Witch Hazel Uses and Natural Benefits for Skin

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Benefits and uses of Witch Hazel
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My first introduction to witch hazel was not a pleasant one. I remember when I was given a container of witch hazel pads after the many hours of pushing that led to the eventual birth of my firstborn. As I sat there on my ice pack and felt pain in places I didn’t know could feel pain, a rather stern nurse gave me a primer on what hemorrhoids were, how they could occur after birth, and what to do about them…

Thankfully, I never needed those pads, but the whole experience turned me off to witch hazel.

Fast forward a few years, and I was making the switch to cloth diapers. I wanted to find a natural alternative to regular baby wipes, and in my research on baby-safe ingredients I once again stumbled upon witch hazel.

I decided my prejudice might not be quite fair, and took a second look.

What Is Witch Hazel?

When I started researching it surprised me to learn that witch hazel isn’t just a remedy given to new moms. Also called hamamelis distillate (from its Latin name hamamelis virginiana), this plant-based substance has been used for centuries both medicinally and in skincare and beauty products. It is a chiefly an external remedy applied to the skin. (Although there is such a thing as witch hazel tea, I haven’t tried it yet.)

Witch hazel extract is a a natural astringent or hydrosol made from the bark of the witch hazel shrub or tree. While many of the herbs, spices, and other natural remedies I cover seem to all come from exotic lands, the witch hazel tree is native to North America. The Native American Indians in the northeast especially often used witch hazel for as a healthy remedy and for various skin problems.

There are two methods to getting extract from witch hazel bark: 1) as a distillation (commonly found in stores, with some type of alcohol added as a preservative) or 2) as a decoction, similar to this method for making herbal tinctures. Some herbalists say the decoction method makes a more concentrated version with higher levels of tannins, the component that gives witch hazel its astringent properties, but the distilled version is more shelf-stable.

If you don’t feel like making your own, there are better store-bought options that are double-strength distilled.

Benefits of Witch Hazel

Now that I’ve gotten over my first bad impression, I use witch hazel at home in a whole variety of ways. It is a staple in my natural home remedy kit for first aid and skin care, as it’s handy for everything from soothing minor skin irritations to removing makeup.

Here are some of my favorite ways to use it:

1. Natural Skincare

As mentioned, witch hazel is a multi-purpose remedy that can help with a wide variety of skin conditions. Many people apply it with a cotton pad to cleanse the face and for its astringent properties, which tighten and tone the skin. Apply it to soothe skin disorders like psoriasis, blemishes from acne, or just general dry skin and itching. This isn’t just folklore or wishful thinking, either… studies like this one explain how its natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties work.

I like to use it in this homemade vitamin C facial toner recipe, which has been great for my naturally oily skin.

2. Postpartum

Witch hazel is often recommended post-childbirth (hopefully by a friendlier nurse or midwife than the one I had) because it makes a great postpartum healing spray for the perineum. I make a tincture of witch hazel extract and after-birth herbs that I keep in a spray bottle for post-birth soothing.

It is also possible to make a homemade version of the pads often handed out in hospitals by pouring natural witch hazel over organic cotton pads (and even adding herbs or aloe for additional soothing).

3. For Stretch Marks

I haven’t tried it personally, but a friend was able to make her stretch marks almost completely disappear by spraying witch hazel extract on them once a day for a few months. I recommend this treatment along with dry brushing and this stretch mark salve. Dry brush before a shower, and apply witch hazel after and let dry on the skin. Then apply the stretch mark cream. The toning action of the witch hazel along with the moisturizing salve treatment should go a long way to improve skin.

4. Diaper Rash and Baby Wipes

Witch hazel is an ingredient in my homemade baby wipes (that can be made using cloth wipes or with a disposable option) because it is excellent for the skin. Combined with aloe, it has been very soothing on my little ones. Witch hazel is also great for diaper rash, and I keep a small bottle and some organic cotton balls in my diaper kit as a quick remedy.

5. Varicose Veins

Another remedy I haven’t personally tried, but a midwife friend recommends, is a compresses for varicose vein relief. Soak cloths in witch hazel to make compresses and apply to the legs to reduce the discomfort of varicose veins.

