Bunch of information transported over from MUA, from a Skincare Board post earlier today, and rejiggled somewhat, but I’m not adding too much to it. As you’ll see, there’s plenty stuff here already. Many words. Hopefully a fair amount of content, and a not unreasonable ratio of words:content a.k.a not too much verbiage and hot air.
Thanks to mcalcia for bringing the question up in the first place:
is pure witch hazel (without alcohol) drying?
PROLOGUE: A DIGRESSION
One of the MUA million-dollar questions. A bit like the Clay Mathematics Institute Millenium Prize Problems:
The Prizes were conceived to record some of the most difficult problems with which mathematicians were grappling at the turn of the second millennium; to elevate in the consciousness of the general public the fact that in mathematics, the frontier is still open and abounds in important unsolved problems; to emphasize the importance of working towards a solution of the deepest, most difficult problems; and to recognize achievement in mathematics of historical magnitude.
[…] The focus of the board was on important classic questions that have resisted solution for many years […] with $1 million allocated to the solution of each problem.
Just to be clear, avoid conclusion, and not end up getting my ass sued off the back of me: THERE ARE NO MUA MILLENIUM PRIZE PROBLEMS WITH MILLION-DOLLAR PRIZES. At least, not yet. Given how much $$$$$$$ the beautification industry makes, though, there bloody ought to be. Except they’d probably be sponsored by L’Oréal. Of which I would disapprove most strongly, as I disapprove of them and all they stand for most strongly. The Clay Institute they ain’t, not by a long shot:
- grammar exercise: because +[insert pronoun] +[insert verb] +worth it
- and L’Oréal and being worth it (3)
MUA, however: isn’t in the pockets of any single company, but does have money, somewhere, as it’s gaining revenue from advertising–revenue which, I should add, doesn’t go to any of the members!!! and in a fair world it would: at least, members above a certain status should get shares. That could be an incentive to writing better reviews, working harder on the boards (and yes, that should include awards for wit on Café as much as wisdom on Skincare), and generally being a Good and useful Egg. Oooh, and that status should definitely include me, wherever it is you draw the line. In fact, including me should be a key element in whether that line-drawing is fair and valid or not.
And so long as I’m not a share-holder (or otherwise paid by them and have signed the usual corporate/industry non-disclosue conflict-of-interest etc. agreements) I shall jollywell continue to slag off those aspects of MUA with which I am Not Content. And make constructive criticism too, of course. Such as the above idea. But if it comes to fruition, remember: you saw it here first and I’ll be claiming a further percentage share through intellectual property rights.
But I digress. We were talking about witch hazel, and whether or not the non-alcoholic version is drying.
Answers c/o that thread:
- as ever, yes / no / YMMV
- plus, might not matter given that it’s nigh-on impossible to get hold of no-alcohol witch-hazel in the UK anyway, and all the readily-available stuff (chemists, supermarkets, even health-food stores) is alcohol-based
My own quick answer (of course, only once I’d laboured through the long multi-part answer, as
bad good habits never change)
My own 2c: this will count as anecdotal evidence, so lower-grade proof…
I’ve used the following forms of witch-hazel:
1. 14% alcohol solution
2. steam-distilled hydrosol
3. creams and ointments (in Europe)
4. dried leaves and twigs, made into tea, cooled, used in compresses
I’ve used all of them for first-aid purposes. 1. and 3. most often.
Longer-term, as a sort of toner, on face:
1. alcohol solution: serious irritation (even with a 5% solution)
2. and 4.: great. Cos the hydrosol is pretty readily available, I us it rather than making up the tea version… besides which, not chemically the same
3. not used on face
But here’s the issue. In North America, we’re spoiled on WH: we get all possible forms, including the distillate–i.e. take the plant (twigs and/or bark) and just steam-distill it, cool it, bottle it. Probably bottle while hot. Once opened, won’t have the world’s longest shelf-life. Though it can be mixed with various other things, amongst them preservatives. (Amongst which, alcohol…)
Next stage: that distillate can be boiled up, the water evaporated, and you end up with a powder extract. That can then be rehydrated. Or turned into some sort of liquid solution (inc. tinctures) by mixing with/into alcohol. And so on.
