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What is Witch Hazel – 10 Amazing Uses & Benefits

By Heather Levin

witch hazelIf you’ve never heard of witch hazel, you’re in for a treat. Why? Because this natural astringent is not only awesome for your skin, but it has plenty of other amazing uses as well.

First of all, let’s take a closer look at witch hazel itself.

Witch hazel, also known as winterbloom or spotted alder, is actually a flowering shrub common in North America. The leaves, bark, and twigs of witch hazel are high in tannins. Tannins are found in any natural astringent because of their ability to tighten, dry and harden tissues. The witch hazel water you can buy for $2 at any any drugstore is actually a steam distillation of the bark, leaves, and twigs of the shrub itself.

Witch hazel (the astringent) has a wonderfully clean smell that’s hard to describe. But if I had to pick one of my top three favorite smells, witch hazel would make that exclusive list. It’s just an instant pick-me-up.

Native Americans have been using witch hazel water as a medical astringent for centuries. And with good reason. In the book The New Age Herbalist, by Richard Mabey, witch hazel has five different entries. Which means it’s a powerhouse natural herb and an important product if you’re striving for a healthy lifestyle.

The wonderful thing about witch hazel is that it’s 100% natural, and cheap too. Because it has so many uses, it’s a great addition to any medicine cabinet. So what can you use witch hazel for?

Witch Hazel Uses & Benefits

1. Treat Acne
You don’t need to waste money on harsh chemical toners that claim to “zap your acne to bits.” Witch hazel is an effective, gentle, and natural way to treat acne or oily skin. I’ve used witch hazel on my skin (mostly during the summer months) for years with great success. So be sure to add witch hazel to your list of the best natural acne treatments.

2. Reduce Puffiness
If your eyes are puffy from crying or lack of sleep (or both), then soak two small cotton pads with witch hazel and put them over your eyes. Witch hazel is famous for shrinking blood vessels (which is why it’s one of the main ingredients in Preparation H cream).

3. Cure a Sore Throat
If you’re lucky enough to have a witch hazel bush growing nearby, you can easily make witch hazel tea by soaking some leaves and twigs in a cup of very hot water. Add a few cloves for flavor and soak for at least 15 minutes. Then, strain off the solids and gargle with the tea. Because of witch hazel’s ability to soothe and reduce swelling, this is an excellent, ancient remedy for sore throats. Consider adding it to your arsenal of the best natural cold and flu remedies at home.

4. Reduce the Appearance of Varicose Veins
Soak a thin cloth in witch hazel and lay it on your varicose veins. Applied daily, this is a natural (and cheap) way to reduce the appearance of varicose veins.

5. Heal a Bruise
Witch hazel is amazing when it comes to healing bruises. Again, soak a thin cloth in witch hazel and apply it to your bruise several times a day until the bruise is gone. Your shiner will be gone a lot quicker if you use witch hazel to speed the healing process.

6. Cleanse and Soothe a Wound
There’s a good reason why many tattoo artists cleanse a brand new tattoo with witch hazel. The reason is because it cleanses the skin of germs and bacteria, and also soothes inflammation. You can use witch hazel to cleanse any wound or scrape, big or small.

7. Stop an Itch
If you’re trying not to scratch anything, from chicken pox to poison ivy to a sunburn, soak a cloth or cotton ball with witch hazel and rub it on your skin. Witch hazel works awesome for soothing itchy skin.

8. Refresh Skin
My favorite use for witch hazel is as a simple skin refresher in the summer. After I’ve been out in the heat, my skin gets oily. I’ll soak a cotton pad with witch hazel and use it to cleanse the oil, dirt and impurities from my skin. It’s not only refreshing, by my skin glows after I’m done. And, I smell great too!

9. Refine Pores
Remember when I said that astringents “tighten”? Well, this goes for your pores too. Witch hazel is a wonderful way to tighten up large pores.

