An under statment: I am bit skincare obsessed. I usually use pretty top of the line stuff on my face, but nothing will ever come between me and my witch hazel. If anything could ever be a holy grail, witch hazel is one for me. And it's so cheap! And easily attainable! At any drugstore! Holy damn! I go through a pint in about six months. Every morning after I clarisonic (don't you like how I made that into a verb there?), I take one of those round cotton pad jobs and invert the bottle several times over it. Then I tone my face and neck. The Duane Reade generic has 86% witch hazel, and the rest is isopropanol. I'm assuming this is the composition of all witch hazels.
Witch Hazel bush in the Spring
Witch hazel is a "decorative" plant that grows wild in the americas. Apparently the native indians used it extensively in their medicinal practices. The stems were distilled and used for all manner of ailments.
Witch Hazel bush in the Winter
Anecdotally, witch hazel evens out skin tone, and brightens the complexion. Since it's an astringent, it's very good for the acne prone. More importantly for the long term, it's an anti-oxidant, which means it prevents the oxidation of molecules. Oxidation is a type of chemical reaction that transfers electrons from a reducing agent to an oxidizing agent. Oxidation and reduction reactions are crucial for life, but too much and in the wrong place can result in damaging oxidative stress. For example, the product of such reactions can be free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that can cause quite a bit of damage to cells, and any and all cellular damage ultimately translates into aging. There are many popular anti-oxidants in skincare, the most common of which are vitamins C and E. So toning with an anti-oxidant like witch hazel likely has a lot of long term benefits.
Witch Hazel is also supposed to be good for cuts and sunburns, how multitasking and useful of it! So go forth, buy witch hazel, because you never know when it might come in super handy!