Back in Europe, I’d used witch hazel-based creams and ointments, and the alcoholic solution (on sprains and suchlike–jut first aid stuff, really, not skincare proper). I’d also used powder extract, made up into a tea then cooled down; basically, like making iced tea, make up about a pint, keep it in the fridge, use as needed. In a teenage girl Making Stuff Up phase. You know, along with DIY face-masks.
In the UK, I’ve had issues finding WH without alcohol. Because of course “distilled” has two meanings:
- the alcoholic version
“Distilled witch hazel BPC” contains WH, but it’s in an alcoholic solution. Usually 14% vol, though this varies between 13% and 15% (according to the British Pharmacopoeia Codex i.e. The Rules). Potter’s used to make a lower-alcohol version, about 5-6%: I don’t know if they do any longer. Anyhoo: all I could ever find in the UK was that 14% version, and I thought no more of it but just bought the alcoholic kind because all I used it for, back when I was living in the UK, was First Aid Kit Item. The last time I was looking was because I was back in the homeland visiting family, and had run out of my North American WH, and couldn’t find any for love or for money in the UK. It was a bit of a bugger, but I survived.
I have, however, been using witch hazel for the last while–when living in the US, and now in Canada, and in between when I was in Ireland I ordered it from the US or Germany–as a sort of antioxidant toner/swipey cleanser thing in the evening. More on what I use it for here (old green board stuff):
Q: I am interested in adding either rose water or witch hazel to my skin routine.
1. I have dry skin. Is rose water typically more for dry skin, while witch hazel helps oily skin? That is what I have gleaned from various sources, but I’m still not sure… I also suffer from occasional breakouts.
2. Someone explain the hydrosol thing to me… What’s the difference between rose water and rose hydrosol? And witch hazel (hydrosol)… Is there even a difference?
I’m interested in a product that contains rose water and alcohol (Primavera) and I just don’t know what I should be looking for on the label.
1. Yes, rose water is often used for dry skin. Witch hazel isn’t just used for oily skin: it’s high in antioxidants, good on many/most skins.
The alcohol-based version, however, tends to be better on oilier and “tougher” skins. One reason: potential irritation (some are irritated by alcohol on skin, some aren’t; ex. I have thin/fine skin that’s irritable anyway, and it is irritated by it). Second reason: the alcohol-based one usually has a higher tannin content (can irritate too).
2. Difference depends on how accurate the labelling is.
Full proper differences: a hydrosol (HYDRO) is water-based. No alcohol.
(a) solution in water vs. in alcohol (or a solution that’s at least part-alcohol)
(b) method of extraction for the rose/witch-hazel/etc part:
by steam distillation (water)
maceration in alcohol (alcohol; same method for making dishes like pears in red wine or port–and as there, the alcohol-part will be flavoured by the macerating thing, ex. pears)
in oil (again, cooking analogy: like making garlic or rosemary-infused oils)–in vinegar (ex. ginger vinegar…)
Some plants will only release the fragrant compounds with one of the above methods; same goes for different methods for different parts of same plant; some can work with more than one.
3. To complicate things, a “rose water” (to take one example, and your own) can be steam-distilled petals (so, no alcohol, just water)
it can be made from a concentrate made using alcohol, which is then diluted in water.
Concentration of original rose-alcohol stuff will vary: a pure rose absolute etc. perfume, for example, will be in the region of 70-80% alcohol (more or less).
A rose-water toner for putting on your face, more like 5-10% alcohol.
The rest, in both cases and points between, being water.
Other one often suggested for dry skin: orange-flower (aka neroli) water.
For rose and neroli, the cheapest sources (and best, often) are the food rather than cosmetic variety: look in cooking ingredient aisles and baking aisles in grocers (often, in North America, delis or specialised foreign food stores; Middle Eastern and Persian through to sub-continental Indian ones especially). Whole Foods and other health-food/eco-stores are worth looking in, both in the food and cosmetic aisles, if you prefer organic.
This is worth knowing if you find a toner you like (such as the Primavera one) and the main functional ingredients are something this simple: getting straight-forward rose-water is much, much cheaper…
From here, indeed, this is just expensive rose-water (the alcoholic variety, 14%: I’d avoid, alcohol too high for me, but YMMV!): http://www.saffronrouge.com
Another good source for information: Garden of Wisdom–both on the site itself and in the forum.
