15 Wonderful Uses for Witch Hazel

By Paul Michael on 19 May 2009 (Updated 19 November 2013) 112 comments

I discovered witch hazel in college. I was not exactly the owner of the clearest skin in Britain, and dabbing a little witch hazel extract on my blemished skin stopped me enduring a mountain of abuse. But there are way more uses for this shrub than clearing up spotty skin. (See also: The Avocado Face Mask and Other Natural Beauty Experiments)

To get slightly technical for a moment, witch hazel is (according to Wikipedia):

…an astringent produced from the leaves and bark of the North American Witch Hazel shrub (Hamamelis virginiana), which grows naturally from Nova Scotia west to Ontario, Canada and south to Florida, and Texas in the United States. This plant was widely used for medicinal purposes by American Indians. The witch hazel extract was obtained by steaming the twigs of the shrub.

The essential oil of witch hazel is not sold separately as a consumer product. The plant does not produce enough essential oil to make production viable, however, there are various distillates of witch hazel (called hydrosols or hydrolats) that are gentler than the "drug store" witch hazel and contain alcohol.

Witch hazel is mainly used externally on sores, bruises, and swelling. The main constituents of the extract include tannin, gallic acid, catechins, proanthocyanins, flavonoids (kaempferol, quercetin), essential oil (carvacrol, eugenol, hexenol), choline, saponins, and bitters. Distilled witch hazel sold in drug stores and pharmacies typically contains no tannin."

Most drug stores and online pharmacies carry witch hazel in one form or another. Establishments from Rite Aid and Walgreens to Amazon carry varying products, although I have yet to find the massively handy Witch Stick, and other line of Witch products, anywhere other than in the UK. (You can find some here, but be prepared to pay some steep shipping).

But when you get your hands on the mightily useful little medicinal marvel, what can you do with it? Here's a rundown, and I'm sure many of you have already used a witch hazel product in one form or another, as you'll realize when you skip down the page. It's very useful, so put it on the top of your next shopping list.

15 Uses for Witch Hazel

1. The big one: Spot and blemish control

Witch hazel can reduce the inflammation on a pimple. Some people claim daily use helps with acne, and witch hazel can be found in many over-the-counter treatments. Application with a Witch Stick is the most convenient, but you can dab it on with a cotton ball. Ask your pharmacist before you do this, though.

2. Soothe and heal diaper rash

If your baby's rash isn't healing quick enough, apply witch hazel solution (Dickinson's is good) with a cotton ball and you should see immediate improvement to your baby's bottom.

3. Shrink bags under the eyes

Some people say that the application of hemorrhoid cream to those little baggies under your eyes can take them away. It's not an old wives' tale. One of the magic ingredients in a product like Preparation H is witch hazel, which helps tighten up the skin and reduce the bagginess. And that leads nicely to…

4. Soothe and reduce external hemorrhoids

Not only does witch hazel tighten skin, it's also a good anti-itch remedy. By combining witch hazel with aloe, glycerine or petroleum jelly and rub it on external hemorrhoids, you will reduce itching significantly and dry up most bleeding.

5. Varicose vein relief

Soak wash cloths in witch hazel and lay on legs, which are propped straight out, to reduce pain and swelling from varicose veins. The witch hazel helps to tighten the veins, relieving the discomfort temporarily.

6. Soothe poison ivy and poison oak

Just like acne and blemishes, the witch hazel reduces itching and relieves swelling. Something definitely worth packing on your next camping trip.

7. Treat chicken pox blisters

A combination of aloe, honey, lavender and other essential oils create a spray that will vastly reduce the discomfort of chicken pox blisters. And it's all-natural. Here's what to do:

Mix together 1 tablespoon honey, 40 drops lavender essential oil, 15 drops lemon essential oil, 15 drops bergamot essential oil, 5 drops peppermint essential oil, 1 teaspoon carrot seed oil and 1/2 cup aloe vera gel.

Once completely mixed, and 1/2 cup distilled witch hazel and mix again. Pour mixture into spray bottle and use on affected areas (avoiding eyes). A more potent and less unsightly way to treat the chicken pox than traditional calamine lotion.

8. Heal your bruises faster

Been in a fight recently? Well, maybe not. But if you bang your leg or arm and are left with a nasty bruise, a thrice-daily dab of witch hazel can help speed up the healing time of the bruise.

9. Soothe razor burn (and in some instances, prevent it)

The anti-inflammatory properties of witch hazel stop itchy bumps from forming up around your irritated hair follicles. Apply before or after shaving; it should certainly have an impact on your itchy red skin (and that includes ladies, too).

10. Treat and soothe a nasty sunburn

Healing damaged skin is one of witch hazel's specialties. But as sunburn is also a type of skin inflammation, witch hazel is ideal for treating this too (despite swelling not being obvious). Treating sunburn with witch hazel will lessen healing time and prevent the infamous skin peeling and flaking.

11. Treat dry skin

By applying witch hazel immediately after showering, you are locking in the moisture that has just soaked into your skin.

12. Use to heal and soothe various cuts and bruises

Many chemists and pharmacists refer to witch hazel as nature's answer to Neosporin. Applying a dab of it will cleanse the cut, protects against infection, and encourage quicker healing of minor skin breaks.

13. Take the bite out of bug bites

With its anti-itch and anti-inflammatory properties, witch hazel is ideal for treating bug bites. Just dab a little on the affected area.