10. Seal in Moisture
Although witch hazel does remove oils from your skin, it won’t dry it out like other commercial astringents. When you use witch hazel right after a shower it will actually help seal in moisture, which is wonderful if you have dry skin in the winter months.

Final Word

Witch hazel is one of those simple, natural products I always keep on hand. It has a ton of really practical uses, and since it’s so cheap (around $2-$3 in drugstores) it just doesn’t make sense not to have it – especially when it will easily replace so many other expensive commercial products.

I’d love to hear back from you on this. Do you use witch hazel in your home? What for?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a freelance writer based in Detroit, MI. She's passionately committed to living green, saving money, and helping others do the same in their life.

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  • Casey Slide

    Great article! I didn’t know most of those. I have always just used witch hazel for heat rash. Thanks for the tips!

  • http://pistols-and-koolaid.tumblr.com Shanae

    I just wrote a post on my blog about how effective witch hazel (and apple cider vinegar) have been in curing my acne. I had a terrible acne breakout and nothing but expensive prescription creams worked, but when I found out about apple cider vinegar and witch hazel I ran to my grocery store for this magic cure. And it really works to clear up acne…I will never buy Clean & Clear, Ponds, Neutrogena, etc. ever again.

    • R7kidz

      What is the ratio of witch hazel to apple cider vinegar?

    • Eledi

      O yes, would U please wright ratio of witch hazel to apple cider vinegar u use

  • Heather Levin

    Casey, thanks for reading! I didn’t know about witch hazel until I started getting tattooed. Now I use it all the time!

    • Angeltatt

      What does it do for tattoos? I have a large collection of tattoos and would love to hear the benefits of witch hazel for them, thanks

      • Heatherllevin

        Angeltatt,

        When I was getting tattooed, the artist used witch hazel as a soothing cleanser to wipe away blood and ink. It felt and smelled wonderful! I don’t think it really does anything for tattoos once it heals, though. It’s just good for your skin. :)

  • Heather Levin

    Shanae, I get occasional flare ups too and witch hazel is definitely more soothing and effective than commercial products that use much more alcohol. Thanks for writing in!

  • Carolj2454

    I had sun poisening. My dr. recomanded that I wrap my legs in a soaked cloth in witch hazel.
    My legs did feel better. I use it all the time.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Heather, ive always used witch hazel on my hair to give it some kinda volume, is there any other natural herb in liquid form good for the hair. Thanx Rob

  • Mali Gesmundo

    Hi Heather, Been using witch hazel most of my life. I’m 75 and my skin looks like 40 or less. I love all the benefits you’ve written about and I didn’t really know why I used wh on all these things. It is a miracle gift from nature!

    • Heatherllevin

      Mali, Yes going natural will do far more for your skin than anything you can buy over the counter. Thanks so much for writing in!

  • K_vanbu28

    I just bought some witch hazel for the first time yesterday to help with bumps from waxing, just overnight it has worked miracles!

  • Hroid

    Hemmeroids, hate to admit it but a lot cheaper than tucks.

  • JoAnnekell

    I have just recently started using witch hazel and I dont know why I thought to try but I used it as a woman to freshen up mid day and I am really blown away! I am so excited to have found it. Being clean and feeling clean naturally is very important to me. I take a little baggy and cut cotton squares in two and soak them with W-H and I can freshen up any time anywhere. Never a burn. NEVER an odor! just fresh and clean:)

  • Jackd858

    oddly enough witch hazel is great for getting rid of pesty little flies. put an open container about 1/4 full in the infested area and within a few weeks the bottle will be full of dead little flies floating in the witch hazel.

    • Heatherllevin

      Jack, thanks for the tip! I’ve always used vinegar in the past, with mediocre success. I’ll try witch hazel next time the fruit flies get out of control. :)

  • Tmchellstorp

    YES I AGREE! I use a combination of rosw water which I made and witch hazel. CERTAINLY does leave your face smooth and feeling refreshed with a beautiful glow that makes you smile largely. My pours tightened as to make my face looking healther and younger. Defiantly is an ani-aging treatment from my experience using my home-made rose water both with or without witchhazel skin toner. I wash my face with a warm cloth first which opens my pours, then I spray my face with my rose water/ witchhazel combination that is cold because I keep mine in the frig and massage it into my face while the cold closes my pours and shows you great results instantly! WOW! I LOOK AND FEEL BEAUTIFUL.