This is plain, simple, straight-forward, nothing-else-added, steam-distilled witch hazel. Aqueous solution. No alcohol.
Yes, there are other witch hazels out there that are as good: that is, good on sensitive and irritable skin. On other witch hazels, and if your requirements are similar: the desirable features to look out for are a lack of alcohol, and of anything else (scent, any other additives, etc. – Dickinsons, I’m looking at you!).
The GoW one comes in two sizes: 4 oz and 16 oz. In a plastic screw-top bottle. I got the big one, keep it in the refrigerator, and decant as needed into a smaller plastic flip-top bottle (from Muji) that lives in the bathroom.
Uses: as a toner, either applied using a cotton-wool pad, or as a splash (pour a little into palm of hand, pat hands together, then pat on face), can also be used in a spray (requires purchase of appropriate spritzer bottle, fairly easily found). In the Gingerrama case, of an evening, after cleansing and before moisturising. Good on any spotty or irritated bits, rashes, minor abrasions and other skin stuff, plus on insect bites and bruises. Generally soothing, calming, anti-irritant, mild astringent, some very lightweight antiseptic properties. Other than cosmetic use, it’s a good thing to keep in one’s first-aid kit at home.
Costs $3.25 for 4 oz / $9.20 for 16 oz + shipping. Even that smaller size is cheaper than drugstore/pharmacy alcohol-based solutions I’d bought previously, and considerably cheaper than other health-food store versions (ex. Potter’s in Ireland: 2 to 3 times the price, still not plain water-based). Cruelty-free.
INGREDIENTS: water, witch-hazel.
REALLY LONG ANSWER, ERRING ON THE SIDE OF CAUTION/TMI
Now: back to our question. If you have a quick look around online for information about witch hazel, you tend to find the same stuff being recycled a fair amount; much as I love Wikipedia, they do the same.
The information tends to fall into two main categories.
(1) From companies making or selling steam-distilled witch-hazel, usually (but not always) in aqueous solution: while this will include some useful stuff, this will also feature a range of other information that doesn’t, ahem, exactly fit into the categories of proof: i.e. evidence using scientific methods, and arguments using reasoning. While often very interesting, entertaining, informative, and generally useful, this will include: anecdotes, personal reminiscence, granny/family stories, recounting of further stories formulated as history, history retold as stories, tradition, folk-memory, folk-tales, myths, collective unconscious, Gestalt, legends, urban legends, fear-mongering, fallaciousness, and occasional straight-up mendaciousness.
(2) On the science side: more further down (plus that very small field, science that tests out “traditional medicine” scientifically). Flaw here: I’ve often been annoyed by the no-alcohol version being mixed up with the alcohol-containing one. Especially when people complain about (or experiments demonstrate) drying effects on skin. Well, d’oh, that might just be the alcohol…
The good Elfy and I put out heads together (as it were… get your heads/minds out of the gutter) earlier today, and came up with some online resources and bibliography that’s probably worth spreading a bit further afield. Sharing the joys, knowledge is power, empowering others, and saving them a bit of leg-work while we’re at it. Here you go:
Here’s an article re: botanicals in dermatology, witch hazel is mentioned:
This article from the 50s goes into great detail about Witch Hazel, with a nice section on distillation. Don’t know if the info still applies, but back then they used alcohol in the distilling process (Aha!) The full PDF can be accessed:
Re: antioxidant / potential anti-inflammatory activity, super nerdy and a bit OTT, but pretty darned interesting:
That last article is a very interesting one: OK, the usual flaw of not comparing like with like by using solutions containing alcohol, but with superb nerd-fest PICTURES OF CELLS!!! and charts and graphs. Love it.
Also, it (and the good Elfy) have successfully persuaded me to go geeky-goof off and search out white tea solutions. I do reckon the easiest things are going to be
(1) make tea and drink it–given there’s way more evidence for antioxidants doing diddly squat when ingested, rather than applied topically
(2) make tea, cool it down, store in fridge, and use on skin from there. Worst case scenario: The Beloved will drink it at some point. But it’s just tea. Unlike some of my more fragile and expensive oils, that ended up in (very delicious) salad dressings and sauces and concentrate-things. Yet another reason why I use cheaper oils that don’t need refrigeration. Main ones: mineral–he uses it too; sunflower–lives in the kitchen and gets used for cooking too; argan–lives in cupboard in bathroom in a small section at the back that’s clearly MYSTERIOUS GIRLY STUFF.
