The Health Benefits of Witch Hazel

This astringent is used to treat a variety of skin ailments

Witch hazel plant
Westend61/Getty Images

Witch hazel is a natural remedy made from the bark and leaves of a plant called Hamamelis virginiana. Long used in traditional medicine, witch hazel is usually applied topically in order to treat certain skin conditions.

Witch hazel contains tannins, a type of natural compound with astringent effects. By acting as an astringent, witch hazel helps to constrict skin tissue.

Proponents claim that witch hazel can heal a wide range of skin troubles, such as acne, bruises, burns, hemorrhoidsinflammation, insect bites, itching, pain, and varicose veins.

In addition, some people use witch hazel as a toner (a type of skin-care product said to cleanse the skin and tighten pores).

While some proponents recommend internal use of witch hazel for some conditions (such as diarrhea, colds, and even cancer), there is no evidence that consuming witch hazel can enhance your health. Furthermore, oral intake of witch hazel may trigger a number of adverse effects.

Health Benefits

To date, few scientific studies have tested the health effects of witch hazel. The available research includes several laboratory studies showing that certain compounds found in witch hazel may produce antioxidant effects.

Here's a look at some other key study findings:

Sunburn

Witch hazel may help treat sunburn when applied topically, according to a 2010 report published in the Journal of the German Society of Dermatology. The report's authors also state that witch hazel may help shield the skin from damage induced by exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays.

Skin Problems in Children

For a 2007 study from the European Journal of Pediatrics, researchers tested the effects of witch hazel on 309 children with minor skin injuries, diaper rash, or localized skin inflammation. Seventy-eight of the study participants were treated with dexpanthenol ointment (a medication commonly used for skin disorders), while the other 231 children underwent treatment with witch hazel.

Study results revealed that both dexpanthenol ointment and witch hazel were similarly effective and well-tolerated by the subjects.

Possible Side Effects

Witch hazel is generally considered safe when applied topically. Internal use is not recommended, due to concerns that ingestion of witch hazel may cause nausea, vomiting, constipation, liver damage, and other adverse effects.

Dosage and Preparations

Witch hazel and witch hazel pads can be used liberally, however, some preparations contain alcohol, which can dry out and irritate skin. Even alcohol-free varieties may be irritating in large quantities, so keep an eye on your skin and how it reacts to witch hazel. Some people can tolerate multiple applications a day, while others should only use witch hazel daily or every other day.

What To Look For

Witch hazel can be found in most drugstores, grocery stores, and natural-food stores. In addition, witch hazel is widely available for purchase online.

Look for alcohol-free formulas that are more gentle on skin.

Although witch hazel is typically sold in distilled liquid form, this remedy is also available in ointments and medicated pads.

Other Questions

Is witch hazel safe to ingest?

Though not fatal, ingesting witch hazel is potentially dangerous due to the tannins in the commercial product. If you or your child ingests witch hazel, contact poison control.

How can I use witch hazel to treat hemorrhoids?

Witch hazel comes in liquid form and as medicated pads and wipes that can be used to relieve the pain and itching of external hemorrhoids. If using liquid witch hazel, apply to a cloth or cotton ball and wipe on the area. You can also use pads or wipes, and let them rest on the affected area for up to 3 minutes at a time.

Can I make witch hazel extract at home?

Yes! To make your own witch hazel, soak 1 Tbs witch hazel bark in 1 cup of distilled water for 30 minutes. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes covered. Remove from heat and steep for 10 minutes. Once cool, strain it and store it in a bottle.

A Word From Verywell

It may be possible to relieve minor skin problems (such as insect bites or mild sunburn) by applying witch hazel topically. If you're considering the use of witch hazel for a chronic condition, make sure to consult your physician first.

Avoiding or delaying standard care and self-treating a chronic condition with witch hazel (or any other form of alternative medicine) may have serious health consequences.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources