Witch hazel, the clear liquid obtained from witch hazel tree has been used for thousands of years for health, skin and hair care. It has amazing skin and hair uses and benefits. It is used for treating acne, reducing acne scars, dark spots and itching, for treating haemorrhoids (piles), eye problems, varicose veins, cysts, itching and also for both dry and oily skin. Witch hazel can be used in the form of toner, witch hazel pads, creams and also as sprays.
What is Witch Hazel?
Witch hazel is a clear liquid obtained from the leaves and bark of Hamamelis Virginiana tree. The tree is a small shrub and it produces beautiful yellow flowers that resemble fireworks. Witch hazel tree is usually found in North America and are very unusual because they bear flowers and fruits together at the same time of the year.
They also have a unique method of propagation, the seed capsules erupt explosively during autumn sending seeds far and wide. The flowers are in full bloom during autumn and even during winters so they are grown as ornamental trees too. Both bark and leaves are used extensively in home remedies. The tree got its name witch hazel because the twigs are highly pliant and they are extensively used by diviners.
Witch Hazel Botanical And Common Names:
The botanical name of witch hazel is Hamamelis Virginiana. In North America, they are also some times referred to as Winter Bloom. In India, witch hazel goes by the same name in all Indian languages like Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Bengali, Marathi & Punjabi.
Witch Hazel Chemical Constituents:
The main chemical constituent of witch hazel is hamamelitannin. Witch Hazel is rich in tannins which is responsible for it’s amazing astringent properties. Witch hazel leaf contains 3 to 10% tannins, catechins, phenolic acids, flavonoids and volatile oils.
Hazel bark contains 8 to 12% tannins, the bark is rich in hydrolysable tannins and the leaves contain mostly condensed tannins. They are also rich in polyphenols which gives witch hazel extract it’s amazing antioxidant properties.
Witch Hazel Traditional Uses:
The water extract of both fresh and dried bark and leaf are used for medicinal purposes. Traditionally the fresh leaves are used to treat wounds and inflammation. To treat wounds, swelling and inflammation, the leaves are crushed and applied as a poultice.
Witch hazel extract has been used as a aftershave to heal cuts that happens during shaving. It is used for treating hemorrhoids and varicose veins. Since it reduces skin irritation, it is used for reducing redness and swelling, rashes, blisters, sunburn, allergies and also for skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema.
Witch hazel extract also is used for reducing painful swellings and skin tumors. Witch hazel tea got by steeping the bark or leaves is taken internally for treating diarrhoea, varicose veins, nosebleed, excessive menstrual bleeding and haemorrhoids. Fresh witch hazel extract is also used as an eyewash to treat irritation.
Witch Hazel Medicinal Uses
1. Scalp Protection:
Some people suffer from sensitive scalp. They often experience redness and irritation. Even mild store bought products that generally agrees with everyone will cause redness and irritation for people who have sensitive scalp. For people who are suffering from sensitive scalp, witch hazel based products are a good choice. Here is a study supports this claim. To use witch hazel for treating scalp inflammation, simply add it to shampoo and use else you can also add it hair packs too.
2. Antioxidant Properties:
Since witch hazel is rich in polyphenols, they have powerful antioxidant properties which helps fight off free radicals that cause premature aging of the skin and hair. They also help reduce oxidative stress which is a leading cause of many diseases. You can read the study that proves its antioxidant properties here. The anti aging properties of witch hazel is due to its powerful antioxidant properties and it is the reason it is widely used in anti aging serums and creams.
3. Amazing Astringent:
Since witch Hazel is rich in tannins, it has wonderful astringent properties. It is because of its astringent properties that witch hazel is widely used as a toner. Witch hazel toner helps shrink large pores and also reduces swelling fast. It’s astringent properties is also the reason it is popularly used for treating haemorrhoids too.
4. Anti Inflammatory Properties:
Many of the compounds present in witch hazel like tannins and phenolic acids contains wonderful anti-inflammatory properties. This is the reason witch hazel is effective in treating acne, eczema, psoriasis, etc. External application of witch hazel will help reduce all kinds of inflammation. You can read the study that proves it here.
5. Great For Sensitive Skin:
Like sensitive scalp, people with sensitive skin often experience inflamed, irritated and broken skin. I was actually surprised to read that in a survey almost 44% of the people participated declared themselves having sensitive skin. One of the famous formulation for treating sensitive skin contains witch hazel as an ingredient along with ingredients like glycerine, oats and paraffin. Witch hazel has a protective effect on our skin and can be used for treating insect bites and stings too.
6. Treats Acne:
Witch hazel is good for people suffering from acne because it has antibacterial properties, has wonderful cleansing properties, reduces inflammation and also shrinks large pores. It greatly prevents clogged pores which is one of the main reasons for acne. People with oily skin will greatly benefit using witch hazel as a toner regularly
7. Great For Treating Mouth and Throat Problems:
Since witch hazel has astringent properties and antibacterial properties, it helps reduce pain and swelling, arrests bleeding, stops bad breath, reduce infections along with treating sore throat if used as a mouth wash. We get mouth washes in which witch hazel is added in the markets or you can mix with witch hazel in water along with salt and use.