Some more references: NB, as ever, lack of distinction between aqueous and steam-distilled versions, and much of the research is on the alcoholic ones:
1. European Medicines Agency – Evaluation of Medicines for Human Use – assessment report on witch hazel (2009):http://www.ema.europa.eu
(more on this one in a moment: being the best digest of available information. FDA: this is what you ought to be doing if you were doing your job properly… and not just paying lip-service, being in the pockets of big pharma, placating lobby groups and consumer groups–no matter how moronic–rather than purely serving Knowledge/Science)
2. from: http://www.herbalist.com and http://www.webmd.com
American Botanical Council. Witch hazel leaf and bark. 2000. Available at: http://www.herbalgram.org. Accessed September 27, 2004.
Anon: “Witch Hazel.” In: DerMarderosian A, Beutler JA, eds. Facts and Comparisons: The Review of Natural Products. St. Louis, MO, Facts and Comparisons. July, 1997.
Blumenthal M, Gruenwald J, Hall T, Rister RS, eds. The Complete German Commission E Monographs. Austin, Texas: American Botanical Council; 1998.
Choi HR, Choi JS, Han YN, Bae SJ, Chung HY. “Peroxynitrite scavenging activity of herb extracts.” Phytotherapy Research. 2002;16(4):364-367.
Covington TR, et al. Handbook of Nonprescription Drugs. 11th ed. Washington, DC: American Pharmaceutical Association, 1996.
Dauer A, Hensel A, Lhoste E, Knasmuller S, Mersch-Sundermann V. “Genotoxic and antigenotoxic effects of catechin and tannins from the bark of Hamamelis virginiana L. in metabolically competent, human hepatoma cells (Hep G2) using single cell gel electrophoresis.” Phytochemistry. 2003;63(2):199-207.
Dauer A, Rimpler H, Hensel A. “Polymeric proanthocyanidins from the bark of Hamamelis virginiana.” Planta Medica. 2003;69(1):89-91.
Erdelmeier CA, Cinatl J Jr, Rabenau H, Doerr HW, Biber A, Koch E. “Antiviral and antiphlogistic activities of Hamamelis virginiana bark.” Planta Medica. 1996;62(3):241-245. 68
Fed. Reg. 35,346 (June 13, 2003) 59
Fed. Reg. 13,589 (June 3, 1994)
Foster S. Witch hazel. Available at:http://www.stevenfoster.com. Accessed September 27, 2004. Granlund H. “Contact allergy to witch hazel”. Contact Dermatitis. 1994;31(3):195.
Herbs2000. Hamamelis virginiana. No date given. Available at:http://www.herbs2000.com. Accessed August 6, 2004.
Hormann HP, Korting HC. “Evidence for the efficacy and safety of topical herbal drugs in dermatology: part I: anti-inflammatory agents”. Phytomedicine 1994;1:161-71.
Hughes-Formella BJ, Bohnsack K, Rippke F, et al. “Anti-inflammatory effect of hamamelis lotion in a UVB erythema test.” Dermatology. 1998;196(3):316-322.
Iauk L, Lo Bue AM, Milazzo I, Rapisarda A, Blandino G. “Antibacterial activity of medicinal plant extracts against periodontopathic Bacteria.” Phytotherapy Research. 2003:17(6):599-604.
Jellin JM, Gregory P, Batz F, Hitchens K, et al, eds. Pharmacist’s Letter/Prescriber’s Letter. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, 3rd Edition. Stockton CA: Therapeutic Research Facility, 2000.
Korting HC, Schafer-Korting M, Hart H, Laux P, Schmid M. “Anti-inflammatory activity of hamamelis distillate applied topically to the skin. Influence of vehicle and dose.” European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 1993;44(4):315-318. [cited by both]
Korting HC, Schafer-Korting M, Klovekorn W, Klovekorn G, Martin C, Laux P. “Comparative efficacy of hamamelis distillate and hydrocortisone cream in atopic Eczema.” European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 1995;48(6):461-465.
MacKay D. “Hemorrhoids and Varicose veins: a review of treatment options.” Alternative Medicine Review. 2001;6(2):126-140.