14. Refresh tired eyes

NOT by squirting witch hazel in them, but by soaking a clean rag in witch hazel and cold water and placing the cold compress over your closed eyes. After 10 minutes, your eyes should be refreshed, and any redness should be gone. If you've been doing a lot of crying, this can get you back to normal quickly.

15. Make your own deodorant

Witch hazel is often used in deodorants due to its natural skin-healing and skin-care properties. Here is a home-made recipe you may want to try.

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp high proof vodka
  • 10 drops geranium
  • 10 drops cypress
  • 8 drops bergamot
  • 5 drops neroli
  • 4 drops lavender
  • 3 drops black pepper
  • 4 tb sp (40 ml) witch hazel
  • 2 tb sp (25 ml) cornflower water
  • 2 tb sp (25 ml) orange flower water
  1. Measure the vodka into a 4 oz (100 ml) glass bottle with a spray attachment.
     
  2. Carefully add the essential oils, one by one.
     
  3. Shake vigorously to dissolve the essential oils.
     
  4. Pour the witch hazel into the bottle, using a funnel if necessary, followed by the two flower waters. Shake well.
     
  5. Label the bottle and the deodorant is now ready to use.
     
  6. Before you use the deodorant each time, give the bottle a good shake to ensure the essential oils are fully dispersed.

Note

As with many herbal remedies, certain people, like women who are pregnant or breast feeding, should talk to their physician before using witch hazel. When using witch hazel, let your doctor know if you experience leg swelling, breathing problems, chest tightness or pain, hives, new rashes or irritations, nausea, upset stomach, vomiting or constipation. Most people who use witch hazel will not experience these adverse side effects, but some will, so notify a health official if any problems are noticed.

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Amy Lu's picture
Amy Lu

Hi Guest,

You're right, Nova Scotia is to the east of Ontario. So the excerpt above, which says that witch hazel spreads westward from Nova Scotia to Ontario, is also correct. =)

Guest's picture
Guest

Yes, that's what he said. Notice it says it grows FROM Nova Scotia WEST TO Ontario. If it is growing westward, that obviously means it is in the east.

Guest's picture
Guest

I use Tucks pads, it's for hemroids , but works wonders on face and chest !

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Guest

is there some home remedy that can be used to regrow hair or open up the follicles in the head

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Guest

Whenever I scraped my knee or whatever (which was quite often, I was always climbing trees/fences but I am also notoriously clumsy) My mom had a bottle of Witch Hazel capsules in the house and anytime I was bleeding, she's pull apart the two pieces of capsule and sprinkle the contents onto my wound- instant scab.

Guest's picture
Guest

One really important use for Witch Hazel is for postpartum vaginal healing. It was given to me as a foam that was to be applied to the stitched up area. It was like instant relief. I now use the Dickinson brand as a daily wash as I learned it helps tighten, improve yeast infections, and so on. And a giant bottle is about five bucks. Love this thing.

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Guest

Haemhorrids remain the most painful thing I've ever experienced. For years I just led in bed feeling extremely low and in complete agony whilst I had them. It really killed my spirits and took me a long time to get back to my bubbly self. For people who think I'm exaggerating, you've obviously not experienced bad ones. This stuff on a cotton bud on them is an absolute life saver. I still hate it of course when I get them, but this stuff makes them far more tolerable. Thank you god for creating the person who created withhazel mixed with tea tree oil!

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Clunk

For years I suffered from painful cysts, a big one in my foot, one on my thyroid etc. Over the past year or so they have been forming in my ears, getting bigger and more painful until popping and the process would start all over again. My doctor gave me pills and ointments, gels that i had to fill my ears with and it barely slowed the process down. My mother told me about witch hazel and with nothing to lose i started cleaning inside my ears with it every day or so. I havent had one cyst since and using it on my skin has worked wonders. Now ill never be without it! Im also a big advocate for tiger balm :-)

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patty Guest

MY ob-gyn Dr. always suggested that I use witch hazel on my stitches after birth

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Guest

I have heard a few dermatologists recommend witch hazel for zits but I am reluctant to try anything besides Citrus Clear because it has been the only products that control my oily skin and acne. It dries it out and prevents it from becoming be a horrible, noticeable, angry, red, zit that everyone stares at in business meetings. I wash with Citrus Clear at night and in the morning - and i Use their Control Moisturizer - I can't find it in the stores anymore so thankfully amazon sells it.

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Guest Alicia

I'm going to start using Witch Hazel for my acne. And as a toner. I hope it works!

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Rosacea relief

I have had rosacea for about 15 years, of course getting gradually worse. Imagine the worst sunburn all over your face, that never goes away. Seriously felt like I was running a fever constantly.

Dermatologist tried pills, cremes, etc, no help. I tried pretty much everything in the natural care aisles at several coops and health food stores. Stumbled across witch hazel, and it calmed my skin down A LOT.

I use Dickensons for preference and follow up with a light moisturizer. My rosacea is the flushing type, with very little rosacea acne (follows my hormone cycles and results in max 5 pimples per episode = I am EXTREMELY lucky). This does not prevent my acne episodes, but it calms them down quickly.

It calms the redness down, and minimizes my pores a lot. It dries up the acne and keeps it from recurring. It is not a cure all for my rosacea, but helps a lot!

Did not know it worked on swollen ankles and good for aftershave, so looking forward to giving those a try next!!