There’s a reason witch hazel is so popular. It’s a staple in many of my natural recipes, including outdoor spray, hand sanitizer, hemorrhoid treatment, poison ivy treatment, padsicles, and this sitz bath recipe.

Let’s talk about why that is! In this post we’ll discuss:

  • What witch hazel is
  • The many uses of witch hazel
  • Possible side effects of witch hazel
  • Plus, the best witch hazel on the market

What is Witch Hazel?

Witch hazel is a plant. The clear solution we see in the bottle comes from distilling the plant’s leaves, bark, and twigs.

Blessed with a high level of tannins, this natural remedy can help reduce inflammation and swelling, repair broken skin, and fight bacteria, which translates to a whole host of uses.

Witch Hazel Uses

The first widely popular American skincare product was based on wild-harvested witch hazel. It’s what we know of today as Pond’s Cold Cream! (source) But today, we use the plant for so much more. Let’s unpack the natural astringent’s many uses.

Witch hazel for acne

If you have oily skin, this plant may be the key to clearing up your acne. Studies show that when the plant undergoes steam distillation, it takes on astringent properties that helps pores contract. (source) Its skin-soothing, anti-inflammatory properties also make it a great treatment for acne.

To use it for acne:

  1. Wash your face.
  2. Soak a cotton ball or cotton pad in the solution.
  3. Apply directly to any problem areas.
  4. To keep pimples at bay, repeat each time you wash your face.

Note: It’s always best to put the solution on the cotton ball directly, rather than buying pads. The pads typically contain alcohol, which can be drying to the skin. (See how to make your own pads below!)

Witch hazel for eczema

Though the exact cause of eczema is still largely unknown, it is most likely a combination of hereditary, gut bacteria balance and environmental factors. Plants, like witch hazel, can help counteract these factors, because they have antibacterial and antiseptic qualities that serve to strengthen the body’s immune system. (source)

To use it for itching or oozing eczema: 

  1. Soak a cotton ball in the solution.
  2. Gently swipe the cotton ball over the affected area.
  3. Apply multiple times a day, as needed, for relief.

Witch hazel for inflammation

Thanks to its gallic acid and tannins, this plant has pretty potent anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, it’s shown to be even more effective in reducing skin inflammation than antihistamines. (source) In addition, it contains antioxidants that help prevent inflammation and neutralize free radicals. (source)

To use it for inflammation: 

  1. Soak a cotton ball in the solution.
  2. Gently dab the cotton ball on the inflamed area.
  3. Apply multiple times a day, as needed, for relief.

Witch hazel for minor bleeding

Believe it or not, this plant has the power to stop minor bleeding. Its astringent properties tighten and tone the tissues in your skin, helping it to heal. Plus, the aforementioned antibacterial and antiseptic qualities help cleanse the wound, too. Native Americans used the plant to treat wounds for this exact reason! (source)

To use it for minor bleeding:

  1. Soak a cotton ball in the solution.
  2. Gently dab the cotton ball on the wound. (Alternatively, you can dribble the solution over the cut.)
  3. Repeat at least once per day until the wound heals.

Witch hazel for hemorrhoids

For all the same reasons it’s effective at treating wounds and inflammation, it’s a great home remedy for hemorrhoids. (source) Just note that, when it comes to hemorrhoids, witch hazel relieves symptoms like inflammation, irritation, and itching, rather than treat the root cause.

To use it for hemorrhoids:

  1. Soak a cotton ball in the solution.
  2. Gently dab the cotton ball on the affected area. (Alternatively, you can make homemade pads using the recipe below.)
  3. Repeat after using the restroom, or as needed, for relief.

Witch hazel for diarrhea

In a preliminary trial using isolated tannins as part of drug therapy for Crohn’s disease, researchers found the tannins to be more effective at reducing diarrhea than other conventional medication. Because of the plant’s high tannins, it is possible that it can help treat diarrhea.

To treat diarrhea, it must be ingested. But it’s important to note there is limited research on the safety and effectiveness of consuming the solution.

According to WebMD, the typical dosage by mouth is 2 grams of dried leaves three times daily or as a tea, talk to your healthcare provider about what’s right for you.

Witch hazel for varicose veins

Witch hazel’s gallic acid content and natural essential oils help reduce the swelling and pain associated with varicose veins, strengthening blood vessels and reducing the symptoms of varicose veins. (source)

To use it for varicose veins:

  1. Soak a cotton ball in the solution.
  2. Apply the soaked cotton ball directly to varicose veins three times per day for several weeks. (source)

Or, for maximum relief:

  1. Fill a warm tub (About 100F) with 10 to 20 drops of solution.
  2. Soak your legs in the solution for at least 15 minutes.