3. from: http://www.cosmeticscop.com
Phytotherapy Research, June 2002, pages 364–367
Journal of Dermatological Science, July 1995, pages 25–34
Skin Pharmacology and Applied Skin Physiology, March-April 2002, pages 125–132).
“Alcohol is added during the distillation process [NOT TRUE FOR STEAM-DISTILLED HYDROSOL: SEE MF INFO], the amount typically being 14–15%. Witch hazel water is distilled from all parts of the plant, so in that sense you never know what you’re getting, though the alcohol content remains.”
[with apologies for Paula Begoun’s unconventional/weak/lazy citation style: will hunt these down and tidy up later]
4. useful good basic information, well-explained and written, but further sources needed: http://swiftcraftymonkey.blogspot.com
ZOOMING IN, UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL, ON ONE OF THESE:
OR, IF YOU THOUGHT THAT LAST BIT WAS BAD, LOL COS THIS NEXT BIT IS REALLY NERDING OUT
Main info I looked into (errm, not super-duper thoroughly, so do go off and read it for yourselves), and best one-stop single source, inc. references (to Proper Sources): the European Medicines Agency – Evaluation of Medicines for Human Use – assessment report on witch hazel (2009):http://www.ema.europa.eu
Around about p. 15, you start to see a clearer distinction between general uses, general topical use, and uses on *facial* skin; a fair bit before on distinctions between alcohol-based solution and hydrosols. With the latter and ointments being more generally used (and prescribed, in some countries) for SCB purposes…
But: most of the reported experiments have been conducted using tinctures and the BP extract (=alcohol-based); there’s less here (as there’s little been done) that contrasts the aqueous solution with the alcoholic one.
Hamamelis leaves and bark contain tannins. Although tannins may be responsible for the astringent and styptic properties, the distilled product contains almost no active tannins. Alcohol provides the astringent effect. When applied to broken skin or mucous membranes, hamamelis products induce protein precipitation that tightens up superficial cell layers and shrinks colloidal structures. This action, in turn, causes capillary vasoconstriction, decreasing vascular permeability and inflammation (Lamont Hume and Strong, 2006).
In vitro experiments
The phenolic constituents of hamamelis, particularly the tannins (e.g. hamamelitannin), aldehydes and oligomeric proanthocyanidins are responsible for its astringent activity. Similar to other astringent drugs, application of hamamelis preparations to the skin and mucosa in low concentrations sealed cell membranes and reduced capillary permeability. Higher concentrations precipitated proteins and thickened colloidal tissue, forming a thin membrane in the wound region, and slightly compressed the skin tissue beneath it. Alcohol hamamelidis extracts showed strong astringent action, the bark extract is slightly superior to the leaf extract (Laux, 1993, Vennat 1988, Hänsel 1993)
The astringent effect of a tincture (1:3; 62% ethanol) prepared from fresh hamamelis bark was demonstrated with hide powder (Gracza, 1987)
29: the tannins being the key factor in antioxidant activity… contrary to Paula Begoun
34-35: anti-inflammatory properties: looking here at acqueous distillate and ointment forms
37-38: nice tables summarizing experiments
(43-44): conflicting information + few to no products available on the (European) market + insufficient “traditional use” backup = water distillate received the judgement of “not recommended.” That is: for legislating purposes: as a regulated medicament / drug. The water (and certain other forms–see original document) stays over-the-counter, but other forms of witch-hazel acquire the status of regulated prescription medicine.
(here’s the bits that refer to the hydrosol version)
There are some products of Hamamelis aqua (water steam distillate) (1:1.6), authorised as medicinal products in different European countries (see I. Regulatory Status Overview), but this provides no rationale for recommending the use of this preparation under well established use (WEU).
In relation to the cutaneous use of hamamelis, some randomized, placebo controlled studies have been performed with products containing hamamelis distillate. The results of some of these clinical trials regarding the efficacy in eczema are conflicting (Hughes-Formella, 2002; Korting, 1995). However, in two separate laboratories the beneficial effect of hamamelis preparations in inflammation induced by UV light or tape stripping in human volunteers has been demonstrated (Hughes-Formella BJ, 1998; Korting, 1993). In both of these studies the anti-inflammatory potency was weaker than for hydrocortisone but significantly greater than for the vehicle. The efficacy has been demonstrated with concrete products and
related mainly to the excipients used as carriers in the formulations. This is the rationale for not considering Hamamelidis aqua preparations for WEU.
