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Witch Hazel

Health Benefits, Uses, Side Effects & Tips

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Updated August 01, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Witch hazel is a natural remedy made from the bark and leaves of a plant called Hamamelis virginiana. Long used in traditional medicine, witch hazel is usually applied topically in order to treat certain skin conditions.

Witch hazel contains tannins, a type of natural compound with astringent effects. By acting as an astringent, witch hazel helps to constrict skin tissue.

Uses for Witch Hazel

Proponents claim that witch hazel can heal a wide range of skin troubles, such as:

In addition, some people use witch hazel as a toner (a type of skin-care product said to cleanse the skin and tighten pores).

While some proponents recommend internal use of witch hazel for some conditions (such as diarrhea, colds, and even cancer), there is no evidence that consuming witch hazel can enhance your health. Furthermore, oral intake of witch hazel may trigger a number of adverse effects.

Health Benefits of Witch Hazel

To date, few scientific studies have tested the health effects of witch hazel. The available research includes several laboratory studies showing that certain compounds found in witch hazel may produce antioxidant effects.

Here's a look at some other key study findings:

1) Sunburn

Witch hazel may help treat sunburn when applied topically, according to a 2010 report published in the Journal of the German Society of Dermatology. The report's authors also state that witch hazel may help shield the skin from damage induced by exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays.

Find out about more natural remedies for sunburn.

2) Skin Problems in Children

For a 2007 study from the European Journal of Pediatrics, researchers tested the effects of witch hazel on 309 children with minor skin injuries, diaper rash, or localized skin inflammation. Seventy-eight of the study participants were treated with dexpanthenol ointment (a medication commonly used for skin disorders), while the other 231 children underwent treatment with witch hazel. Study results revealed that both dexpanthenol ointment and witch hazel were similarly effective and well-tolerated by the subjects.

More on natural remedies for eczema.

Safety

Witch hazel is generally considered safe when applied topically. Internal use is not recommended, due to concerns that ingestion of witch hazel may cause nausea, vomiting, constipation, liver damage, and other adverse effects.

Where to Find Witch Hazel

Witch hazel can be found in most drugstores, grocery stores, and natural-food stores. In addition, witch hazel is widely available for purchase online.

Although witch hazel is typically sold in distilled liquid form, this remedy is also available in ointments and medicated pads.

Using Witch Hazel for Health

It may be possible to relieve minor skin problems (such as insect bites or mild sunburn) by applying witch hazel topically. If you're considering the use of witch hazel for a chronic condition, make sure to consult your physician first. Avoiding or delaying standard care and self-treating a chronic condition with witch hazel (or any other form of alternative medicine) may have serious health consequences.

Sources:

Choi HR, Choi JS, Han YN, Bae SJ, Chung HY. "Peroxynitrite scavenging activity of herb extracts." Phytother Res. 2002 Jun;16(4):364-7.

Lizárraga D, Touriño S, Reyes-Zurita FJ, de Kok TM, van Delft JH, Maas LM, Briedé JJ, Centelles JJ, Torres JL, Cascante M. "Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) fractions and the importance of gallate moieties--electron transfer capacities in their antitumoral properties." J Agric Food Chem. 2008 Dec 24;56(24):11675-82.

Reuter J, Wölfle U, Korting HC, Schempp C. "Which plant for which skin disease? Part 2: Dermatophytes, chronic venous insufficiency, photoprotection, actinic keratoses, vitiligo, hair loss, cosmetic indications." J Dtsch Dermatol Ges. 2010 Nov;8(11):866-73. doi: 10.1111/j.1610-0387.2010.07472.x.

Touriño S, Lizárraga D, Carreras A, Lorenzo S, Ugartondo V, Mitjans M, Vinardell MP, Juliá L, Cascante M, Torres JL. "Highly galloylated tannin fractions from witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) bark: electron transfer capacity, in vitro antioxidant activity, and effects on skin-related cells." Chem Res Toxicol. 2008 Mar;21(3):696-704.

Wang H, Provan GJ, Helliwell K. "Determination of hamamelitannin, catechins and gallic acid in witch hazel bark, twig and leaf by HPLC." J Pharm Biomed Anal. 2003 Nov 24;33(4):539-44.

Wolff HH, Kieser M. "Hamamelis in children with skin disorders and skin injuries: results of an observational study." Eur J Pediatr. 2007 Sep;166(9):943-8.

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