Witch hazel extract comes from Hamamelis virginiana, a plant native to North America. For centuries, Native Americans used it to heal various skin problems. It’s a liquid distilled from the dried leaves, bark, and twigs of the plant.
It’s is a primary ingredient in many skin care products and cosmetics because it has cleansing, hypoallergenic and soothing effects. It’s also a vasoconstrictor, which means it helps reduce swelling. It’s most often sold with the aromatic oil distilled in alcohol.
Benefits of Witch Hazel
What it’s mostly known for is doing an excellent job at removing excess sebum without stripping all the natural oil from your skin. It contains tannins, which are astringent but also anti-inflammatory.
This ingredient can help to heal wounds. It prevents infection by fighting bacteria. It also reduces inflammation to speed healing.
But that said, it can dry skin out, and you need to avoid using too much. If it’s in your toner, for example, you might want to make sure it’s not in any other product you use daily.
This becomes even more true if you buy a plain bottle of it, because it will also contain isopropyl alcohol – possibly a lot. And that ingredient is very drying to skin, which is why most people only use it to clean cuts and scrapes.
In fact, some experts recommend using it only on acne prone oily skin. On this type of skin, it gently dries acne while easing the inflammation around spots.
If you have dry or sensitive skin, you might not want to use it at all. At least not all over your face. But you might try using it on acne spots if you get them despite having dry skin.
In fact witch hazel comes in some acne spot treatment creams. It’s not a bad idea to keep several witch hazel products in your medicine cabinet.
Uses for Witch Hazel
Some people use witch hazel to treat acne prone oily skin. The idea is that it can shrink pores, prevent infection and reduce inflammation. all of which can help with acne.
You’ll find it in some acne treatments, such as St. Ives Blackhead Clearing Scrub. It can also work well as a spot treatment, like Thayer’s Blemish Stick.
While there are only limited studies suggesting it works, it’s a safe ingredient that seems to get good results for many.
2. Soothe/prevent razor burn
Witch hazel’s anti-inflammatory properties stop itchy bumps from sprouting up around irritated hair follicles. You can’t beat Thayers Alcohol-Free Witch Hazel Toner for this use. The alcohol-free formula won’t sting your just-shaved skin. And it includes aloe, which is so soothing to upset skin.
You can apply it with a cotton ball or round.
It also makes a good toner, especially if you choose the right formula. If you have sensitive skin, go for the Thayers toner with aloe to sooth and no alcohol to irritate.
If your skin is very oily and you want something more astringent, try Dickinsons Pore Perfecting Primer. It has grain alcohol instead of isopropyl, so it’s a little more drying than Thayers, but not harsh.
4. External hemorrhoids
Combine witch hazel with aloe, glycerine and/or petroleum jelly and rub it on external hemorrhoids. It reduces itching significantly and helps dry up any bleeding. If you don’t want to make your own, you can buy a hemorrhoid salve with witch hazel.
Expect the effects to be temporary, but some people report their ‘rhoids improving over time and going away.
5. Put it on cuts and abrasions
It’s nature’s answer to Neosporin: it cleanses the cut, protects against infection, and encourages quicker healing of minor skin breaks. Use it on small cuts and abrasions, not large or deep wounds.
6. Cold sores
There are studies suggesting it has virus inhibiting properties, which can make it effective when applied to a cold sore. The easiest way to do this is to grab a blemish stick or acne spot treatment and apply it to the sore two or three times per day.
7. Soothe a sunburn
Sunburns are a type of inflammation even though they don’t look swollen. Witch hazel can reduce the swelling and speed your skin’s healing.
8. Heal bruises faster, prevent stretch marks
Believe it or not, some people claim putting witch hazel on a bruise helps it heal faster. It’s also said to prevent stretch marks, although there isn’t any solid proof.
The idea is that the tannins in the witch hazel help to tighten stretched skin and restore blood vessel tone, which should in theory help with both bruises and stretch marks.
9. Poison ivy, oak and insect bites
Got a terrible itch from a bug bite or plant? Witch hazel reduces the itching and inflammation in your skin. It may not give you complete relief, but you can safely combine it with cortizone cream or any other remedies that help.
10. Shrink bags under your eyes
Witch hazel is found in many under-eye products. Why pay for those when you can just use it straight up under your moisturizer and/or aloe (another common ingredient in under-eye cosmetics)?
11. Soothe a sore throat
Some people boil witch hazel with water and gargle the mixture. There are no studies to show this works, but the idea is that the anti-inflammatory properties in the witch hazel would soothe any swelling.
Be careful not to swallow it, however. With the amount of tannins in witch hazel, it would likely upset your stomach.
12. Reduce scalp sensitivity
You can apply witch hazel to your scalp before washing your hair. This may reduce tenderness and itch, according to at least one study. If you have an inflammatory skin condition, it may also help with that.
Surprisingly, some people believe it also reduces dandruff and dry scalp. There have not been enough studies to prove it’s good for this use, but you might want to try it.
There are a lot of other uses people make of witch hazel – all of these are uses either I have tried or people I know have tried. Feel free to share your uses for it in the comments!