  • Natvit

    Recently I had an outer earache and tried just about every remedy I read about. My mom finally told me to put some on a cotton ball and rub it all around the outside of my ear. After doing this twice my earache went away! This is my number one home remedy for outer earaches now!!

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  • Sandy

    Hemmoriods, works great to shrink them and stop the itch.saw this on dr oz show works great.give it a try if you have hem moriods

  • Kalynkolb

    Use it twice a day as an astringent. My face has never looked or felt better! I love it! I also love that it is reasonably priced and not made of harsh ingredients.

  • Michele

    I have used witch hazel on my face ever since I can remember and I can’t imagine using anything else. I love it! My mom used it all of her life and swore by it. When she passed a way a couple of years ago at age 86, she still had beautiful skin. Witch Hazel and Ponds… that was all she used.

  • Peewee197819

    I love witch hazel it works well on my oily skin.

  • Fishyzneedle

    I use witch hazel on my son’s skin..he has pretty bad eczema and weeping eczema when he eats something he’s sensitive to.. since the weeping patches don’t allow us to apply ointment to help it heal witch hazel its perfect for drying it up and preventing infection thus keeping it from spreading or worsening.. I’ve recently discovered that it works even better on diaper rash than some of the more expensive creams we bought.. And it is completely safe to use with his cloth diapers and is so much cheaper! My husbandfound that it also works better than aftershave.. He shaves his head and it can get pretty tender.. Witch hazel is so much better than his after shave and I think it smells tons better too..there are so many uses for it, I love that my post natal care nurse sent me home with a big bottle of it, otherwise I never would have known its usefulness and been overwhelmed to tears when dealing with my sons eczema.. Thanks witch hazel!

    • nilab

      Ive got the same problem with my son, PLZ tell me how much u used and how. Thanks

  • Tomin3d

    i use it for temporary relief for “Hot Spots” on my dogs. Instant Relief : D

  • Jackie

    Is there a chance that witch hazel CAN dry out skin? My skin has been really dry and flakey lately and I’m not sure why. I’m hoping it’s not the witch hazel because I absolutely LOVE the smell and how it makes my skin feel clean and seems to be helping my acne. I’m thinking about once my dry skin clears up, it’s getting better as each day goes by, only applying witch hazel on half of my face to see how it tolerates it.

    • Dalilah

      After I apply WH I follow with glycerin which is a natural and pure skin softener- it works great and has multiple uses as well. You can find it at any drug store/walmart. It’s odorless so you’ll smell great. I highly recommend it. Good luck.

  • Eledi

    Mixing one part of apple cider vinegar with one part witch hazel and three parts water, or may prefer green tea as replacement of water. Use a clean cotton ball in applying the solution onto the affected area and leave on for about 10 minutes then rinse off, and check on for some improvements like acne or pimple has dried off.

    Note: Using apple cider vinegar for treating acne, remember to continue with your proper washing and cleansing routine in between for optimum benefit. It is also beneficial to use some amount of moisturizer as this topical method dries the skin. Apply topical solution of apple cider vinegar 3 times a day until the acne clears up. For severe cases you may either leave this recommended solution overnight and rinse off in the morning, or you may reduce the ratio of water to vinegar by 2 to 3 parts, but this stronger solution is not advise as leave on for overnight use.

    However, the solution has also been used by some in a less diluted form and in full strength. Though, it is advisable to start out with the most diluted form first, to test your skin for sensitivity at each level. Gradually, using a stronger solution in treating your skin problem until your skin can adapt the higher solution’s strength. A tingling sensation is normal for this treatment, but if burning sensation occurs, rinse off immediately and switch to a more diluted solution or might as well try using it as a tonic drink.

