I used to think witch hazel was a misnomer. When you think of witches, you generally picture an old hag, with disheveled hair, a crooked nose, bad teeth, and dry, wrinkly skin. That image is far off from the supposed benefits of this shrub, which is said to cleanse, beautify, and moisturize your skin. As it turns out, the "witch" part of the name has nothing to do with practitioners of magic. It comes from "wice," an Old English word that means "to bend."
Nevertheless, witch hazel is nothing short of magic. It is one of the few medicinal plants that has earned approval from the Food and Drug Administration. It is also among the most well-known home remedies related to skin-related issues. Today, this extract is an ingredient in toners, clarifying products, makeup removers, and skin cleansers. It is a key ingredient found in products from popular makeup and cosmetics brands such as Estée Lauder, Neutrogena, L'Oreal, and Revlon.
What Is Witch Hazel?
Witch hazel extract comes from the Hamamelis virginiana shrub. This compound has a long history of use for different ailments, mostly as a remedy for minor skin irritations. The Hamamelis virginiana extract is a well-known home remedy and a staple in Native American medicine. Native Americans would boil the stems of this flowering plant, keep the liquid, and use it to treat swelling, infections, and even tumors.
Witch hazel is extracted by water or steam distillation. You can use the dried leaves, twigs, or bark of the plant.
Benefits Of Witch Hazel
People use Hamamelis water for treating irritated skin, burns, wounds, bruises, swelling, and insect bites, among other conditions. You may have used witch hazel if you use toners, skin cleansers, makeup removers, and other skincare products. This remedy has a reputation for being useful in beautifying your skin. These are not just old wive's tales; scientific studies are showing that this plant-derived remedy has some medicinal benefits.
One study found that this extract prevents the breakdown of collagen and might have antioxidant properties. These qualities are the reason why several skincare products use this extract. For example, the Maple Holistics Witch Hazel Toner promises to reduce redness, large pores, and blemishes as it cleans and tones your skin. This product also claims to be able to slough away dead skin cells and protect your skin from sun damage.
Furthermore, the product contains lavender and aloe vera, which, together with witch hazel, have anti-aging and anti-oxidant effects. This Maple Holistics product gets an average rating of 4.6 out of 5.0 stars on Amazon. Verified users attest to how good it is at exfoliating dead skin, evening out skin tone, and reducing pores. It can also calm your irritated skin.
The above study also demonstrates Hamamelis virginiana having anti-inflammation effects. These effects bring about the protective properties of witch hazel on fibroblast cells, which have a significant role in healing wounds. Another study also shows that anti-acne products commonly contain witch hazel. That is because the extract is also a good astringent that can soothe the skin, on top of having anti-inflammatory effects.
Witch Hazel Can Prevent Scalp And Skin Irritation
According to Dr. Adebola Dele-Michael, Hamamelis virginiana extract has a high concentration of tannins, which can tighten, harden, and dry skin tissues. These properties make the compound very effective against acne. The plant-derived extract helps the skin produce a protective layer against bacteria, while also reducing inflammation.
Bruises and infections
Hamamelis virginiana soothes poison ivy rashes and small cuts. The compound has anti-inflammatory effects and a slight anti-bacterial action that helps clear minor bruises. It can also help reduce the damage that surrounding tissues might get. Furthermore, a 2002 study showed that the Hamamelis virginiana extract is effective in fighting microbes such as Candida albicans, Staphylococcus aureus, and other organisms. This action is seen to be beneficial in fighting atopic dermatitis, as well as other similar skin conditions.
Varicose veins and hemorrhoids
A 2001 study showed that this plant-based remedy might be useful in treating hemorrhoids and varicose veins. However, further studies are still necessary to provide more evidence for this. The Association of Radical Midwives also recommends witch hazel soaks as a complementary therapy for pregnant women who suffer from varicose veins and vulval varicosities.
Sun damage and sunburn
Extracts from the Hamamelis virginiana plant is also an excellent remedy for sunburn. Cynthia Bailey, a dermatologist, says that the anti-inflammatory effects of this compound are great for soothing sunburn pain. It can also soothe the redness and reduce the loss of moisture.
Other Reported Benefits
Aside from these studies, the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database also reports that when taken orally, Hamamelis virginiana is useful for diarrhea, mucous colitis, colds, tumors, fever, and cancer. It is also an excellent remedy for those who suffer from tuberculosis and those who are vomiting or coughing up blood. You can also apply it topically for skin irritation and inflammation of the mucous membranes and other skin problems.
Additionally, the University of Michigan Health Library says that the proanthocyanidins in this Hamamelis virginiana extract have shown promise in treating cold sores. This plant-based compound may even have positive effects on eczema and hemorrhoids. Michigan Medicine also lists menorrhagia, Crohn's disease, and canker sores as other diseases that might be remedied by witch hazel extract.
Why It Works: Tannins
You might have heard about tannins before, especially if you drink wine. Tannins are natural compounds that you find in many plants, including grapes and witch hazel. As you distill the Hamamelis virginiana plant, a lot of the tannins stay in the extract.
A review on tannins and its effect on human health has found that these compounds might have anti-carcinogenic effects because of their antioxidant properties. However, whether or not tannins can fight cancer still needs further studies. What is well-documented, however, is the effects of these compounds on bacteria, viruses, and microbes.
