Learn why and how witch hazel works to relieve the pain, itching, and swelling of hemorrhoids. This article provides a brief history of the use of the Hamamelis virginiana bush as a general home remedy along with practical tips for use.
What Is Witch Hazel?
Witch hazel has long been known as a natural home remedy for the pain and swelling of hemorrhoids. The bark of the herbaceous shrub, witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), is imbued with natural anti-inflammatory and astringent properties that can help alleviate irritation, pain, and itching associated with hemorrhoids.
This valuable plant grows wild in Atlantic North America (the northern and eastern United States) and parts of Canada. It has several names, including, Winter Bloom (because it blooms in the fall) and Potted Alder.
There is a domesticated form of the shrub, but it is not the variety that should be used for home remedies. For this purpose, you must seek out the Hamamelis virginiana, which grows all along the east coast of the US up to Nova Scotia. The bark and leaves of this plant contain antiseptic, anti-inflammatory properties that can help cleanse, soothe, and shrink hemorrhoids.
Before recorded time, Native Americans used the bark and leaves of the natural witch hazel shrub as a remedy for skin irritation, wound care, reduction of benign tumors, stomach upset, and more.
How Does It Work?
Witch hazel has been used for varicose vein relief. In fact, hemorrhoids have some of the same symptoms of varicose veins. Witch hazel helps ease pain as it strengthens and tightens the walls of these distended veins. [source]
Witch hazel’s natural active ingredients are:
- Calcium oxalate
- Gallic Acid
The tannins are specifically beneficial to treat hemorrhoids. These work by shrinking swollen tissues and helping draw damaged tissues together for healing. They reduce swelling and inflammation and prompt coagulation. This is very helpful in the event your hemorrhoids break open and bleed. The natural antiseptic and antibacterial properties of witch hazel help prevent infection and itching.
Should You Make Your Own Alcohol-Free Witch Hazel Tincture?
The Native American people made an extract of witch hazel by boiling the leaves and bark and pouring off the concentrated tincture. It is certainly possible to do this today; however, you should understand that it is an iffy process that may not have uniform results.
The amount of active ingredients contained in the bark and leaves of the shrub is dependent on soil and growing conditions. For this reason, you might end up with a weak, ineffective tincture one time and a powerful, potentially damaging tincture the next.
Commercially prepared witch hazel products are abundant, and they are very affordable. You are probably much better off simply purchasing a high-quality witch hazel astringent at your local drug store, health food store, or online.
What To Look For When Buying Witch Hazel For Hemorrhoids
Witch hazel products that can be bought at your local drug store typically contain about 14% isopropyl alcohol. This can be a good thing when using witch hazel for hemorrhoid treatment. Alcohol is also antiseptic, antibacterial, and can provide cooling properties. However, if you prefer to avoid rubbing alcohol, you can purchase an alcohol-free tincture or prepared astringent to use instead. [source]
The product that is easiest to find and cheapest to buy is witch hazel extract mixed with isopropyl alcohol. This is readily available at your local drug store, grocery, or variety store for just a few dollars a pint. Look for it alongside first aid supplies such as rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide.
Drug store witch hazel/isopropyl alcohol mixtures are standard, and you can go with the bargain brand safely in most cases. If you are purchasing alcohol-free witch hazel astringent, Dickenson’s and Thayer’s are both highly regarded brands.
If you are purchasing an extract, it’s wise to go with a higher quality brand because extracts are considered herbal supplements. This means that they are monitored by the FDA as foods (not drugs), so the manufacturers are not required to guarantee their quality, purity, or efficacy.
If you want a product that does not contain isopropyl alcohol, many affordable products are available in the same venues and online. You may find them located or listed as personal care products rather than as first aid products. One good example is this witch hazel alcohol-free toner from Thayer’s.
In addition to liquid witch hazel preparations, there are also hemorrhoid creams and ointments that can help ease your discomfort. You can purchase these pre-made or make your own home remedies.
How Do You Use Witch Hazel Astringent For Hemorrhoids?
To use witch hazel as a treatment for external hemorrhoids, you can simply use a topical astringent product (with or without isopropyl alcohol) as-is. This can be applied to hemorrhoid tissue externally to provide cooling, soothing, and reduction of inflammation of the swollen blood vessels.
There are many ways to use this affordable, natural product to bring relief to the pain, swelling, and itching of hemorrhoids. One of the simplest methods is to decant your witch hazel into a spray bottle and spray it lightly onto your toilet paper when you wipe after a bowel movement. This helps cool, soothe, and cleanse the anal area.
