Witch hazel is a plant with powerful medicinal properties that can be used in various ways.
There are many species of witch hazel, but Hamamelis virginiana — a type of shrub native to North America — is most commonly used in folk medicine in the US. The leaves and bark are made into teas and ointments.
Most often applied to the skin and scalp, witch hazel is widely known for its ability to ease inflammation and soothe sensitive skin.
It can also be added to herbal teas and ingested orally in small amounts as a natural treatment for other conditions.
Here are the top 8 benefits and uses of witch hazel.
1. Witch hazel relieves inflammation
Inflammation is a normal immune response designed to protect your body against injury and infection.
However, chronic inflammation is thought to be central in developing certain diseases.
Witch hazel contains many compounds with potent anti-inflammatory properties, including gallic acid and tannins.
It also contains antioxidants that help prevent widespread inflammation and neutralize free radicals, disease-causing compounds that can build up in your body.
Therefore, witch hazel could have far-reaching benefits and help treat inflammatory-related issues like acne, eczema, or psoriasis.
Studies show that topically-applied witch hazel can reduce inflammation and help soothe your skin.
Summary: Witch hazel contains many compounds with anti-inflammatory properties, which may have far-reaching benefits for your health.
2. Witch hazel reduces skin irritation
Sensitive skin, defined by abnormal sensory symptoms, is a very common condition affecting up to 45% of Americans.
Some research suggests that applying witch hazel topically to sensitive skin may be beneficial in treating inflamed, irritated, or broken skin.
Witch hazel has been shown to suppress erythema — a reddening of the skin caused by injury or irritation — by up to 27%.
One study in 40 people found that using a lotion with as little as 10% witch hazel extract effectively reduced skin inflammation and treated erythema.
Similarly, another small study found that a topical preparation containing witch hazel was able to provide relief for sensitive or irritated facial skin.
Summary: Witch hazel may help reduce skin redness and provide relief for irritated and sensitive skin.
3. Witch hazel helps treat hemorrhoids
Hemorrhoids are caused by the swelling and inflammation of the veins in your rectum and anus, resulting in symptoms such as itchiness and bleeding.
Witch hazel is often used as a natural remedy to relieve the discomfort and pain caused by hemorrhoids.
It’s typically added to a cloth or cotton ball and applied to the affected area to soothe the skin.
Though research is limited, witch hazel is believed to help treat the itching, redness, pain, and swelling associated with hemorrhoids due to its anti-inflammatory effects.
Moreover, it has hemostatic properties, meaning it may stop bleeding caused by hemorrhoids.
However, more human studies are needed to examine the effectiveness of witch hazel on hemorrhoids.
Summary: Witch hazel is often used to reduce the itching, redness, pain, bleeding, and swelling associated with hemorrhoids. More studies are needed to evaluate its effectiveness.
4. Witch hazel fights acne
Thanks to its powerful anti-inflammatory properties, some research suggests that witch hazel could help treat acne.
It can be applied directly to your face after cleansing or steaming for maximum effectiveness.
It acts as an astringent, causing your tissues to contract to help shrink pores while also soothing your skin and relieving inflammation.
This may prevent acne-causing bacteria from infecting your skin. For this reason, witch hazel is commonly added to many over-the-counter acne products and is especially useful for individuals with oily skin.
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Still, studies on the effects of witch hazel on acne are limited, and further research is needed to determine its efficacy.
Summary: Witch hazel acts as an astringent to help shrink your pores, soothe your skin and reduce inflammation. More research is needed to determine the effects of witch hazel itself on acne.
5. Witch hazel alleviates scalp sensitivity
Scalp sensitivity can be caused by several factors, ranging from cosmetic hair treatments to dermatological conditions, such as psoriasis or seborrheic dermatitis.
Applying witch hazel to your scalp before washing your hair may help treat scalp sensitivity and relieve symptoms like itching and tenderness.
