8 Ways to Use Witch Hazel for Hair, Skin and Vein Swelling

You’ve surely passed by this plant-based remedy at the drugstore or supermarket dozens of times, mistaking it for a bottle of rubbing alcohol. It’s cheap, widely available, yet utterly underrated. The remedy in question is witch hazel, a natural extract prepared from the leaves and bark of the Hamamelis virginiana shrub indigenous to the United States.
Witch hazel is usually used topically, and it can alleviate irritation and inflammation caused by dandruff, acne, and even hemorrhoids. Apart from that, it can improve the appearance of varicose veins and skin redness.
Native Americans were the first to discover the benefits of witch hazel centuries ago. It was made into a tea or ointment and used as a remedy for skin ailments caused by irritation and inflammation. Since then, other beneficial uses were discovered. Learn all about these benefits and uses below.

1. Helps reduce discomfort in hemorrhoids

Witch Hazel plant
Hemorrhoids are an extremely uncomfortable condition accompanied by bleeding, itching, and pain. Unfortunately, they’re also very common, affecting 3 out of 4 adults from time to time. They occur when the veins in the anus or rectum expand and become irritated and inflamed, which increases the risk of pain and bleeding during or after a bowel movement. When this happens, it’s important to reduce the swelling and stop the bleeding as soon as possible to prevent complications and ease the symptoms.
Witch hazel is a common natural remedy for hemorrhoids. It contains anti-inflammatory compounds such as gallic acid and tannins that were suggested to treat the swelling and itching in hemorrhoids. Furthermore, witch hazel has hemostatic properties, which means that it can stop bleeding in hemorrhoids. Given that the onset of the disease can often be sudden and unexpected, it’s useful to have witch hazel on hand.
There are two ways to use witch hazel for hemorrhoids:
1. Soak a cotton ball with witch hazel and apply it directly to the area of concern.
2. Add between ¼  and ½  cup witch hazel into a bath.

2. Improves the appearance of varicose veins

Witch Hazel varicose veins
Varicose veins are dilated, twisted veins that often appear to be blue or dark purple in color. These veins can appear on any part of the body, but they are most commonly found in the legs. For many people, varicose veins are merely a cosmetic concern, but they can actually be bothersome and painful, too. In rare cases, varicose veins can cause complications, such as bleeding, ulcers, and blood clots.
According to a 2001 review study, many people suffering from varicose veins apply a liquid toner or an ointment containing witch hazel on them to reduce the swelling and discomfort, much like one would use it to treat hemorrhoids. However, much of the evidence is anecdotal, and there is not much research done on the topic.

3. Helps with dandruff and irritated scalp

Witch Hazel dandruff
There is a number of scalp conditions that cause scalp sensitivity and redness. Dandruff, psoriasis, and seborrheic dermatitis are just a few common examples. Apart from health conditions, cosmetic hair treatments like hair dye can also irritate the scalp. Using witch hazel on the scalp can help reduce inflammation, redness, and irritation.
It will also reduce uncomfortable symptoms, such as scalp sensitivity and itchiness. Research published in the International Journal of Trichology in 2014 examined the effects of a shampoo containing witch hazel extract in 1,373 participants. The study showed that the shampoo was able to reduce scalp irritation and sensitivity.
If you want to use witch hazel on the scalp, use a shampoo that contains witch hazel, add a small amount of witch hazel into your usual shampoo, or simply apply a witch hazel toner on a clean scalp right after washing your hair.

4. Alleviates symptoms of sunburns and other types of burns

Witch Hazel sunburn
Some people believe that witch hazel can be used as sunscreen. Unfortunately, this is a myth, but witch hazel can benefit the skin in many other ways. Research shows that applying witch hazel can soothe the skin, even after a burn. It works for sunburns and other minor skin burns, even those caused by chemicals or razor burns.
Here’s how to use witch hazel on a burn: soak a soft cloth or a paper towel in witch hazel and gently press it on the affected area. DO NOT rub or tug at the skin, as it’s very fragile and sensitive in this state and any friction can further irritate the skin.

5. Helps a sore throat

Witch Hazel sore throat
Some people swear by witch hazel as a way to heal a sore throat. Since witch hazel has anti-inflammatory and astringent properties, gargling a witch hazel solution is said to reduce swelling, dryness, and pain that accompanies a sore throat. The mixture can also help dry out some of the excess mucus in the throat.
To try this method, mix 1 teaspoon of witch hazel with 1 cup of water and boil for 10 minutes. Use the mixture for gargling 3-4 times a day. AVOID swallowing the witch hazel because it contains tannins, so it could upset your stomach.

6. Improves acne

Witch Hazel acne
Acne is another skin issue that’s commonly treated with witch hazel. In fact, many cosmetics targeted for oily and acne-prone skin contain witch hazel. The reason why witch hazel works for acne is twofold. Firstly, studies suggest that witch hazel is an astringent, which means that it helps dry out existing acne. Second, the tannins present in witch hazel act as antioxidants and reduce the inflammation in the skin, which makes the pimple less red and painful.
There’s also a belief that witch hazel helps shrink pores and prevents blackheads, but in reality, this “pore minimizing” effect is very short-lived, so it’s better to use witch hazel only on the red and angry pimples. Avoid using witch hazel on the entire face because it can dry out your skin. It’s much better to soak a cotton bud with witch hazel and dot it directly onto the acne instead.

7. Relieves bug bite discomfort

Witch Hazel mosquito
Mosquitos buzzing in the air? Then having a bottle of witch hazel in the medicine cabinet is a good idea. Just like acne and sunburns, bug bites are often accompanied by redness, swelling, and inflammation. Soaking a cotton ball with some witch hazel and dabbing it directly onto the bite can ease those symptoms and reduces the unbearable itching, too.

8. May fight certain viral infections

More recently, researchers have started looking into witch hazel’s potential in warding off viral infections. In-vitro studies suggest that the tannins present in witch hazel possess some antiviral effects against human papillomavirus (HPV), influenza, and the herpes simplex virus 1 (the virus that causes cold sores).
Witch Hazel sick woman
In fact, some people use witch hazel to reduce the symptoms and fight cold sores. Since this is a developing field of research, there is no evidence of antiviral activity in studies that involve humans just yet, but we’re sure to update you on any new developments.

Tips on Using Witch Hazel

Witch hazel is available in many forms and products these days. The most common form is a liquid witch hazel toner, but ointments and shampoos containing witch hazel are also available. If you intend to use witch hazel for a variety of concerns, it’s best to purchase a witch hazel toner that contains only witch hazel and water.

It’s important to avoid products that contain fragrance and alcohol because these ingredients can aggravate the skin. Also, please use witch hazel with caution and patch-test before you use it on wounds, acne, or irritated skin. Allergic reactions and skin irritation are rare but not null with witch hazel.

To perform a patch test, apply witch hazel on a small visible area on the skin and wait for a few hours. Finally, if you have rosacea or extremely dry skin, avoid using witch hazel on large areas of the skin, like your entire face or chest.

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