You will almost certainly have heard about Witch Hazel and may even have seen witch hazel products on sale in the health store, but do you know what is it used for?
What is Witch Hazel
Witch hazel is a bark and leaf extract of the Hamamelis Virginiana plant which is native to North America. It was known to traditional healers and was widely used by American Indians who used it in different ways in applications as diverse as treating hemorrhoids and fever. Nowadays witch hazel is a component of a variety of commercial skincare products. It contains tannins which are organic compounds which serve as an astringent. In my e-book The Herbal Remedies Guide, I’ve already mentioned witch hazel as a remedy for several skin conditions.
Let’s explore how to use witch hazel as a natural remedy for many ailments:
1. Witch Hazel has Antimicrobial and Antiviral Properties
Witch hazel has traditionally been used to treat the pain of poison ivy or sooth a chicken pox itch. It also helps bruises and cuts to heal more quickly. What these conditions all have in common is that they are either caused or made worse by viruses or bacteria.
Witch hazel appears to be particularly effective at treating bacterial and fungal infections such as those caused by Staphylococcus Aureus and Candida Albicans and is therefore a useful treatment tool in the battle against microbial skin infections.
A recent study published in Plos One has shown that the tannins in witch hazel might be a particularly effective antiviral agent having been proved to have an effect against both influenza A (the Flu) and Human Papilloma Virus with hope that it might be proved to be effective against other viruses in the future.
2. Witch Hazel has Anti-Inflammatory Properties for Skin Irritations
Inflammation can be a symptom of some painful conditions such as razor burn, bug bites or diaper rash.
While these are typically localized to one part of the body they can be very painful and, if left unattended, can result in infections. This inflammation is caused by the action of free radicals on skin cells.
Japanese study on extract of Witch hazel have proven that is has extremely powerful anti-inflammatory powers due to its ability to ‘scavenge’ oxygen and therefore protect against free radical damage.
3. Witch Hazel for Eczema, Cold Sores and Canker Sores
These skin conditions can be a real pain to treat, particularly if you suffer from recurring infections and prefer to use natural remedies rather than repeating courses of medication. The antimicrobial and antiviral properties of witch hazel mean that it is a viable alternative treatment for these conditions.
Witch hazel cream has been shown to be as efficient at treating the symptoms of eczema as a 1% hydrocortisone cream and applying a witch hazel extract to a cold sore up to 6 times a day for 8 days was shown to be more effective at reducing the infection than a placebo cream. You can find more treatments for cold sores in my article the best home remedies for cold sores, and if you suffer from eczema, you can try these natural treatment or essential oils for eczema.
Witch Hazel can also be used as a mouth wash and when done so can help to reduce the pain and inflammation of canker sores and promote healing.
4. Witch Hazel is an Effective Astringent
The same tannins that make witch hazel an effective antiviral and antimicrobial agent make it an effective astringent which can help stop bleeding and support the skin’s natural healing process. This makes it a useful topical treatment for various conditions which will be discussed below.
5. Treat Your Sensitive Scalp with Witch Hazel
People suffering from sensitive scalp have noticed their symptoms, particularly scalp irritation, improve when they were given a witch hazel based shampoo and scalp treatment to try. In a trial of over 1, 300 people suffering from sensitive scalp, the subjects of the study reported an improvement in their condition with no significant side effects.
If you suffer from sensitive scalp, you can also try this ACV hair rinse that helps balance the skin pH, treat dandruff, itchy and dry scalp.
6. Witch Hazel for Varicose Veins and Hemorrhoids
Witch hazel has also long been known to play a role in treating varicose veins in the legs and anal hemorrhoids by helping to promote improved circulation, tone and helping to improve the strength of connective tissues.
Where the condition of hemorrhoids has deteriorated to such a stage that surgery is the only viable option, the topical application of a witch hazel based cream for 12 days post-surgery has been shown to improve patient outcomes.
If you suffer from hemorrhoids, you can find more information in my articles about the best natural remedies to relieve hemorrhoids and the best essential oils for hemorrhoids.
If you have varicose veins, you can find 14 tips to improve varicose veins naturally, as well as using these essential oils. If you have spider veins, which are similar to varicose veins, but smaller you can try thesehome remedies for spider veins.
7. Witch Hazel as a Moisturizer for kids with skin disorders
Many parents of children who suffer from skin disorders want to ensure that they have an effective treatment for their child’s condition that is also safe to apply to delicate skin and is as natural as possible.
Witch hazel can prove a useful addition to the medicine cabinet as it is a completely natural and safe ingredient that has been proven to be as or even more effective than other available treatments.
Studies of more than 300 children showed that witch hazel was more efficient than the control substance, Dexpanthenol (a prescription cream used to lock moisture into the skin) and marginally better tolerated when used as a treatment for minor abrasions, diaper rash and other skin inflammations.
8. Witch Hazel for Acne
Because witch hazel is such an effective astringent, many people who suffer from acne have used it as a skin toner and treatment to help soothe outbreaks, although it is likely to be too mild an astringent to be able to prevent or reduce their recurrence. As yet no clinical trials have been undertaken to verify the effectiveness of witch hazel as an acne treatment and any reports are anecdotal only.
Witch hazel is a popular ingredient in skin care products available for sale. It can also be bought on its own for use in home-made skin care solutions where it can be combined with other products such asaloe vera or tea tree essential oil.
9. Witch Hazel for Crohn’s Disease
Studies show that taking extra tannins resulted in decreased diarrhea during acute flare-ups. Witch Hazel is particularly rich in tannins but if you are a Crohn’s sufferer you should check with your doctor before taking any extra supplements and make sure to stop taking the Witch Hazel before the end of an attack so that you do not run the risk of further aggravating your symptoms.
10. Witch Hazel for Sunburn
I’ve already shared with you the video that reveals what the sun really does to your skin. Witch Hazel has traditionally been used to soothe and treat sunburn. Clinical trials on the effects of witch hazel on skin damage caused by both UVA and UVB radiation have proved this effectiveness.
In both instances the anti-inflammatory action of the tannins in the witch hazel helps to treat both the redness (burn) and the subsequent skin peeling and itchiness typically experienced by those who have been exposed to the sun too long. Because it has been proved safe and even beneficial for children with skin problems (see above) it is particularly effective when used as an after sun treatment for such children.
How to Choose The Right Witch Hazel Product
There are many different Witch Hazel products out there, some where it is sold on its own and some where it is included in a cream or other formulation. Many products contain witch hazel extract and alcohol. If you prefer it is also possible to purchase Witch Hazel products that do not contain alcohol although they may have a shorter shelf life. Always read the product label for the ingredients to make sure that you are purchasing a product with as high a Witch Hazel percentage as possible.
Do not ingest any Witch Hazel product that has not been specifically produced for human consumption.