  • Eledi

    Mixing one part of apple cider vinegar with one part witch hazel and three parts water, or may prefer green tea as replacement of water. Use a clean cotton ball in applying the solution onto the affected area and leave on for about 10 minutes then rinse off, and check on for some improvements like acne or pimple has dried off.

    Note: Using apple cider vinegar for treating acne, remember to continue with your proper washing and cleansing routine in between for optimum benefit. It is also beneficial to use some amount of moisturizer as this topical method dries the skin. Apply topical solution of apple cider vinegar 3 times a day until the acne clears up. For severe cases you may either leave this recommended solution overnight and rinse off in the morning, or you may reduce the ratio of water to vinegar by 2 to 3 parts, but this stronger solution is not advise as leave on for overnight use.

    However, the solution has also been used by some in a less diluted form and in full strength. Though, it is advisable to start out with the most diluted form first, to test your skin for sensitivity at each level. Gradually, using a stronger solution in treating your skin problem until your skin can adapt the higher solution’s strength. A tingling sensation is normal for this treatment, but if burning sensation occurs, rinse off immediately and switch to a more diluted solution.

  • Yessica tx

    I bought a witch hazel by accident thinking it was alcohol….but now isee theres many uses for it. But my bottle is the Family Dollar brand and i CANT stand the smell. It smells awful. Do u think its the brand or what??

    • Dalilah

      Try T.N Dickinson brand. I know it’s funny but my husband loves the smell of my face after I cleanse with WH; it just smells clean.

  • California Reader

    Will witch hazel diminish dark circles? I heard that dark circles have something to do with an accumulation of blood in the veins below the eye. Not sure about that though. . . The comments about bruises and hemorrhoids made me think about my allergy related dark circles.

  • Tuggie Arnold

    I swear by withc hazel for alergy, works better than Claritin. I am 71 yrs old and my father taught me to do this when I was young. I use it full strength but it burns so I guess you could dilute it with water. When I feel a alergy attack coming on I put W-H in a nasal adamizer and spray in each nostril. No more stopped up nose or red wattery eyes. If you start at the first onset it wont burn so bad but if you wait …hang on cause it is like HOT chinese mustard.

  • RepublicAnne

    I use it for all the recommended uses and I buy it at the dollar store…

  • Kim

    As a home birth midwife, we use witch hazel on pads which we freeze then use as ice packs after birth. Moms love them!

    • Dalilah

      What kind of pads? Where exactly do you place them? Please please reply.

      • Carmen L

        I believe she means that they saturate sanitary napkins with the witch hazel, and place the pads in the freezer. Once they’re frozen they can be place on the vaginal area to cool and soothe lady bits that have been through the trauma of childbirth.

  • kimberley

    does witch hazel work on staph sores i came home after a traumatic car accident and on my way out of the hosp they informed me that i had staph in my nose and every three months i break out in sores will witch hazel help me?

  • Dana

    We use Witch Hazel in my home! Recently I used Witch Hazel to cure a cold sore that was forming on my nose. I started to apply the Witch Hazel at onset, applying 3-4 times daily, the cold sore never formed into an open sore and was completely gone within a week. Love this stuff.

  • madi

    hi,i have purchased witch hazel GEL from drug store .i want to know is it the same as witch hazel oil??and does it help me to get the fair skin???? please do reply or mail me

  • Peggy

    We purchase witch hazel and hypoallergenic baby wipes at Dollar General – saves a lot of money. Pour some witch hazel onto the hypoallergenic baby wipes and use them for facial wipes, etc. Soothes hemorrhoids and reduces swelling too.

  • Daniel Eng

    Can you use Witch Hazel Astringent U.S.P. Alcohol 14% for these remedies, or is it used in a different form? The bottle looks a bit intimidating like Hydrogen Peroxide solution is why I ask..

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    I started using witch hazel to wash my car. Works awesome.

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