According to a study of 1,373 people, using a shampoo containing witch hazel extract effectively reduced scalp irritation.
Witch hazel may also help relieve inflammation, which could help reduce scalp sensitivity caused by conditions like psoriasis or eczema.
It’s also sometimes used as a natural remedy to relieve symptoms of other scalp problems, such as dandruff and dryness.
However, additional research is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of witch hazel in treating these conditions.
Summary: Witch hazel may help reduce scalp irritation and inflammation. It’s also sometimes used for treating dandruff and dryness, though more studies are needed to evaluate its effectiveness.
6. Witch hazel soothes a sore throat
Because of its ability to decrease inflammation and act as an astringent, witch hazel is sometimes used to treat sore throats.
Boiling one teaspoon (5 ml) of witch hazel in one cup (240 ml) of water for about 10 minutes, then gargling with the mixture, may provide relief.
This is believed to help reduce swelling and decrease pain and dry excess mucus caused by a sore throat.
Yet, even though the anti-inflammatory properties of witch hazel are well documented, its use for treating sore throats is based solely on anecdotal evidence.
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High-quality studies are needed to ascertain the potential benefits of witch hazel on sore throats.
In addition, taking witch hazel orally may cause stomach irritation due to its high tannin content, so it’s essential to proceed with caution and consult your doctor if you have any concerns.
Summary: Witch hazel is often used as a natural remedy for sore throats, but additional studies are needed to examine its potential benefits and side effects.
7. Witch hazel protects against skin damage
Witch hazel is rich in tannins, a natural plant compound with powerful antioxidant properties that can help protect your skin against damage when applied topically.
One animal study found that tannins can act as a barrier, preventing inflammation-causing substances from entering your skin cells.
Moreover, a test-tube study showed that witch hazel helped neutralize harmful free radicals and prevented the spread of skin cancer cells.
Similarly, another animal study discovered that the tannins in witch hazel could slow skin tumor growth in mice exposed to radiation.
However, most research is currently limited to test-tube and animal studies. More studies are needed to evaluate the effects of witch hazel on humans.
Summary: Animal and test-tube studies have found that witch hazel and its components could prevent skin cancer and protect against skin damage.
8. Witch hazel wards off infection
Some studies indicate that witch hazel may be beneficial in fighting certain types of viral infections.
One test-tube study, for example, found that the tannins in witch hazel exhibited antiviral effects against both influenza A and human papillomavirus (HPV).
Another test-tube study showed that witch hazel extract inhibited the activity of herpes simplex virus 1, which is often the culprit behind cold sores.
For this reason, witch hazel is often applied topically as a natural remedy to help fight cold sores and relieve symptoms.
But although test-tube studies have found promising results, human studies are still lacking.
More studies are needed to examine the effects of witch hazel and its potential impact on viral infections in healthy adults.
Summary: Test-tube studies show that witch hazel may have antiviral properties and could be helpful against certain types of viral infections.
How to safely use witch hazel
Most people can use witch hazel safely with minimal risk of adverse side effects.
Ointments and extracts can be applied to your skin several times daily and safely administered to treat hemorrhoids after each bowel movement.
Some people may experience skin irritation or allergic reactions after applying witch hazel topically.
Doing an initial skin patch test on a small portion of your skin can help prevent unwanted side effects and reactions.
Additionally, while taking 3–4 teaspoons (15–20 ml) of witch hazel daily is generally considered safe, ingesting large amounts may cause stomach irritation and vomiting.
Therefore, it’s best only to use small amounts orally and to discuss any side effects or concerns with your doctor.
Summary: Witch hazel can be safely applied to your skin several times per day, and small amounts can be ingested orally with minimal risk of side effects.
Witch hazel is an astringent often used as a natural topical remedy.
It contains several compounds with potent anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties, which may help treat various conditions ranging from acne and scalp sensitivity to hemorrhoids.
Still, more research is needed to unearth the entire spectrum of potential benefits that this powerful plant has to offer.