The term witch hazel invokes images of an elderly witch brewing up a concoction in her black cauldron. In reality, this extract is a powerful astringent that has long been used to improve the look of skin and prevent infections.
Today, witch hazel can be found in a variety of skin and hair care products as well as essential oil blends. Learn more about the benefits and side effects of witch hazel right here.
What Is Witch Hazel?
Witch hazel is a plant known by the botanical name Hamamelis virginiana. The plant is native to the North American continent and is commonly called winter bloom. The witch hazel plant is an integral part of traditional medicine and is a popular ingredient in skincare products. The plant was used by Native Americans to treat insect bites, skin rashes, and to stop bleeding wounds.
Witch hazel extract is removed from the leaves, twigs, and bark of the plant. The resulting liquid boasts astringent and anti-inflammatory properties. The liquid also contains high concentrations of antioxidants including polyphenols. It is then combined with alcohol or water to create the solution we know as witch hazel extract.
In addition to polyphenols, witch hazel contains large amounts of tannins, gallate esters, and sugars that make it useful in herbal remedies. Read on to find out how you can use witch hazel and dive into recent research on its health benefits.
Uses and Benefits of Witch Hazel
Witch hazel is most commonly used in skin care regimens. The natural astringent properties of witch hazel help to cleanse the skin and minimize the appearance of pores, helping to prevent breakouts and acne flare-ups.
Witch hazel also boasts antibacterial properties that help to eliminate bacteria and reduce the production of excess oil (1). This all helps to keep skin clean and clear, thus avoiding clogged pores and breakouts.
Regular use of witch hazel may also help to reduce the appearance of acne scarring and minor skin irritations. That’s because the solution works to decrease inflammation and redness, which can make acne scars more visible (2). The antibacterial properties also work to prevent skin infections if you pick at your pimples.
Research shows that witch hazel can be used on all skin types — even oily skin and sensitive skin (3). In fact, witch hazel provides a cooling effect that can help soothe irritated skin and offer relief from itchiness and rashes such as diaper rash.
2. Anti-Aging Benefits
While witch hazel is great for soothing skin conditions like acne, it’s also a powerful tool for fighting off signs of aging. Witch hazel extract contains antioxidants tike polyphenols and tannins that work to eliminate free radicals.
Free radicals are highly reactive cells that can cause cellular damage and degradation through a process called oxidative stress. Free radicals and oxidative stress have been linked to premature aging including fine lines, wrinkles, and varicose veins (4). Compounds in witch hazel work to limit the presence of free radicals, helping to protect the skin.
3. Bug Bite Relief
Witch hazel is a great tool for treating itchiness and irritation caused by bug bites and minor cuts. The extract contains isopropyl alcohol, which is a natural disinfecting agent. Applying a touch of witch hazel to a wound can help to clean the area and keep it free from bacteria that cause infections. Just add a few drops of witch hazel to a cotton ball and place directly on the insect bite. Follow up with over-the-counter pain medication or antihistamine to further treat the reaction.
4. Good For Hair
Witch hazel oil is great for taking care of your hair and scalp. The scalp contains thousands of skin cells that may become irritated by the use of chemical-laden shampoos and through bacterial or fungal infections. Adding a touch of witch hazel to your DIY shampoo can help to prevent or reduce dry scalp, irritation, and redness.
A study published in the International Journal of Trichology investigated the effects of witch hazel on sensitive scalp. The study consisted of 1,373 patients and found that those who regularly applied witch hazel had significant improvements in scalp irritation (5). Applying witch hazel to your scalp or face before shaving can also help to prevent razor burn.
5. Immunity Benefits
Witch hazel contains compounds that boast natural antibacterial and antiviral properties. Research published in PLoS One found that tannins in witch hazel demonstrated antiviral activity against influenza A and HPV viruses (6). Additional research showed that witch hazel extract boasted antiviral properties against the virus known to cause cold sores (7). Most research on these topics has only been conducted in the lab. Human trials and studies are needed to establish the efficacy of witch hazel for immune benefits.
Side Effects of Witch Hazel
Most individuals can use witch hazel with very few side effects. The main side effects include irritation or allergic reaction. Test the extract on a small portion of skin and wait 24 hours. If you do not experience any redness or irritation, you can apply the extract in larger quantities.
People with extremely sensitive skin can opt for an alcohol-free witch hazel option. Alcohol may irritate the skin so choosing an alcohol-free version may enable you to use witch hazel without adverse effects. People with sensitive skin can also combine witch hazel with essential oils — such as lavender essential oil or tea tree oil — or aloe vera to help dilute the product.
Whether you use witch hazel as a face wash or to treat itchy bug bites, always choose high-quality products and ingredients to avoid irritation. Consult a healthcare professional before using witch hazel to treat any skin disorders or other ailments. A doctor can help you understand all of the potential side effects and benefits of witch hazel bark, witch hazel water, and other extracts.