Witch hazel plant (Hamamelis virginiana) is a wild shrub native to North America. It is mostly found in the northeastern United States and parts of Canada. Traditionally, the Native American people have used every part of the plant as food, medicine, and to make strong, flexible bows.
The plant is unusual in that it does not bloom until late autumn after the leaves have fallen. It is also unique because it is one of very few botanical remedies that has been approved as a medicine by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As a result, its extract is used in a numerous over-the-counter medicines and personal care products.
What Is Witch Hazel Used For?
The natural extract combined with a light carrier is a go-to choice for treating acne-prone skin; however, the inexpensive, over-the-counter combination of witch hazel and isopropyl or ethyl alcohol is an excellent addition to any medicine chest. Here are just a few of the many benefits of witch hazel products.
- Reduce pain and inflammation associated with sun damage and melanoma.
- Cleanse cracked or blistered skin prior to moisturizing.
- Calm inflammation associated with psoriasis or eczema.
- Reduce skin irritation and inflammation.
- Soothe and reduce the swelling of hemorrhoids.
- Clean the skin surrounding ingrown hairs.
- Soothe delicate tissues following childbirth.
- Reduce mucous membrane inflammation.
- Help chicken pox sores heal more quickly.
- Cleanse and soothe irritated scalp.
- Calm and soothe poison ivy rash.
- Take the itch out of insect bites.
- Reduce swollen varicose veins.
- Reduce redness and swelling.
- Cool and soothe razor burn.
- Minimize allergic reactions.
- Minimize excess sweating.
- Cleanse oily skin.
- Treat skin sores.
- Soothe bruises.
- Serve as moisturizing lip balm.
A quart-sized bottle of 14% alcohol and witch hazel usually costs less than $2, but its effective astringent and antiseptic properties make it an invaluable product for dealing with a host of minor injuries and skin irritations.
Why Is Witch Hazel A Good Astringent?
An astringent is a substance that causes tissues to dry up, shrink, or contract. [source]
There are three main types of astringent:
- Some substances narrow small blood vessels and decrease blood supply.
- Some substances draw moisture from skin tissue.
- Other substances coagulate moisture on the surface of tissue to form scabbing.
Witch hazel is an example of the first type of astringent. It is often coupled with alcohol, which is an example of the second type. Calamine lotion is an example of the third type.
Astringents are used medicinally to reduce swelling and inflammation both internally and externally. They are also valuable for stopping bleeding and drying up excess secretions. Cosmetically, astringents are used to cleanse and refine pores and to dry up excess oil on the skin.
According to dermatology resident, Joyce Park, of New York University Medical Center, witch hazel’s ability to constrict blood vessels and tissues makes it an excellent choice for tightening pores, reducing the inflammation caused by acne, and minimizing under-eye puffiness. [source]
Park also points out that its anti-inflammatory activity and antioxidant properties make it a good choice for soothing irritated skin after shaving. Therefore, witch hazel is often a main ingredient in aftershave lotions and alcohol-free toners.
Using Witch Hazel Toner In Your Daily Skin Care Routine
Witch hazel toner is one of the oldest and most time-tested natural beauty products. It has proven itself very effective in dissolving debris on the skin, cleansing pores, reducing irritation and inflammation, and promoting a smooth, clear complexion. [source]
Organic witch hazel extract can be combined with a carrier oil or an oil-free carrier to help restore your skin’s pH balance while adding moisture or removing excess oiliness as needed. The type of carrier substance used can be adjusted to suit your skin type and in response to the seasons.
Skin tends to need more moisture and protection in the winter months, so a carrier such as jojoba oil or sunflower seed oil is preferable during the winter season. During the summer months, a light, natural carrier such as aloe vera gel or juice, or white or apple cider vinegar (ACV) can be used.
Follow these steps to use witch hazel as a facial toner and astringent:
- Cleanse your face and throat gently and thoroughly.
- Use a cotton pad or cotton ball to apply an alcohol-free preparation of witch hazel to your face and throat.
- Apply moisturizer and eye cream as needed.
Perform this skin care routine once or twice daily. If you only cleanse once a day, be sure to do it at bedtime as it is never advisable to sleep with makeup or environmental contaminants on your skin.
Remember to include your throat when you take care of your face. If you don’t, it will develop wrinkles and creases and make you look older, even if your face still looks young and vibrant!
How To Make Your Own Alcohol Free, All-Natural Witch Hazel Extract
If you are lucky enough to have wild Hamamelis virginiana growing near you, you can harvest the twigs, leaves, and bark, and make your own, all-natural extract. Homemade infusions and tinctures retain far more of the tannins that account for the natural astringent properties of the plant. Just be sure you are using the native plant and not the cultivated, ornamental variety, which does not contain these beneficial compounds.
To make your own extract, just follow these steps:
- Gently prune the ends of the branches of a witch hazel shrub.
- Peel the bark from the twigs you have pruned and retain it. (The bark is rich in tannins and other healing compounds.)
- Chop or break the twigs into very small pieces.
Following these initial steps, you can choose whether you want to make a witch hazel water-based decoction or an alcohol-based tincture.
- Place the witch hazel bark and twigs in a stainless-steel cooking vessel with a lid and cover them with filtered or distilled water.
- Put the lid on the pot and bring the contents to a boil.
- Reduce the heat and simmer the mixture (covered) for about 30 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat and set it in a cool place for about 8 hours.
- Strain the liquid into a glass jar.
- Keep the jar in your refrigerator, and be sure to use up the decoction within a week.
You can use this decoction full strength as a skin toner or as one of the most soothing, cooling, natural remedies for skin irritation and other minor injuries and conditions. [source]
- After scraping the bark and chopping up the twigs, place them in a glass container and add enough vodka to cover them.
- Put a lid on the container and place it in a cool, dark place for 6 weeks.
- Strain the liquid into a clean, glass container with a tightly-fitting lid and keep the container in your refrigerator.
This mixture will last indefinitely. To use it, you would dilute it with water at a rate of about one teaspoonful of tincture per ounce of filtered or distilled water.
The decoction and the diluted tincture can both be applied with cotton balls, gauze, or a spray bottle to help soothe itchy skin, bruises, wounds, varicose veins, oily skin, and so on.
Note that if you are put off by the scent of natural witch hazel, or if you want to add specific healing properties to your solution, you can include various essential oils such as tea tree and aloe vera formula at the end of the process, at a rate of 6 drops per ounce of decoction or diluted tincture.
What Is The Best Kind Of Witch Hazel Astringent?
If you don’t have access to wild witch hazel plant, or if you simply lack the time or the desire required for DIY, you will be happy to know that there are several high-quality, alcohol-free witch hazel products on the market today. Among them are:
Who Should You Use Witch Hazel?
It’s easy to see that witch hazel in all its forms is a good addition to anyone’s medicine chest or personal care routine. Whether DIY or store-bought, a variety of choices are available to put this time-honored ingredient to work for you.
The pure extract makes an excellent base for any skin tone, whether you have sensitive skin, dry skin, or oily skin. You can create a personalized homemade product by making smart choices in carrier products and essential oil.
How Do You Use Witch Hazel?
Personal experimentation can lead to some wonderful ideas and products. How have you made good use of witch hazel in your personal care and skin care routine? If you have questions or ideas, please add them to the comments section below.