What Is Witch Hazel?

This astringent is used to topically treat a variety of skin ailments

Witch hazel

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Witch hazel is a natural remedy made from a plant called Hamamelis virginiana. Native American tribes used it to soothe skin problems. It's one of the few plants the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved as an ingredient for over-the-counter medicines.

Inside witch hazel's leaves, bark, and twigs are medicinal chemicals called tannins. If you rub these chemicals on your skin, they may reduce swelling and fight bacteria. People have used witch hazel for centuries to soothe chapped, scraped, and irritated skin.

Some beauty experts suggest using witch hazel as an inexpensive way to reduce under-eye puffiness. Many cosmetic companies use witch hazel to make beauty aids like facial toners and wipes, acne treatments, shampoos, and aftershave.

The FDA has only approved witch hazel for topical use (applying it to your skin). However, people have claimed that drinking teas made with the plant's bark and leaves can cure diarrhea, dysentery, symptoms such as coughing or vomiting blood, and even cancer. There are no studies that prove this works or is safe.

Read on to learn more about this medicinal plant with a magical-sounding name, how to use it, and possible side effects and interactions.

Dietary supplements are not regulated like drugs in the United States, meaning the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve them for safety and effectiveness before products are marketed. Choose a supplement tested by a trusted third party, such as USP, ConsumerLab, or NSF, when possible. However, even if supplements are third-party tested, that doesn't mean they are necessarily safe for all or effective in general. Therefore, it is essential to talk to your healthcare provider about any supplements you plan to take and check in about potential interactions with other supplements or medications.

Supplement Facts

  • Active ingredients: Tannins, flavonoids, catechins, volatile oil
  • Alternate name: American witch hazel, hamamelis, Hamamelis virginiana, Hamamelis macrophylla
  • Legal status: Over-the-counter (OTC) supplement, FDA-approved as a skin protectant for external use
  • Suggested dose: May be applied topically as often as needed for minor skin irritation
  • Safety considerations: May be unsafe if ingested, limited data during pregnancy or breastfeeding

Uses of Witch Hazel

Supplement use should be individualized and vetted by a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian, pharmacist, or healthcare provider. No supplement is intended to treat, cure, or prevent disease.

Witch hazel uses that are backed by at least some medical research include sunburn, children's skin conditions, and sensitive scalp.

Scientific research is very limited. Here's a look at key findings from studies that have been done.


According to a study, witch hazel helped treat sunburn. The study was small. And the effects of witch hazel were less significant than those of 1 % hydrocortisone, an OTC topical steroid. Researchers reviewed clinical trials of plant extracts used to treat skin conditions. The authors concluded that applying witch hazel to sunburned skin eases inflammation because it contains antioxidant polyphenols.

You can also get polyphenols from eating fruit, vegetables, dark chocolate, or drinking tea or wine. Polyphenols protect against oxidative stress caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight. UV radiation is estimated to cause 80% of skin damage due to environmental factors.

More clinical trials are needed to see if these results are replicated in a larger population.

Skin Conditions in Children

In one study, researchers tested witch hazel on children. The children had minor skin problems like diaper rash, itching, redness, and swelling.

The researchers treated some children with dexpanthenol, an ingredient in many moisturizers. They used witch hazel ointment to treat the other children. Doctors and parents rated how well the products worked on the children and how well the children tolerated the treatments.

The study found the children tolerated them well, and both treatments were very effective. 99% of the doctors and 97% of the parents rated witch hazel "excellent" or "good."

Please check with your child's pediatrician before using any supplement or product.

Sensitive Scalp

A study of 1373 people who used a specific combination of witch hazel-based shampoo and toner called Erol Energy for conditions like red scalp and scalp burn-out showed improved scalp irritation. The shampoo was also well tolerated. A red scalp is a persistent redness of the scalp that may be aggravated by exposure to sunlight. Scalp burn-out is a condition of scalp sensitivity coinciding with emotional exhaustion.

Researchers noted that the shampoo also soothed irritated scalps in people who applied topical Rogaine (minoxidil) for hair loss.

Additional Uses

In addition to the health benefits listed above, some people also use witch hazel for:

Though anecdotal evidence abounds, there is limited data supporting witch hazel for these indications. More robust research is needed to prove its effectiveness for these conditions.

What Are the Side Effects of Witch Hazel?

Your healthcare provider may suggest you use witch hazel for skin irritation. However, using a supplement like witch hazel may have potential side effects. These side effects may be common or severe.

Common Side Effects

Healthcare providers consider witch hazel safe when applied to the skin because studies show that allergic reactions to witch hazel are rare. In a study in children of topical witch hazel for minor skin irritations, for instance, only two children out of 231 experienced side effects. These side effects were skin redness and a burning sensation.

Side effects from a witch hazel cream delivered into the vagina to decrease dryness were mild, including diarrhea and an increased urge to urinate.

Severe Side Effects

Severe side effects are unlikely if witch hazel is used topically.

