The word 'astringent' has its origin in the Latin word, 'adstringere', which means 'to bind fast'. True to its name, an astringent helps tissues bind quickly causing them to shrink or constrict. So, an astringent is basically a substance or compound that can constrict or draw together body tissues, and this is the reason why it has found so many uses in both medicinal and cosmetic field.
Some astringents are used topically to tighten the skin tissues, while others are used internally to shrink the mucous membrane. The term 'astringency' is also used to refer to the dry and puckering sensation in the mouth caused by the consumption of certain fruits like persimmon fruits and pomegranates, and the skin of a banana. These fruits contain tannins, which cause the salivary proteins to bind together. This produces the characteristic rough and sandpaper-like sensation in the mouth.
Uses of Astringents
The ability of an astringent to shrink the skin and the mucous membrane has been utilized for both cosmetic and medicinal purposes. In medicine, it is used internally to constrict the mucous membrane, and thus, reduce unwanted discharge and mucus secretions. Externally, it is employed to reduce skin irritation, and treat fungal infections of the skin and insect bites. It is used in aftershave lotions to soothe the skin, and reduce the pain and irritation caused by minor cuts.
As a cosmetic, it is primarily used to make the skin firm. When applied externally, it can constrict the skin pores, and cause mild coagulation of the skin proteins to form a protective layer of tissues. In other words, astringents can tighten your skin. Two most common topical astringents used for this purpose are, calamine lotion and witch hazel. Commercial astringent preparations usually contain zinc oxide, zinc sulfate, silver nitrate, potassium permanganate, and vegetable derivatives like tannins and gallic acid.
Astringents for Acne-prone Skin
» Dermatologists usually recommend the use of astringents for oily and acne-prone skin. The presence of excess sebum or oil on the skin can clog the skin pores, and such clogged skin pores are more likely to harbor dead skin cells and bacteria. This can eventually cause the development of acne or pimples. Astringents by constricting the skin pores can control the secretion of sebum or oil by the sebaceous glands.
» So, astringents can control breakouts, as well as blackheads and whiteheads. Many astringents have antiseptic and antibacterial properties, for which they can help control acne. They can accelerate the healing of insect bites and fungal infections of the skin as well. Women usually use astringents to remove the traces of makeup. Astringents can effectively remove makeup residues, and clean the skin pores. Apart from these, they can stimulate the circulation of blood.
» Sometimes, the terms 'astringent' and 'toner' are used interchangeably, though a toner is usually milder than an astringent. However, both the products can close the skin pores and cleanse them by removing dirt and bacteria. Astringents usually contain harsher ingredients, as compared to a toner. Therefore, people having dry and sensitive skin should avoid astringents. A toner, being milder than an astringent can be used on dry skin.
» However, astringents, if used on acne, may worsen the problem at times. Some astringents can be harsh, and they can irritate the skin and cause skin dryness, if used excessively. Many experts are of the opinion that astringents can cause more blockage by constricting the skin pores, and thus, raise the risk of infections and breakouts. So, it is important to use a mild astringent, and apply a moisturizer (preferably a water-based moisturizer) afterward, if you have acne-prone skin.
How to Use an Astringent
✔ Before applying an astringent, wash your face with a mild soap and lukewarm water. If you have extremely oily and acne-prone skin, use a mild soap having antibacterial properties.
✔ After washing your face to remove all soap residues, soak a cotton ball in a small amount of astringent, and dab it on your face. Now, pat your skin dry with a soft towel.
✔ Always moisturize your skin after applying an astringent. Use a water-based, non-comedogenic moisturizer, if you have oily and acne-prone skin.
Though the market is flooded with a wide range of astringents and toners, many people opt for homemade astringents, as they are completely natural and free of harsh chemicals. You can also make your own homemade astringents by incorporating some inexpensive and natural ingredients, as explained below:
✦ The members of the citrus family, such as lemons and oranges are some of the best natural astringents that can be used on all types of skin. Orange and lemon juice can tighten the skin by constricting the skin pores. However, be sure to dilute the juice slightly before applying it on your face, and keep it for about 10 to 15 minutes for best results.
✦ Grated cucumber or cucumber juice can also tighten and refresh your skin in the summer days. Apply the juice on your face and keep it for 15 to 20 minutes, before rinsing it off with lukewarm water. You can also add a few drops of rose water to cucumber juice to make it more refreshing.
✦ Aloe vera has astringent and anti-inflammatory properties, for which it can accelerate the healing of acne lesions. You can get aloe vera gel from your local store, or extract the gel from the leaves, if you have the plant at home. Cut off the outer layers of a leaf, and squeeze out the gel. Apply this gel on your entire face, keep it for 15 to 20 minutes, and then wash your face with clean water.
✦ Witch hazel is perhaps one of the most popular natural astringents. It is produced from the leaves and bark of the witch-hazel shrub. The leaves, bark, and the twigs of this shrub contain high levels of tannins, which give this plant its astringent properties. Dip a cotton ball or pad in witch hazel and dab it on your face. Allow it to stay on your skin for 10 to 15 minutes before rinsing it off.
✦ Rose water is a mild, but effective astringent. You can make rose water at home by boiling a bowl of water and then adding a few fresh rose petals to it. Allow the petals to soak in water for 30 to 40 minutes, after which discard them. Now, the water can be used as a mild astringent or toner.
✦ Vinegar is probably the most versatile product found in the kitchen. Vinegar can be mixed with water and used as an inexpensive astringent. You can mix equal parts of vinegar (preferably apple cider vinegar) and water, and use it to rinse your face.
✦ Another homemade astringent or toner can be prepared by steeping basil leaves in boiling water. Take a bowl of boiling water, and steep 2 to 3 teaspoons of dried basil leaves in it. Allow the leaves to steep for about 15 to 20 minutes, after which you can drain the water and use it as an astringent. The remaining water can be stored in a glass bottle or container for future use. Similarly, you can make peppermint and chamomile astringent by infusing the freshly cut mint leaves and dried chamomile flowers in boiling water.
Astringents however, cannot cure acne, and may not be able to reduce a severe outbreak of acne immediately. However, their use may help reduce the frequency of acne outbreaks. But some experts are of the opinion that if used on acne, astringent can aggravate the problem instead of alleviating it. So, if you have any doubt or query regarding the safety and effectiveness of astringents for treating acne, please talk to a dermatologist.Disclaimer
: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be considered as a substitute for professional medical advice.