If you do this, you will need to use a sturdy variety of toilet paper, baby wipe, or a soft paper towel. Remember not to flush paper products that are not easily degradable as they may block your plumbing.
Five Easy DIY Witch Hazel For Hemorrhoid Treatments
If you tend to have allergies, or if you have sensitive skin, you may want to stay away from commercially prepared products and products that contain isopropyl alcohol. In this case, making your own products using alcohol-free witch hazel astringent or pure extract and other natural ingredients may be the very best choice for you.
Some good products to use in combination with witch hazel include:
- Aloe Vera Gel
- Coconut Oil
- Essential Oils
When using essential oils, you should not use more than 6 drops per 1 ounce of carrier product (e.g. witch hazel, aloe vera gel, coconut oil).
Make Your Own Hemorrhoid Gel
A cooling, soothing, healing gel can be very helpful in reducing inflammation and protecting sensitive skin. To make a soothing, aloe-based gel, you’ll need:
- A 2-ounce dark blue or brown glass jar with a tightly fitting lid
- 2 drops each of Geranium, Juniper, and Cypress essential oils
- A teaspoon of pure witch hazel extract
- An ounce of pure aloe vera gel
Place all ingredients in your jar and stir thoroughly. A toothpick, clean bobby pin, coffee stirrer, or drinking straw will all work well as stirring implements. You may need to stir the gel before each use as the ingredients may tend to settle and separate.
Keep your gel in a cool, dark place with the lid tightly in place. This recipe is not perishable, but remember that essential oils are volatile oils. They evaporate quickly, so you must protect them from air and heat. Keep the lid on the jar tightly and don’t allow it to sit in the sunlight.
You can double, triple, or even quadruple this recipe if you want to make more than an ounce at a time, but if you do, it would be wise to keep your gel in the refrigerator. There are advantages to this as the chilled gel can be very soothing, and the cool temperature can help relieve inflammation.
If this product stings a bit, add more aloe to further dilute the witch hazel and essential oils. [source]
Purchase a tub of unscented, hypoallergenic baby wipes. Open the tub and pour in about half a pint of witch hazel. Thread the first wipe in the center of the roll through the hole in the lid and replace the lid. Tilt the container a couple of times to help distribute the witch hazel throughout the roll. Use the wipes after bowel movements.
If you want, you can add a soothing essential oil to the witch hazel before adding it to the wipes. Chamomile oil is a good choice. Add at a rate of 6 drops of essential oil per ounce of witch hazel.
Make Cleansing Pads
If you are concerned about the environment and/or cost, you may prefer cleansing pads to wipes. To do this, you will need:
- A glass or food grade plastic jar with a tightly fitting lid
- A pint of witch hazel astringent
- 1 teaspoonful of chamomile oil
- ½ teaspoonful of Niaoli essential oil
- Cotton cosmetic pads
Add the essential oils to a new bottle of witch hazel astringent (with alcohol or alcohol-free – your choice). Stack the cosmetic pads loosely in your clean (sterilized) container. Pour enough of your witch hazel mixture over them to dampen them thoroughly. They should be wet, but not dripping.
Put the lid on the jar to keep the pads clean and prevent evaporation of the witch hazel. Keep your jar of pads near your toilet to use after bowel movements. Be sure not to flush the cotton cosmetics pads.
This is a very economical and eco-friendly solution because your pint of witch hazel mix will make several batches of cleansing pads. The cotton pads are inexpensive and biodegradable. Your glass or plastic container is reusable.
With this homemade product, you know exactly what is in your cleansing pads. You don’t have to worry about chemical additives, perfumes, dyes, or other potential irritants.
Soak cotton ball or pads in witch hazel (with essential oils added if desired). Place the witch hazel pads directly on your hemorrhoids at bedtime to provide overnight healing and relief.
One of the most effective natural remedies for hemorrhoids is a sitz bath. Soak your buttocks and hips in luke warm water with witch hazel solution to help get rid of hemorrhoids fast. While doing so, it gives you temporary hemorrhoid relief or stops bleeding hemorrhoids.
If you are using your own, homemade products in treating hemorrhoids, be sure to store them properly. Keep them in dark containers, safe from heat and sun. If your remedy seems to go “off” even a bit, pitch it, and make a new batch.