Tannins inhibit the growth of bacteria, yeasts, fungi, and viruses. These substances can also accelerate blood clotting, control your body's immune responses, and lower blood pressure, among other effects.
How Do You Use Witch Hazel?
There are several ways to use witch hazel. Most often, you just wet a piece of cotton with witch hazel and then rub it on your skin to cleanse it. For irritation and most other skin problems, you can use creams or ointments infused with this extract. Just apply these to the affected area three to four times a day.
You can also steep the bark or leaves of the shrub in boiling or boiled water for up to 15 minutes. You can drink the tea throughout the day, in between your meals. Other people prefer preparing a tincture and use anywhere from 0.07 to 0.14 ounces of the extract. For hemorrhoids, you can apply the tincture liberally to help soothe and relieve the pain.
You can also use this liquid as a carrier for essential oils, making it safer for topical applications. Mix the Hamamelis virginiana extract with a few drops of your favorite essential oils, and then slather it on your skin. The essential oils make the unscented witch hazel extract more fragrant. It also provides additional health benefits from the oils that you use. MarthaStewart.com even shares this recipe for a room spray that uses your favorite essential oils and the Hamamelis virginiana extract.
Some Products Containing Witch Hazel
There are several highly rated products on Amazon that contain witch hazel. There's TUCKS Medicated Cooling Pads, which you can use to treat hemorrhoids. Verified buyers give this product a rating of 4.6 out of 5.0 stars, attesting that it helps them reduce the pain and swelling caused by hemorrhoids. Others say that these are good for tears after giving birth.
You can also check out Swan Witch Hazel, which sells for around $5 to $10 for a 16-ounce bottle. The manufacturer recommends using this product as an astringent and claims that it can help with minor skin irritations. Getting an average rating of 4.3 out of 5.0 stars, verified customers say that Swan's product is an effective treatment for acne, while others use this product to help manage oily skin.
There's also Dickinson’s Original Witch Hazel Pore Perfecting Toner, which sells for around $5 to $10 for a 16-ounce bottle. This toner also gets a rating of 4.3 stars out of 5.0 from more than 600 customers. People love this toner because it leaves your face very clean. Others say that this helps with their blemishes.
You should also try products infused with essential oils, such as the Honeydew Witch Hazel Toner. This alcohol-free toner contains lavender essential oil, making it an excellent product not only for cleansing and soothing your irritated skin, but also for keeping it moisturized. An 8-ounce bottle of this product sells for $8 to $15. Verified reviewers on Amazon give this a rating of 4.5 stars out of 5.0.
General Precautions When Using Witch Hazel
Some studies demonstrate that witch hazel works for a variety of skin conditions, but these are still very few and inconclusive. As such, much of the health claims for this extract are mostly anecdotal and not backed by sufficient research. Even dermatologists, scientists, and other experts are divided on whether the plant-based remedy is good or bad for a particular condition. For instance, some experts say that this compound is great for sunburn. However, others maintain that you should not put it on broken or peeling skin.
Furthermore, if you are using medications, herbs, and supplements that have alkaloids in them, you are advised to avoid using this Hamamelis virginiana extract. The tannins in this compound might block the absorption of these alkaloids. Also, there are risks of stomach cramping and irritation when you ingest witch hazel. For those who have dry skin, make sure to choose a product that is alcohol-free. Most of the products available on the market have up to 30 percent alcohol content, and these can dry your skin.
Only for short-term use?
There are also concerns about the long-term use of Hamamelis virginiana extracts. According to author Paula Begoun, using this remedy for a long time might prove disastrous for your complexion. That is because this extract has tannins, which has a drying and constricting effect on the skin. In the short term, the drying effect of tannins helps make enlarged pores look smaller, while also helping de-grease your skin. However, long-term application of tannins to your skin will sensitize the skin.
Begoun, who has her own line of cosmetic products, also warns people that most Hamamelis virginiana extracts have around 14 percent to 15 percent ethanol in them. Therefore, on top of having tannins that can irritate your skin, you are also putting skin-damaging alcohol on it.
Aside from the tannins and the alcohol present in this plant-based extract, it also contains a volatile oil that has eugenol in it. Eugenol is a big no-no for your skin.
Always ask your doctor
Lastly, no matter how effective witch hazel might be for other people, you should always consult your doctor first if you want to use this extract to treat any medical condition. No home remedy is 100% safe, and nothing beats your doctor's advice when it comes to your health. You should also not take this article as medical advice.
General precautions when using essential oils
If you are going to combine essential oils and witch hazel, remember that there are additional precautions as well. For instance, you cannot use witch hazel on pregnant women without proper guidance. You also cannot use essential oils on kids. Plus, you should never ingest essential oils without first consulting a trained medical or healthcare professional.
Everyone Should Have This Great Remedy At Home
Witch hazel has a somewhat lengthy history of being used as a natural remedy. From that fact alone, plus the glowing reviews and high ratings of verified users on Amazon, you can deduce that this extract works. And while you should temper your expectations for some of the claimed health benefits, it surely does not hurt to try. This extract is inexpensive, readily available, and all-natural, so it is wise to include this in your list of treatment options.
The truth is, you can easily find alternative products to the Hamamelis extract. For instance, you can buy Proactiv for your acne or Desitin for diaper rash. Witch hazel, however, allows you to save space in your medicine cabinet. Not only is it useful for a wide variety of skin problems and other conditions, but it also lessens your exposure to potentially harmful synthetic chemical ingredients.