t any scientific research that shows that witch hazel is effective as a treatment for acne.
However, some studies that use witch hazel in combination with other ingredients have shown benefits for improving mild-to-moderate acne.
Other research has found that witch hazel may have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that could help to control inflamed, infected acne.
If you have acne, you’ll generally get better results from science-based, FDA-approved medications than you will from something like witch hazel. You can talk to a healthcare provider online to learn more about these treatment options.
Witch hazel is a type of flowering plant that grows throughout North America and East Asia. A popular folk medicine, the leaves and bark of witch hazel have been used for centuries to treat skin ailments such as eczema and psoriasis.
There are several different types of witch hazel plant. Most witch hazel products available in the United States are made using parts of the Hamamelis virginiana plant.
Witch hazel usually comes in liquid form and can be purchased from most local drugstores and supermarkets. It’s also often used as an ingredient in some skin care creams, balms and other topical treatments.
Although witch hazel is often recommended as a home remedy for acne breakouts, there aren’t any scientific studies that show that witch hazel is effective at treating or preventing acne.
However, some scientific research has found that witch hazel might have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects that may be beneficial for treating acne.
Many types of bacteria are either caused or worsened by the presence of bacteria, including the P. acnes bacteria that often grows on your skin. When your pores become clogged and develop into acne lesions, this bacteria can make your breakouts worse.
For example, papules and pustules -- two common types of acne lesion -- are forms of inflamed acne that can develop when bacteria grow inside your pores.
Severe nodular acne and cystic acne, which are often painful and difficult to treat, develop when inflamed acne forms deep within your skin.
Many common medications used to treat acne, such as benzoyl peroxide and clindamycin, work by stopping the growth of bacteria that can multiply inside your pores and cause acne lesions to become infected, inflamed and painful.
Although research is limited, some studies have found that topical witch hazel may help to stop bacterial growth and reduce inflammation.
For example, a study published in the Annals of Tropical Medicine and Public Health noted that witch hazel has an overall anti-inflammatory effect and an indirect antibacterial effect that make it a good option for treating skin injuries.
Another study published in the Journal of Inflammation also found that witch hazel extract has a protective effect on dermal fibroblasts -- the cells within your skin that are responsible for wound healing and the creation of new connective tissue.
Although these studies didn’t focus on acne specifically, the antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects of witch hazel might be helpful for treating certain types of acne.
Interestingly, one study published in Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology in 2017 found that a combination of acne treatments that included witch hazel along with other products was effective at improving acne and overall skin appearance.
However, it’s important to note that the treatment used in this study wasn’t just witch hazel on its own. It also featured several other ingredients, including glycolic acid, benzoyl peroxide, sodium hyaluronate and others.
Although the scientific evidence behind witch hazel’s effects on acne is mixed at best, you may want to give this home remedy for acne a try if you’re prone to acne breakouts.
Using witch hazel is simple. You can purchase witch hazel products from most drugstores. Try to look for witch hazel products that use an unscented, alcohol-free formula, as these may be less likely to dry out or irritate your skin than products that contain alcohol.
Before you apply witch hazel to your face, apply a tiny amount of witch hazel to a small area of skin on your arm, leg or torso. Make sure that your skin doesn’t display any signs of irritation or redness after you apply the witch hazel.
To use witch hazel for acne, wait until after you’ve cleansed your face. Gently pat your skin dry using a clean towel, then use a cotton swab to carefully apply a small amount of witch hazel to acne-prone areas of skin.
Witch hazel is an astringent, which means that it can constrict your skin tissue and dry out your skin.
Although acne is often associated with moisture, the reality is that dry skin isn’t necessarily less likely to develop acne. In fact, since dry skin is easily irritated, you might be more prone to acne when your skin is overly dry.
If you notice that your skin feels dry after using witch hazel, make sure to apply a moisturizer to seal in any remaining moisture and keep your skin hydrated.
If you develop irritated skin after using witch hazel to treat acne, stop using witch hazel and talk to your healthcare provider.
Although witch hazel may provide some benefits for your skin, there isn’t any scientific evidence showing that it’s effective as a treatment for acne specifically.
If you’re prone to acne breakouts, you’ll almost always get better results by using science-based treatments over home remedies such as witch hazel.
Numerous treatments are available for acne, including over-the-counter products available from your local drugstore and prescription medications designed to get rid of acne that’s persistent or severe.
We’ve listed these options below, along with more information about how each acne treatment works and the effects it can have on your skin.
If you have mild acne, using one or several over-the-counter treatments may help to bring your breakouts under control. Common over-the-counter acne treatments include:
Benzoyl peroxide. Benzoyl peroxide is a topical medication that works by stopping the growth of acne-causing bacteria. It’s most effective when used with other treatments for acne and can be found in cleansers, facial washes and other products.
Salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is a topical medication that treats acne by reducing redness and swelling. It’s available in a variety of skin care products, including cleansers, facial masks, at-home chemical peels and others.
Over-the-counter retinoids. Some topical retinoids, such as retinol and low-strength adapalene, are available over the counter. These medications work by increasing your body’s production of new skin cells and preventing clogged pores.
Although over-the-counter products are often enough for mild acne, moderate to severe acne is usually best treated with prescription medication. Prescription medications for acne include:
Tretinoin. Tretinoin is a topical retinoid that’s significantly more powerful than retinoids sold over the counter. Like other retinoids, it works by stimulating your skin’s production of new cells.
Tretinoin is one of several active ingredients in our Customized Rx Acne Cream. We’ve talked more about how it works as a treatment for acne in our detailed guide to treating hormonal acne with tretinoin.
Clindamycin. Clindamycin is a topical antibiotic that works by preventing acne-causing bacteria from growing. It can also help to reduce the swelling that often occurs during inflamed, infected acne breakouts.
Our guide to clindamycin for treating acne goes into more detail about how clindamycin works, its effects, side effects and more.
Although there isn’t any scientific research into witch hazel’s effects on acne, some studies have found that it may have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects.
If you’d like to try witch hazel as an acne treatment, you can apply it by following the instructions provided above. Try to start by applying a tiny amount of witch hazel to your arm before using it on your face or other sensitive areas.
Finally, if you’re prone to acne breakouts, consider looking into science-based treatment options such as benzoyl peroxide, tretinoin and others.