From household cleaning solutions to natural beauty remedies, there are many reasons to keep a bottle of witch hazel on hand. For centuries, this naturally derived product has been harvested from the witch hazel plant in North America, where it’s been used for everything from promoting skin health to fighting off infections and deterring unwanted pests. We spoke to Dendy Engelman, MD, and Eudene Harry, MD, of Oasis Wellness and Rejuvenation Center to learn about all of the incredible benefits and uses for witch hazel and why it deserves a spot in your medicine cabinet.
Read on to learn all about this powerhouse ingredient and all of its many uses.
What Is Witch Hazel?
Witch hazel is an astringent derived from the hamamelis virginiana plant. It is known for an array of benefits, including its ability to soothe the skin and reduce inflammation.
Cleanse Oily Skin
One of the best uses for witch hazel is as a natural facial cleanser, especially when it comes to controlling excess oil. "Witch hazel is an astringent with anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties so it can effectively be used as a cleanser," explains Engelman. Dab witch hazel onto a cotton round and cleanse skin once or twice daily. You can also use a cleanser formulated with witch hazel, like Meow Meow Tweet's Face Cleanser ($25). This vegan face cleanser is made with a blend of witch hazel, castile soap, and organic plant oils like sunflower and jojoba.
Treat Minor Wounds
Another great use for witch hazel is as a natural disinfectant for cuts and scrapes. "Thanks to its antiseptic properties, it can be used topically to cleanse and soothe minor skin irritations without over-drying or aggravating the wound," Engelman says. You can use Thayer's Medicated Skin Irritation Relief Pads ($9) to relieve irritation from minor burns. That said, witch hazel shouldn't be used on more extensive wounds and infections.
Heal Bug Bites
Have a bug bite? Witch hazel can help with that. Engelman explains that witch hazel can soothe itchiness, redness, and irritation from bug bites, along with other skin reactions like poison ivy. Make sure to add witch hazel to your packing list for your next camping trip or outdoor excursion. Just keep in mind that if you have sensitive skin, you may want to try using witch hazel in cream form, according to Harry. You can also keep a lookout for alcohol-free formulas. Try Green Goo's Bugs Be Gone ($15), an all-natural bug spray that uses witch hazel as a primary ingredient so you can keep pests away without the strong odor of a typical bug repellant.
As anyone who has ever suffered from acne knows, it can be difficult to find a treatment that really works and is free from harsh chemicals. But that's where witch hazel comes in. Engelman says since witch hazel acts as an astringent, drying out acne blemishes. It's also rich in antioxidants and effectively fights bacteria in acne-prone skin without leaving it overly dry. "Much of the benefits of witch hazel have been attributed to the tannins present in the extract of the leaves and bark of the plant," says Harry. She explains that witch hazel may be effective if one has mild, occasional breakouts, but that those with more severe outbreaks will most likely need a visit to their dermatologist. To treat acne, try using Dickinson's Original Witch Hazel Pore Perfecting Toner ($4), which refreshes and conditions your skin as it cleanses and refines pores.
Minimize Stretch Marks
Witch hazel might offer some benefits to supporting healthy collagen fibers, making it a consideration for treatment of stretch marks. "It's often used by pregnant women to prevent stretch marks," Engelman says. Utilize the many benefits of witch hazel on all areas of the body by using Susanne Kaufmann's Witch Hazel Bath ($76) for the perfect combination of self-care and skincare.
Keep in mind that witch hazel is acidic, and when overused, it might be irritating to sensitive skin.
Soothe Razor Burn
We'll be honest—razor burn is pretty much the bane of our existence. Luckily, witch hazel can help with that. Since witch hazel is naturally anti-inflammatory, Engelman says it "can help soothe itchiness, redness, and irritation from razor burn." That said, Harry adds that you should avoid forms of witch hazel with high alcohol content as it can be counterproductive. Thayer’s Alcohol-Free Witch Hazel Facial Toner ($11) is a drugstore skincare staple that’s always good to have in your medicine cabinet.
Treat Cold Sores
Dealing with cold sores is just a hassle—simple as that. Aside from treating them, you're also stuck figuring out how to cover them with makeup. While we aren't here to talk about the latter, you may be able to use witch hazel to help treat a cold sore, thanks to the fact that witch hazel is a natural astringent. "It may help dry out and heal cold sores," says Engelman. Try using Skin&Co's Truffle Therapy Face Toner ($27).
It should come as no surprise that witch hazel can also help remove your makeup at the end of the day. Saturate a cotton pad with Dickinson's Enhanced Witch Hazel Hydrating Toner with Rosewater ($6) and wipe it over your face to gently remove traces of makeup and impurities.
Since stretch marks are a type of scar, it should come as no surprise that witch hazel can help reduce their appearance, too. "It can be used to help loose or excessive skin around scars or stretch marks to tighten the skin, helping to minimize the scar," Engelman explains. Try adding Public Goods' Witch Hazel ($7) into your regular routine.
While not a skincare use, witch hazel's cleansing properties can also be used to clean other surfaces. Simply combine witch hazel (like T.N. Dickinson's Witch Hazel, $4) with warm water and a bit of lemon juice to create a fresh-scented, all-natural cleaning solution that works brilliantly on metal, glass surfaces, tile, and even jewelry.
Thring TS, Hili P, Naughton DP. Antioxidant and potential anti-inflammatory activity of extracts and formulations of white tea, rose, and witch hazel on primary human dermal fibroblast cells. J Inflamm (Lond). 2011;8(1):27. doi:10.1186/1476-9255-8-27