Homemade Witch Hazel Suppositories Offer Cooling Relief
If you have swollen, painful internal hemorrhoids, using suppositories may help. There are several commercially prepared suppositories containing witch hazel that you can purchase at your local drug store or health food store. You can also make simple suppositories. You’ll need:
- A small ice-cube tray that has compartments free of sharp corners
- Pure witch hazel tincture
- Coconut oil
If the coconut oil is in a solid state, gently warm it by placing the entire container in a tub of warm water until the oil liquefies. Prepare a 50/50 mixture of coconut oil and witch hazel tincture.
Fill the compartments of your ice cube tray slightly with about a teaspoonful of your coconut oil and witch hazel mixture.
Place the ice cube tray in your freezer. Once your homemade suppositories have frozen, you can store them in the ice cube tray or empty them into a Ziploc freezer bag to keep in your freezer for convenience. [source]
To use these suppositories, you would insert one or two into the anus at bedtime. You can use plain coconut oil as a lubricant if needed.
You might think that the frozen suppository would be rather shocking, but it really isn’t. The cold suppository is soothing, and it melts quickly.
You may also wish to use witch hazel soaked (or dry) cotton balls externally to soak up the witch hazel/coconut oil mixture as needed. You may need this organic witch hazel extract while doing the above.
Purchase Witch Hazel Hemorrhoid Wipes, Pads, & Suppositories
If you are simply not a DIY sort of person, you will find lots of suitable choices in commercially prepared hemorrhoid products containing witch hazel such as hemorrhoidal pads. These are all fine to use, but they are a bit pricey. In some cases, if your doctor prescribes a product, your health insurance may cover the cost.
Don’t Ingest Witch Hazel
In your quest for hemorrhoid remedies, you may also run across witch hazel teas or oral supplements. Your suffering may tempt you to give these treatments a try, but that would be an ill-advised decision. Taking witch hazel internally can cause problems because of its high tannin content. [source]
- Problems with nutrient absorption
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Loss of Appetite
- Kidney Damage
- Darkened Urine
- Stomach Pain
- Liver Damage
For these reasons, it is wise to stick with topical treatments. They are safe and effective.
Is It Safe?
Witch hazel has enjoyed centuries of popularity because it works well and has few (or no) side effects when used topically. It is one of a very small selection of herbs that is approved for medicinal use by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). When you visit your doctor to seek treatment for hemorrhoids, he or she is very likely to recommend the use of witch hazel products.
You can use witch hazel externally half a dozen times daily without worrying that you will suffer skin irritation or other unwanted side effects. If you are going to try suppositories, you would be wise to discuss the matter with an herbalist or with your doctor. You should only use suppositories for a limited amount of time, and your health professional can help you determine that length of time.
Suppository use constitutes internal use, and it’s always smart to consult with a professional before using any natural remedy internally. Be certain not to use any product that contains isopropyl alcohol internally as this can cause very serious health complications or even death.
Negative drug, food, and herbal remedy interactions with witch hazel are unheard of, and side effects are rare. As with any topically applied treatment, some people may experience sensitivity. It is always smart to test any new product on a small area of skin before applying it to sensitive or large areas of skin. You can test your sensitivity by placing a few drops of witch hazel on the skin at the bend of your elbow. Leave it in place for 24 hours. If no sensitivity occurs, you can use witch hazel confidently.
It is possible to develop an allergic reaction to anything. If you use witch hazel for a while and then begin to develop a rash or other irritation, discontinue use and seek medical advice.
Just as with any prescription, over-the-counter medication, or home remedy, if you are pregnant or nursing a baby, consult your doctor before use.
Don’t Expect Miracles
Clearly, witch hazel delivers a lot of value as a treatment for hemorrhoids. It is cooling, soothing, and has remarkable healing properties. It helps reduce inflammation and accompanying pain and swelling.
Witch hazel is very effective in treating the symptoms of hemorrhoids; it can shrink and heal anal fissures and help ease bowel movements, but it cannot undo the cause of hemorrhoids.
Be careful to avoid becoming constipated because this can cause and/or exacerbate hemorrhoids. Along with your witch hazel remedies, you must also implement smart, healthy lifestyle habits that include:
- Good stress management
- Ample pure, filtered water
- Fresh fruits and veggies
- Whole grains
- Daily exercise
- Ample sleep
Hemorrhoids do not have to be a lifelong bane of your existence. A holistic approach that includes healthy habits and smart use of home remedies or commercial products containing witch hazel can help you cure hemorrhoids.