8. Antiviral Properties:
Another important medicinal use of witch hazel is it’s antiviral properties. Tannins found in witch hazel has been proven to be effective against influenza, human papillomavirus and also herpes virus which causes cold sores. Simply gargling with witch hazel extract will help reduce cold sores greatly.
Witch Hazel Formulations:
Ointments and sprays containing liquid extract of witch hazel for treating skin lesions and haemorrhoids are available. Mouthwashes having witch hazel as an ingredient are also available for treating gum inflammation and bleeding gums. We also get witch hazel toners and witch hazel pads for treating acne and also for cleansing. Finally there are witch hazel creams for treating skin lesions and minor skin inflammation.
How Is Witch Hazel Extract Produced?
Freshly cut partially dried dormant twigs of witch Hazel is soaked in water for 24 hours in twice its weight in water. The next day, it is distilled to get a clear colourless liquid. To the distilled water, alcohol is added and mixed. Per ml of witch hazel approximately contains up to .03 mg tannic acid, has a pH between 3 and 5 and alcohol content up to 15%. But nowadays alcohol free witch hazel is also getting popular, it is made by combining witch hazel extract with aloe vera gel.
How To Make Witch Hazel Extract At Home?
To make our own witch hazel extract, we need dried witch hazel roots. If you are living in India, it is hard to get witch hazel roots but you can order and get them through some specialised herb shops for a price. To make witch hazel extract, take a heaping teaspoon of dried witch hazel bark in a pan. Now add in 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Let it boil till the colour of the water changes which will take approximately around 10 minutes in medium flame and then strain. Let cool completely, store in the fridge and use.
Witch Hazel Side Effects:
Witch hazel is mainly recommended for external use. Usually witch hazel agrees with everyone when externally applied. But in very rare cases, it can cause allergies. If witch hazel causes skin allergies stop using it. Though traditionally witch hazel water extract is taken internally for treating diarrhoea and haemorrhoids, the correct dosage should be taken else it will cause stomach irritation and vomiting.
Where To Buy Witch Hazel?
It is hard to get witch hazel in regular shops in India but we can buy witch hazel easily through online shops. One of the most popular witch hazel brands is Thayers. We get witch hazel extract in many forms now, witch hazel pads to cleanse the face, witch hazel spray, witch hazel salve and finally we get witch hazel tinctures too. When buying witch hazel buy one without alcohol as alcohol can be quite drying on the skin and if you have sensitive skin, opt for an unscented product.
6 Top Ways To Use Witch Hazel:
1. Witch Hazel Face Toner For Acne:
Witch hazel toner is very famous and we get loads of witch hazel formulations in the markets. I would suggest buying one that is Aloe Vera based without alcohol and perfume. To use, simply add in few drops of tea tree essential oil to the witch hazel and mix well. Now take it in a cotton pad and apply all over the face after cleansing. You will start seeing results very very soon with regular use.
2. To Treat Insect and Mosquito Bites:
Witch hazel is one of the common ingredients in products that are used for treating insect bites. Instead of using store bought products, we can apply witch hazel directly on the insect bite area. It will help reduce itchiness, redness, irritation and pain. To apply witch hazel, take little bit of alcohol free witch hazel in a piece of cotton and place it on the insect bite area. This will greatly help reduce itching, pain and redness.
3. To Treat Sunburn:
To treat sunburn, cut a fresh aloe vera leaf, wash well to remove the slimy green juice and cut the thorns on both sides of the leaf. Now cut the leaf in half and scoop out the fresh aloe vera gel onto a cup. To the aloe vera gel, add in equal quantities of alcohol free witch hazel, mix well and store it in the fridge. Apply this to sunburn, it will greatly help reduce the inflammation. Though most of the alcohol free witch hazel formulations are Aloe Vera based, adding fresh Aloe Vera gel greatly helps treat sunburn faster.
4. Gargle For Sore Throat:
For gargling for sore throat, take 2 cups of warm water. Add in 1/2 tsp of salt and 11/2 teaspoons of witch hazel to it and mix well. Now use this mixture to gargle 2 to 3 times a day. If you have access to witch hazel bark, you can make a fresh infusion which will be even more effective. To make it, take a teaspoon of dried witch hazel bark along with salt in a pan. Now add in 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Let it boil till the colour of the water changes and then strain. Use this decoction as a mouth gargle to treat sore throat and mouth ulcers.
5. To Reduce Under Eye Bags & Puffiness
Since witch hazel is an astringent, it helps reduce under eye bags and puffiness very very effectively. For using it under eyes, buy witch hazel without alcohol and preferably with Aloe Vera and also make sure it is unscented. Now add in equal quantities of freshly brewed green tea to it. Now, take a small piece of cotton, dip it in the mixture and place it in the fridge. Once cold, place it over the eyes. This will greatly help reduce under eye bags and puffiness.
6. Witch Hazel For Haemorrhoids:
For treating haemorrhoids, we can add witch hazel to sitz bath, this will greatly help reduce inflammation and swelling. For the sitz bath, clean a tub well and add enough water till it will cover you till the hips. Now add in 1 to 2 tbsps of alcohol free witch hazel to it and mix well. Soak in the sitz bath for about 15 minutes 2 or 3 times a day to help reduce the swelling, pain and inflammation fast.