Witch hazel for insect bites

Because of its antioxidant and astringent powers, the plant is surprisingly helpful at treating insect bites. It not only prevents bites from becoming infected by fighting bacteria, it also helps shrink the bites by reducing inflammation. (source)

To use it for insect bites:

  1. Mix one part witch hazel with one part baking soda to form a paste. (This further reduces inflammation and balances the pH of the skin.) (source)
  2. Apply to any insect bites and let sit for 10 minutes.
  3. Rinse off
  4. Repeat as needed until the bite clears.

Witch hazel for dry scalp

In a 2014 study, subjects with sensitive scalps reported reduced irritation after using witch hazel on their hair for four weeks. Witch hazel can also help minimize dandruff caused by dry scalp, since its astringent properties help the scalp contract. (source)

To use it for dry scalp: 

  1. Massage 1 tablespoon of the solution onto your scalp.
  2. Rinse and shampoo as normal.

Witch hazel for sunburn

Sunburn is simply skin irritation and inflammation from overexposure to the sun. Therefore, the plant would stand to be a wonderful fix for that sore-to-the touch skin. One study found that witch hazel suppressed sun damage by 27 percent. (Other lotions were only 11-15 percent effective.)

To use it to relieve sunburn:

  1. Soak a cotton ball in the solution.
  2. Apply it to the sunburned skin immediately after sun exposure, or as soon as you realize you’ve been burned.
  3. Repeat as needed.

Witch hazel for stretch marks

Though there is no conclusive evidence to back up this claim, many pregnant women find that this plant is a saving grace for stretch marks. And it makes sense: According to Dr. Weil, its astringent properties can work on that belly to contract and tighten loose skin. 

To use it for sunburn: 

  1. Soak a cotton ball in the solution.
  2. Just like you would use any other belly butter, apply the solution directly to your belly.
  3. Repeat multiple times throughout the day, or at least twice.

Note: You may even want to use it in tandem with my Natural Stretch Mark Cream.

Witch hazel for bruises

The plant has the power to increase blood flow near the skin’s surface, which helps disperse pooled blood. (source) During that process, new blood carries oxygen and nutrients to the damaged area to help speed up the healing process.

To use it for bruises:

  1. Soak a cotton ball in the solution.
  2. Hold it against the bruise for a few minutes.
  3. Repeat twice daily.

Witch hazel for puffy eyes

Puffy eyes are caused by a variety of factors—sleep deprivation, food reactions, your environment, your period, etc. Though the reasons may be different, the reason is always inflammation. As mentioned above, the plant has been proven to help with inflammation. 

To use it for puffy eyes:

  1. Apply the solution to hands.
  2. Massage gently under your eyes for a few minutes, letting the tannins soak in.
  3. Rinse carefully. It may be natural, but it may sting if it gets in your eyes!

Can You Drink Witch Hazel?

Animal research suggests witch hazel is safe to take orally in small doses, but its efficacy when taken orally has not been studied well in humans. (source) In some cases, it may cause upset stomach.

Children should not ingest witch hazel, nor should pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Always make sure to consult a healthcare provider if you are considering taking witch hazel orally.

Witch Hazel Side Effects

The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database lists witch hazel water as “Likely Safe” when it is used “topically and appropriately.”

It is important to note, though, that application may irritate very sensitive skin.

And as mentioned above, the safety of ingesting witch hazel is largely unknown.

Where to Buy Witch Hazel

You can get witch hazel at most drugstores, health stores, and online.

Always buy alcohol-free witch hazel. Alcohol in skincare can damage your skin’s protective barrier, which means your skin will struggle to keep moisture in. (source)

The Best Witch Hazel

  • Toner: Try Essential Living. It is fragrance-free, alcohol-free, and won’t dry out your skin.
  • Tincture: If you’re looking for a more concentrated form, get a tincture. This product uses only organic or ethically sourced wild harvested material.
  • Pads: Most pads have alcohol, so I don’t recommend buying pre-made versions. Make your own pads with alcohol-free toner and cotton pads or a soft cloth. Mix 4 tablespoons witch hazel, 1 tablespoon aloe, 1/4 cup of lavender tea, and shake to combine. Pour mixture into a spray bottle and spray a thin, even layer on a menstrual pad. Fold the pad, place in a freezer bag, and store in the freezer. For the more soothing pads, see my padsicle post.
  • Soap: If you want an everyday dose of witch hazel, try this soap. It’s scented with lavender mint essential oil and is moisturizing rather than drying.

How About You?

Is witch hazel a staple in your medicine cabinet? How have you used it and what were the results? Share your thoughts in the comments.