The plausibility of the traditional cutaneous use of hamamelis distillate and its preparations (semi solid/ solid preparations) is reinforced upon available (non-) clinical pharmacological experiences and based upon long-standing use, as well.
The assessor’s final conclusion is to recommend only the traditional registration procedure for the preparations of hamamelis considered in this AR mainly for cutaneous use (skin and external mucosa), including products containing hamamelis water preparations which are considered as the most extensively studied.
Back to the UK, and one of the most readily-available WHs, the Boots “Distilled Witch Hazel BPC”:
“This topical solution contains Distilled Witch Hazel (Hamamelis Water) B.P.C. 100% v/v.”
Check with Boots if you want to be sure: the last time I looked at the Boots one, that was a solution of 14% alcohol (ethanol), 86% WH. I know the labelling’s been changing, and it’s not always required to state the inactive ingredients (drove me bananas: the number of UK pharmacy emollient creams where they just said “inactive ingredients: in an emollient base.”)
–which is standard (p 8-9 of the EU doc):
Hamamelis water (Hamamelis distillate): Aqua hamamelidis. Distilled Witch Hazel; Witch Hazel USP;
Liquor Hamamelidis. Several preparations, similar but not equivalent, obtained from different processes and called with different names are referring to hamamelis water.
Leaves, bark and twigs collected in spring are used for the production of water distillates. Aqua hamamelidis is a clear colourless liquid; the odour is characteristic. Their acidity or alkalinity is neutral or slightly acid to litmus solution. Its weight per ml at 20ºC is 0.976 g to 0.982 g. The residue on evaporation, not more than 0.025% w/v, the residue being dried to constant weight at 105ºC. The alcohol content is from 13 to 15% v/v of ethyl alcohol, determined by the method included in BP Codex.
Distillate of fresh Hamamelis virginiana L. (leaves and branches) (1:1.12-2.08), distillation agent ethanol 6% m/m. Used as an ointment with 100 g of ointment containing 6.25 g distillate.
Distillate prepared from dried twigs (1:2; ethanol 14-15% v/v).
What we get in North America as “witch-hazel hydrosol” is that “water distillates” a.k.a. steam-distilled water-based solution.
“Distilled witch hazel BPC” = that there same distillate, evaporated, dried, and then reconstituted in alcohol solution. (Which makes sense: given most WH is grown in North America and it’s easier to transport in its dried form.)
Sent this to the OP–and an amendment, when I had my own Moment of Supreme Sublime Revelation a.k.a. D’OH when I realised this looks like it’s just the leaves. UKers: I’ve just contacted Neal’s Yard to ask them if that’s just the leaves (as the page suggests, and which is less use for skin purposes) or the whole
beast plant, bark and/or twigs too. Will update with information as and if and when it is forthcoming. (Or go ask NY yourselves.)
Neal’s Yard sells dried witch hazel:
http://www.nealsyardremedies.com(£4.30 / 50 g)
If you’re still keen on using witch hazel, I’d reckon that’s probably your best bet, in the UK. How that would work: use the dried witch hazel to make a tea, remove leaves (like with normal tea), and leave it to cool in the fridge. Ratios: like with other herbal teas, something like 1 teaspoonful per 250 ml. You could make up about a pint, like for iced tea (so about 2 to 2.5 teasp. WH : pint of water); then keep it in the fridge and use it whenever. Just shake it up and apply using a cotton-wool pad.
Given the stuff’s about 4 quid, that’s going to be cheaper than, say, buying witch-hazel hydrosol (=the water-based no-alcohol solution version) from the main sources, in the US.
It would also be worth looking at German, Austrian, Swiss, and possibly Danish etailer sites, of the more hippy dippy granola variety. I say that as a granola-lover myself… but, seriously: I bought and used WH when living in these places, and they’re more into that sort of alternative/folk stuff than most people in the UK are (and it’s more normal, like part of regular medicine, rather than freakish).
On the other hand, there’s more to life than finding excuses to trawl the entire internet + being nerdy has its limits 🙂