Witch Hazel vs Witch Hazel Hydrosol
“Witch hazel” as commonly found on store shelves is witch hazel extract, not the same as witch hazel hydrosol. The difference between the two is the method of production. Common witch hazel is produced by extraction, soaking dried parts of the plant in a water-alcohol solution which draws the medicinal components of the plant cells into the solution. This is why most witch hazel solutions have 14% alcohol content. Witch hazel is a wonderful astringent and skin care ingredient but the most common complaint about it is that it is drying to the skin. All witch hazel extraction solutions are not created equal in that some manufacturers use a lower quality alcohol which is harsher on the skin and this is why some people refuse to use witch hazel. A lower quality product does indeed dry the skin, but it is not a given that all witch hazel solutions are irritating. This is a case where you get what you pay for. When we use witch hazel extraction solutions in our products, we make sure to buy a higher quality variety which is not irritating or drying.
Witch hazel hydrosol is derived from a very different process. All hydrosols are by-products of plant distillation in order to obtain the plant oils. An essential oil is produced by subjecting the plant material to heated steam (water) to separate the volatile oils from the solid plant material. Upon cooling and condensation, a layer of oil settles upon the water which, also upon cooling, is once again a liquid. The oil is removed and the distillate (hydrosol) is left. Initially this water was discarded but then it was discovered that the water retained less concentrated but effective medicinal qualities similar to those found in the concentrated oil. This is why hydrosols, including witch hazel hydrosol, contain no alcohol.
Hydrosols are not enhanced with any other additives except an occasional preservative, which in some cases might be a very small percentage of alcohol, but the amount is negligible in terms of its effect on the skin. Hydrosols are also surprisingly stable for up to two to ten years, even without preservatives. These days though a little preservative is not a bad thing relative to the value of the potion.