6. For the Hair (Anti-Dandruff)

The same properties that make witch hazel beneficial to the skin also make it good for the hair and scalp. I’ve used it pre-shampoo to help add shine to my hair and de-frizz, but this same process can help with dandruff. I keep a spray bottle of witch hazel in the bathroom to spray on the scalp before showering and then wash out in the shower.

7. Single-Ingredient Deodorant

I love my homemade deodorant, but baking soda can be irritating to some people. A magnesium-based spray deodorant can be a great alternative, but for especially sensitive skin, plain witch hazel (or add a few drops of lavender essential oil) can be a great alternative. I also recommend trying an armpit detox to reduce odor and make armpits less sensitive.

8. Itch Remedy

I keep witch hazel in the first aid kit for treating all kind of itching. It can be really helpful in reducing the itch from chickenpox, eczema, poison ivy, and bug bites.

In fact, I keep a small glass bottle of witch hazel and lavender in the first aid kit, and my children will go find this and use on bug bites or skin itching if they need it. I also make an anti-itch cream using it that is great for spot treating itchy areas.

9. Bruise Spray

Just as it can sooth varicose veins, witch hazel can help reduce the appearance and pain of a bruise. I learned this firsthand when I managed to turn around into the side of a kitchen cabinet and give myself a big forehead bruise the week before a family wedding. A witch hazel compress once a day helped vanish the bruise within a few days.

10. Sunburn or Razor Burn

Apple cider vinegar is my go-to for sunburn, but witch hazel also works well. Keep a spray bottle of it cold in the fridge for cooling relief for a sunburn. It even helps reduce swelling or irritated skin from razor burn after shaving.

11. In Bug Spray

Witch hazel is the base for my homemade bug spray. It is an excellent base for the dried herbs or essential oils in DIY bug spray and adds lots of skin benefits of its own. Since it is also helpful for itchy skin and even poison ivy, it is a good duel-purpose remedy for camping or beach trips. (Even use it on insect bites… but if you apply this bug spray, you shouldn’t need that tip!)

12. On Minor Cuts

Since the tannins in witch hazel work to tighten the skin, they can also help promote healing and stop bleeding on a minor cut. This is the same action that makes it useful for hemorrhoids and skin irritations. (Just make sure not to use the kind with added alcohol, or it will sting.)

Finding Good Quality Witch Hazel

Many store-bought brands contain more alcohol than witch hazel and can be drying or sting sensitive skin. I always buy this brand, which is double-distilled and more potent than most store-bought options.

Ever used witch hazel? What do you use it for?

11 Natural Uses for Witch Hazel

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


49 responses to “Witch Hazel Uses and Natural Benefits for Skin”

  1. Diane Crossfield Avatar
    Diane Crossfield

    I combine witch hazel and rose water ( 50/50, +/-) to use as a daily skin cleanser/toner.

  2. Linda Avatar

    I have just used Witch hazel and rosewater to treat a breakout of atopic eczema (my skin did not like the change in water to a high mineral level away from home). It soothed the itchiness and swelling on my eyelids and lips, and I did not use any creams/lotions for about 3 days until it was more settled.

  3. Kelli Avatar

    That is an excellent choice Jenae! I always buy alcohol free also, and rose petals and aloe have great benefits for skin.

  4. Jenae Hagel Avatar
    Jenae Hagel

    what about thayers alcohal free witcghazel extract with rose petals and aloevera?

  5. Jenny Avatar

    I turned to Witch Hazel when I started getting rosacea and acne (again at 45 years old). I have very fair skin that is sensitive. I no longer “wash” my face with a cleanser…I simply soak a cotton ball with witch hazel and do that several times until the cotton ball is clean. I also take grapefruit essential oil and put that on a cotton ball and run that over my face, rub it in and then a moisturizer (Cerave). My skin has never looked so good. It is bright and clear of acne and the rosacea has calmed down that I barely need to use foundation anymore.

  6. Hannah Avatar

    I recently started using Witch Hazel (Thayer’s Rose Petal), because I’d read that it helps with acne. Actually I first started using right before my monthly “hormonal breakout,” and I was amazed with how well it combated the acne. I can’t believe I’ve gone so long without the use of this great product. 🙂

  7. Mollie Avatar

    I’ve been using witch hazel to treat flat warts on my forehead. Not much success so far and it has been about a month…. has any one had experience with getting rid of those? I would like them gone by my wedding next summer!

