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Advice: Witch Hazel? Shave Oil?

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Michael asks:

What’s the difference between witch hazel and aftershave? I’m a young guy who has suffered from mild acne for a number of years, Would you recommend me using witch hazel as opposed to a traditional aftershave? If so, Is there a specific brand of witch hazel I should use? If I were to use witch hazel should I even bother using a traditional aftershave (such as a balm)?

 I’m also a little confused on how shave oils work. Are you supposed to put shave oil on your face, and then use a brush to put on shaving cream on top of the layer of oil? Thank you so much!

“Pure” Witch Hazel is an topical astringent used on sores, bruises, and to reduce swelling. Distilled Witch Hazel from the grocery store or drugstore is a “hydrosol” and more of a skin care product, a strong anti-oxidant used for cleaning, acne, insect bites, and shaving cuts and abrasions. Part of the distillation process uses alcohol, so Witch Hazel products you find in the store will be about 14% alcohol. Some companies dilute the content slightly with other ingredients to make it more of a toner than an astringent.

So to answer the first part of your question, Witch Hazel could be considered a type of aftershave (more like a “splash” than a “balm”) and should be useful for treating acne. As for branding, its largely a personal preference kind of thing: you can find generic Witch Hazel at your local mega-market very cheaply. Some brands have different scents that you may or may not like.

For myself, I use Witch Hazel as a cleanser after I shave to pick up any loose bits of stubble and clean off any remaining lather residue: I find I get fewer ingrown hairs when I do this. Then I will rinse with cool water (though this is optional) and apply aftershave balm for additional protection.

Regarding shaving oils, unfortunately the answer is “yes and no.” Oils that are shaving-brush-friendly are applied and then lathered over. Unfortunately not all oils are brush-friendly. You should be safe using oils from vendors or companies that also have traditional shaving supplies: Art of Shaving, Truefitt & Hill, and Pacific Shaving are a few that come to mind that are safe. When in doubt, ask the vendor.


Shave tutor and co-founder of sharpologist. I have been advocating old-school shaving for over 20 years and have been featured in major media outlets including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Lifehacker. Also check out my content on Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest!View Author posts

2 thoughts on “Advice: Witch Hazel? Shave Oil?”

  1. No love for Thayer's Witch Hazel? ; )

    I still want the Lemon scented, but not sure if this is the one I should be getting.

  2. Rose water (hydrosol) is also a good astringent (closes pores)after shaving.
    If you use a shaving soap or cream, pick one with lavender essential oil, because it's a natural antibacterial. Then rinse with rose water to close the pores. I know, I know, not the most manly but the most natural 🙂

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