If it's taken by mouth, especially in large doses, the tannins in witch hazel may cause stomach irritation.And compounds in witch hazel, such as safrole and phenol, have been linked to liver and kidney damage. Therefore, it's safest only to use witch hazel on the skin.


Witch hazel is likely safe when administered topically. However, take extra precautions when using this supplement in the following groups:

  • People with an allergy to plants in the Compositae family, such as chamomile or yarrow. A study showed that one out of twelve people allergic to chamomile was also sensitive to witch hazel.
  • People who are pregnant or nursing. Safety data are lacking for these populations, so discuss using witch hazel with your healthcare provider first.

Dosage: How Much Witch Hazel Should I Use?

Always speak with a healthcare provider before taking a supplement to ensure that the supplement and dosage are appropriate for your individual needs.

Witch hazel has been studied in clinical trials at the following doses:

  • 10% topical cream studied for sunburns
  • Vaginal cream applied once a day for seven days for vaginal dryness

The FDA has approved all strengths of witch hazel formulations to be sold as skin protectants, and concentrations of 10 to 50% are approved as rectal astringents. Per the FDA, labeling should note that products may be applied externally as often as needed for up to seven days.

Some witch hazel products contain alcohol, which can dry and irritate your skin. Even alcohol-free options can do this if you use them too much. For this reason, some product labels advise not to use witch hazel more than six times a day. So it's a good idea to watch how your skin reacts. Some people can use witch hazel a handful of times a day, others only occasionally.

What Happens If I Use Too Much Witch Hazel?

If it's taken by mouth, especially in large doses, the tannins in witch hazel may cause stomach irritation.And compounds in witch hazel, such as safrole and phenol, have been linked to liver and kidney damage. Therefore, it's safest only to use witch hazel on the skin.

There have been no reports of witch hazel toxicity in humans. Studies in rat models also showed no toxic effects when the animals were given 100 milligrams per kilogram per day (mg/kg/d) of witch hazel for 90 days.


There are no reports of interactions with witch hazel. However, this certainly doesn't mean they don't exist. To be safe, discuss witch hazel with your healthcare provider before adding it to your medicine cabinet.

It is essential to carefully read a supplement's ingredient list and nutrition facts panel to know which ingredients and how much of each ingredient is included. Please review this supplement label with your healthcare provider to discuss potential interactions with foods, other supplements, and medications.

How to Store Witch Hazel

Store witch hazel at room temperature, away from children or pets. Discard after one year or according to manufacturer's directions.

Similar Supplements

Some other supplements that may offer protection against sun damage include the following:

Other supplements that may have anti-inflammatory or anti-aging effects on the skin include but aren't limited to:

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does witch hazel relieve hemorrhoids?


    Witch hazel is a well-known folk remedy used to treat the condition. While there is little evidence to prove it works, healthcare providers still advise patients with minor hemorrhoid problems to try witch hazel.

    Directions on the labels of witch hazel products may advise you to rinse and apply to the rectum after each bowel movement.

    The tannins in witch hazel could help ease your symptoms. Remember that effectiveness hasn't been proven, and there isn't data on long-term safety either.

  • Does witch hazel help you heal after giving birth?

    Yes, it can. Witch hazel can soothe pain and swelling of the perineum, the skin between the vagina and anus. You can apply a witch hazel pad to the site. Or you can add one to the top of your sanitary pad each time you change it. However, one review showed no difference in perineal pain relief between witch hazel and ice packs.

  • Is witch hazel safe for pets?

    Yes, but run it by your veterinarian first. Witch hazel ointment or topical solution may be used for minor skin injuries, swelling, or ulcers in animals.

Sources of Witch Hazel & What to Look For

Food Sources of Witch Hazel

Witch hazel is not found in commercially available food products in the U.S. Though it's a plant, it's not recommended to be eaten because it does contain some ingredients that may be toxic to the liver or kidneys.

Witch Hazel Supplements

You can buy witch hazel products in most drug, natural food, and grocery stores. It's sold in many dosage forms, including:

  • Extracts
  • Ointments
  • Gels
  • Wipes
  • Pads

Look for alcohol-free formulas, which are gentler on the skin.

Look for a seal of approval from a third-party quality-testing organization. Though they don't guarantee the product's safety or effectiveness, companies like USP, ConsumerLab, and NSF test to ensure products contain the listed ingredients without harmful contaminants.


People have used witch hazel for centuries to soothe minor skin problems like bug bites, diaper rash, and hemorrhoids. The remedy comes from a North American shrub. The plant contains chemicals that ease redness, itching, and inflammation.

Witch hazel is one of the few plants that meet the FDA's standards for safety and effectiveness. The FDA has only approved it for topical use on the skin. Swallowing witch hazel could cause nausea, vomiting, and liver damage.

Check with your healthcare provider or pharmacist for any questions about using witch hazel for specific symptoms.

18 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Megan Nunn, PharmD
Megan Nunn, PharmD, is a community pharmacist in Tennessee with over twelve years of experience in medication counseling and immunization.

Originally written by Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong

Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.

Learn about our editorial process