    1. Amy Avatar

      Random but if you put duct tape over them they will go away I had warts on my chin and my dermatologist told me to do this and it worked. Cut the tape into small squares to cover each individually. There’s something about starving the warts of air that causes them to vanish. Hope this helps!

  8. Stephanie Avatar

    I’ve tried the ACV as a toner for a fair 6 months, it seemed to make me break out in pimples. I then found witch hazel and we get along great, best toner I’ve ever used. I use it at night and again in the morning for my fair & sensitive skin and it leaves it feeling & looking great. When I first bought it I had purchased Non-Alcoholic witch hazel and I’ve stuck with it because it works. What is the big difference between usage for alcoholic and non-alcoholic witch hazel? Also, when blending with essential oils does it matter which type I use?

    1. Kristi Avatar

      By “which type?” are you questioning what essential oils to use, or what brand? Pairing Witch Hazel with melaleuca or lavender may help your skin. Lavender is anti-inflammatory and I’ve found melaleuca to be a fantastic essential oil when treating break-outs and acne. I do use a specific brand but I won’t comment on that because I don’t want to turn this into a debate. 🙂

      1. Stephanie Avatar

        I was inquiring on which type of witch hazel, alcoholic or non when mixing with essential oils. When I use Witch Hazel for my face (neat) I use the Non-alcoholic but when I use it for natural bug spray and other recipes I blend with essential oils i have been using the alcoholic witch hazel. Just as when I make my own poo-pourri I use rubbing alcohol (as the recipe calls for), as I have learned the alcohol plays an important role in many recipes when blended with essential oils. I would love to switch most of my recipes to non-alcoholic witch hazel, (bug spray etc) but am unsure if it’s an effective replacement?

  9. Kay Avatar

    I use it as a toner, everyday, day and night. After washing my face, I simply soak a cotton pad with witch hazel and use it on my face. I get way less black head(almost none) on my nose since I started to use it.

  10. Dan Avatar

    Aftershave, toner to sooth skin or i will use it for cleaning. I mix essential oils with it. I just use the storebought brands. It doesn’t seem to irritate me and mountian rose herbs can be a bit on the pricey side.

    1. Sarah Avatar

      I would love to have your cleaning recipe, do you mind sharing?

  11. Fiona Avatar

    I use it as aftershave and also as a toner for my face. I will definitely try it for dandruff. Thanks for the information.

  12. Marguerite Avatar

    I actually use witch hazel in tandem with a lotion I found that is extremely moisturizing, ozone layer lotion. I love the astringent qualities but need the Shea butter lotion to work with it.

  13. Kelli Avatar

    Witch Hazel is fantastic!! I always buy the alcohol free type so that I can use it for myself and my dogs. Alcohol of any kind either topically or internally is not good for animals.

  14. Kari Avatar

    Thank you for your posts. I really look forward to your weekly re-cap, and I always learn something new!

  15. Patti Avatar

    I was starting to get a cold sore so my friend whipped out her bottle of witch hazel and had me firmly press down on the cotton ball she soaked with witch hazel onto the tingling skin and voila – no cold sore.

    The same friend recommended it for a bee sting and helped with the stinging pain and duration. I ran out and bought a bottle.

      1. Patti Avatar

        The second you feel that first tingle, put the Witch Hazel on the cotton ball (or cloth) and press firmly on the area where you felt the tingle. Hold for 30 seconds, repeat. Repeat the procedure as often as you can throughout the day/s. It also helps to eat well, get enough citrus, sleep well and avoid too much sun.

  16. Stacey Avatar

    Thank you for this list – terrific uses for witch hazel! My husband uses it as an aftershave, it stops the stinging and burning on his face and neck.

  17. coreen Avatar

    I’m interested in more people’s comments! Sounds like a good thing to have available at all times!!!
    Thanks so much for the information!

    1. Tiffany Avatar

      I’m in my 40’s and have used it for about six months. I used to spend a lot of money on products and saw no results. Use witch hazel and Shea butter on my face and it’s made a difference in my skin which is softer and less irritated. You won’t be disappointed.

  18. Deb Avatar

    Even though I’m in my 50’s, I still get acne from time to time. My teenage son’s acne products are too harsh for my otherwise “mature” skin. Witch hazel clears me right up, and my son has gone the natural route also, with success!

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