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. Janna Avatar

    It’s very good for skin abrasions, etc. It is also very effective in eliminating the itching from insect bites. A must have in your medicine cabinet.

  2. Leslie Avatar

    I have been using witchhazel for about 15 years now. It started as a facial toner and then for hockey’s on my neck (I would soak a cotton ball and tape to my neck overnight and it would be gone), then for my eczema, bug bites, sunburn, skin irritations, never tried for stretch marks, I may see if that helps. Oh and I think I will try it for my dandruff. Also, I put it in my daughter’s bath and she can tell the times I forget… her skin feels different and she asks for it. I probably put around 1/4 a cup. One of my favourite skin care products..

  3. Meghan Avatar

    Have you ever looked into the Thayer’s brand of witch hazel? Do you know if this is a good option?


  4. Brooke Avatar

    Hi there. FYI there are species of witch hazel native to China and Japan. I live in New Zealand and I can’t find a North American species of witch hazel to plant on my property. I’ve done research but can’t find out whether the Japanese or Chinese species can be used to make witch hazel tonic. Do you know? Thanks!

  5. Victoria Busby Avatar
    Victoria Busby

    I’ve never heard about witch hazel for varicose veins, but I did hear of a paste made out of vodka and smashed horse chestnuts (only the English variety) that was supposed to help…has anyone else heard of this remedy?

  6. Tom Avatar

    Re: Stretch marks. I lived with a renowned mid-wife, and she taught her expectant mothers to get in the sun. Not only was there the vitamin D benefit, but a suntan on their tummys allowed their skin to stretch without tearing, which causes stretchmarks. A, “tummy tan,” kept them stretchmark free.

  7. Debra Avatar

    I recently had a spate of nosebleeds and found that witch hazel helps stop the bleeding.

    “ Witch hazel for nosebleeds: insert a cotton ball soaked in witch hazel into the nostrils to stop bleeding. Witch hazel acts as an astringent.”

    I then took homeopathic hamamelis Virginiana and I believe it has helped with varicose veins.

  8. Darlene Avatar

    I purchased witch hazel that contains no alcohol. I wanted to make my own astringent but don’t know what to dilute it with and how many drops to use….can you help me?

  9. Tracy K Avatar

    Great information. My great grandmother used witch hazel for everything. The smell reminds me of her and I just love it. I use it as a daily astringent/toner.

    1. Jill Avatar

      My grandfather always had it for bug bites and bee stings. He used only witch hazel as his deodorant and although he worked outside all the time and still sweat he always smelled so clean.

  10. Patricia Avatar

    Whenever I use or even smell witch hazel I remember my grandma. When I was about 9 or 10 years old, my mom bought me a used bicycle. After we painted it and put new tires on it, I had to learn to ride it. We lived on a farm with my grandparents and I would usually ride my bike straight into a very large nettle patch. Since I wore shorts my legs were covered with itchy welts. My grandmother would cover my legs with witch hazel and instantly the itchy welts would be gone! Now I use it for lots of things. I love witch hazel.

  11. Rory Avatar

    I was told by my piercer to use witch Hazel or salt water on my piercings during the healing process, and it definitely is a good idea. It soothes them when they’re inflamed, and has only stung on a few occasions, however that was in the beginning of the healing process. I didn’t know it helped with dandruff, and I’m glad to hear that it does. I’ll definitely have to try it out. Thank you!

  12. sunny levin Avatar
    sunny levin



  13. Elena Avatar

    in relation to witch hazel and varicose veins, have you heard of anyone reversing initial stages of varicose veins? I have not been able to find anything at all about it, just the use of horse chestnut to prevent future varicose veins.
    All recommendations for existing varicose are surgical. it just doesn’t make any sense, why would I want to loose a vein that transports blood in my body and hope it’s inconcesquential.
    Vein is just a muscle, should be possible to do something non surgical about a weak muscle….
    thank you so much in advance

    1. Sarah Avatar

      Would love to know if you found anything for reducing or getting rid of varicose veins. I have some that are pretty bad and I too am worried about just surgically removing them.

  14. Joelle Avatar

    I’m confused because this witch hazel contains other ingredients. It seems to be a toner already. I was just looking for the best kind of witch hazel for home made products including air freshers/linen sprays that would contain essential oils. Is regular 14% alcohol fine for this? Do I need to be looking for organic? Does this even matter with witch hazel? I’m having a hard time finding answers relevant to my questions.

    1. Katie - Wellness Mama Avatar

      Alcohol is essentially a preservative and it is considered safe in the amounts used in witch hazel. Essentially, it is a witch hazel tincture with the alcohol simply there to preserve it. Some brands (like this one) are lower in alcohol and use food grade alcohol if you are concerned.

  15. Lennise Avatar

    I just stumbled across witch hazel. I got a very bad sunburn on my legs… so bad that they were so swollen that I could not walk on them. I used a witch hazel compress for about 20 minutes and the swelling and pain had gone down enough that I could walk. My legs are steadily improving with continued witch hazel compresses.

  16. jj Avatar

    Use Witch Hazel (solution with 15% alcohol) every day after shaving my face… Wash my entire face with it.. stops minor bleed and acts a nice and painless astringent.

    AT $3 a pint it beat after shave!

  17. Mich Avatar

    I use witch hazel on mosquito bites. They go away faster and don’t itch.

  18. Jaclyn Avatar

    Your recommended Thayer link advertises that witch hazel as non-distilled (which they say provides greater benefits). However, you claim it’s double-distilled and more potent. I’m confused. Can you help clear up the deal with the distillation info and benefits? I love your site by the way. Yours and Kitchen Stewardship are our family’s go-to resources. : ) Love it when you do a podcast together!

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