You should consider adding Hamamelis virginiana, better known as witch hazel, to your skin care routine.
Witch hazel has a number of proven benefits for your skin. There are also several more benefits that have been observed throughout history, but have not been subjected to rigorous scientific study. Many homes contain a bottle of witch hazel in the bathroom cupboard along with all the medicines and first aid kit – and for good reason. Witch hazel is helpful and handy to have around.
What can witch hazel potentially do for your skin?
The answer to that question is complicated. The reason it’s complicated is that that the distilled witch hazel sold in drug stores may not contain the correct amount of the most potent medicinal ingredients of Hamamelis virginiana, such as the tannins (see below). That said, witch hazel bark has been shown to have the following benefits when applied to the skin:
- It acts as a topical antioxidant much like green tea. It contains polyphenolic compounds that may protect skin from sunburn and photoaging. Of course, you still need sunscreen.
- It offers an anti-inflammatory benefit after sunburn, meaning it can soothe sunburn pain and redness.
- It can help soothe irritated skin. It has been shown to soothe redness and lower the loss of your body’s natural moisture when applied to irritated skin.
- It has some weak effectiveness against some of the common germs such as Staph, Candida, and viruses like the herpes virus and influenza.
- People have used it for years as a non-irritating skin toner to help remove skin oils. In my opinion, it beats alcohol for that job on sensitive skin.
Witch hazel has also been touted as helping heal bruises and treating varicose veins and hemorrhoids. I don’t think there is any real evidence for these claims though. Just the application of something that’s cooling to the skin will constrict blood vessels. I also could not find any good evidence for resolution of bruising with the use of witch hazel, though the anti-inflammatory effect theoretically may help with pain and swelling from a bruise.
The bottom line is that witch hazel is virtually harmless, so it makes a good home remedy to experiment with on skin inflammations like bug bites, acne redness, sunburn, irritated skin, etc. I also think it makes an excellent facial skin toner.
A note about extrapolating scientific and folk medicine results to modern commercial preparations:
Traditionally, witch hazel was used by Native Americans after it was prepared in a decoction. A decoction is the boiling of something, like the bark of the witch hazel plant, to extract many of the components, including the tannins (with all the good antioxidants), the essential oils, and the saponins (soap-like fraction). Commercially produced witch hazel is distilled, which is different. Scientific studies are mostly done on concentrated fractions of the witch hazel components. This means that you can’t exactly equate the results. That said, witch hazel is harmless and time honored in American households. I personally love the stuff and use it in my practice. It means that it’s OK in my opinion to experiment with it, of course within good common sense.
We use witch hazel as a facial toner in our aesthetician treatments. I use it myself in a toner that we make in my office. I used it as a teen too for my acne-prone skin. We also use it in our laser suite to remove skin-numbing medicine before procedures. It’s a time-honored skin care product with so many uses.
I want to collect your witch hazel home remedies. What have you used it for? Did it work or not? Let’s share our experiences.
J Dtsch Dermatol Ges. 2010 Nov;8(11):866-73. doi: 10.1111/j.1610-0387.2010.07472.x.
Which plant for which skin disease? Part 2: Dermatophytes, chronic venous insufficiency, photoprotection, actinic keratoses, vitiligo, hair loss, cosmetic indications.
[Article in English, German]
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