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The reason (most) people should avoid certain clay face masks!

Most clay face masks have an ingredient that doesn't sit well with most skin types… witch hazel.

Of course skin care isn't black and white. It's all about the dose, and some people swear by witch hazel. I'm happy it works for you and please use whatever makes you happy! In most cases, however, witch hazel gives short term benefits and long term skin downsides. 

Do you ever wonder why some clay mask companies can claim they tighten pores so drastically? These masks do have that ability to shrink our little darlings, but at what cost? Some of the pore shrinking may be from the clay, but witch hazel is another ingredient that closes our pores. 

Why is witch hazel (usually) a problem for skin? Let’s dig in. 

Witch hazel (Hammamelis virginiana) has been shown to help skin when used as a short-term remedy, but long-term use can be a problem, no matter your skin concerns or skin type.

In witch hazel, one of the main antioxidants is a group of chemicals called tannins. Tannins are responsible for the constricting and drying effects, temporarily de-greasing of the skin, and minimizing the appearance of large pores. Witch hazel naturally contains ~8%–12% tannins and tannins are sensitizing (FYI tannins are also in a lot of other ingredients that don't get as bad a wrap but that's a topic for another day).  

Witch hazel is generally distilled using ethanol and the extract can contain ~14%–15% alcohol. Applying ethanol to your skin generates free-radical damage and impairs the skin’s surface (even alcohol in lower amounts can damage skin). If you use witch hazel, make sure it is alcohol free! 

Witch hazel “miracle claims” are a bit misleading. In reality, for most people there are short term benefits and long term downsides. We all judge our skin care products on the results. Even better if there is an immediate result, ammiright? I’ve scoured thousands of clay mask reviews (with witch hazel) and the number one thing everyone loves is how small their pores look after using. In this case, the short term gains may not be worth it... 

If you're having skin problems please read your ingredients. Witch hazel is likely lurking in a lot of your products sitting at home.

And please disregard this if witch hazel works for you. Everyones skin is different. If it works for you, great. Keep on keepin' on. 

Photo credit: jorda_nsplinter and otterwatch


References for this information: and references therein, including:

Dermatitis, November-December 2017, pages 353–359
The International Encyclopedia of Adverse Drug Reactions and Interactions, 2016, pages 501–522
The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, May 2014, pages 36–44; and May 2008, pages 20–25
Journal of Inflammation, October 2011, ePublication
Journal of the German Society of Dermatology, October 2010, pages 788–796
Chemical Research in Toxicology, March 2008, pages 696–704
Robbers, J. E., Speedie, M. K., Tyler, V. E. Pharmacognosy and Pharmacobiotechnology, Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins, 1996


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