Witch Hazel for Skin: A Lowly Shrub With “Magical” Qualities?

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Witch hazel has long been used as a tonic for the skin. You may even remember your mom or grandma rubbing it on with a cotton ball at night (that “rainstorm” kind of scent that emanated from the bottle is memorable). But have you ever wondered just what makes witch hazel for skin so beneficial and why extracts from the leaves, twigs, and bark of this humble shrub are a favorite in many quality skin toners and tighteners? Read on to discover more about witch hazel skin benefits!

What Does Witch Hazel Do?

Many of the myriad health benefits of American witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) have been known for centuries. Native American cultures in the Eastern U.S., such as the Osage, used the roots and leaves to treat sores and ulcers. The Potawatomi used it in steam baths (also called sweat lodges) for sore muscles.

Witch hazel has also been used traditionally to:

  • treat colds and coughs
  • help stop bleeding
  • ease hemorrhoids
  • and even help stop serious diseases like dysentery [1]

But what’s with that name, anyway? Hamamelis virginiana’s common name of witch hazel alludes to some of its more mysterious (i.e., mystical or magical) qualities.

The Witch Hazel Tree

witch-hazel-in-snow

Hamamelis virginiana is a deciduous shrub or small tree that grows primarily in the Northeastern U.S., anywhere between Canada and Georgia.

One of its unusual qualities is that its “Y” shaped branches are some of the only you will find still sporting intensely-fragrant bright yellow-orange flowers deep into the winter [2].

Witch Hazel Branches Used for Dousing

Some also claim that witch hazel branches will bend when water is nearby, making them great tools to use for the art of “dowsing.” Although the more scientific-minded may brush this off as nonsense, others swear it is absolutely true.

“An Old Timer showed me how it works and I have used it to find water, 20 to 30 wells, and every one of them had water right where I told them it was going to be,” claimed 72-year old Curtis Strong of Hampton, Connecticut, in an interview on the subject for The Atlantic.

Strong’s family harvests witch hazel on their land for one of the only distilling companies in the United States to focus almost exclusively on products derived from the plant [3].

Also in support of the dousing claim is the fact that “wych” is a Middle English term for the word “bend.”

Other Interesting Witch Hazel Uses & Facts

Whatever its benefits in the more mysterious realms, it’s important to note that witch hazel has a solid and strong body of evidence-based scientific knowledge behind it as a medicinal plant.

flowering-witch-hazel-dried-leaves-cream

In fact, witch hazel was one of the first plants to appear on the “mass market” in the United States and is one of the only herbs to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a non-prescription drug ingredient.

In addition, many studies point to its anti-inflammatory characteristics and some research has also discovered substances within it that may be cancer-protective [4].

The secret to witch hazel’s success as a beneficial human health aid has to do with numerous kinds of tannins, esters, and other phytonutrients that are extremely balancing and protective for the body. These phytonutrients also help to reduce inflammation, a major factor in almost all chronic diseases.

Tannins, for example, are one unique example of the powerful antioxidant, age-defying, and anti-inflammatory properties found in witch hazel.

The term “tannins” may be best known by wine enthusiasts, but it turns out that many of the tannins in witch hazel (e.g., hamamelitannin and pentagalloylglucose) have cytotoxic effects on cancer cells [5].

Witch Hazel Skin Benefits

For most people, the phytonutrients found in witch hazel are best known for what they can do for the skin.

A side note here that witch hazel solutions from previous generations were often said to be drying to the skin. This is because these earlier formulations contained large amounts of ethanol alcohol, which is itself drying. Today, there are alcohol-free formulations available which are much gentler on sensitive skin.

side-view-of-a-beautiful-woman-examining-her-face-in-mirror

If you aren’t already a fan of witch hazel for skin, here are four ways witch hazel’s gentle cleansing, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties can help keep your face looking younger, softer, and smoother.

1. Witch Hazel Helps Fight Wrinkles

Witch hazel contains substances within it that directly promote the production of collagen and also help to keep it intact and strong.

A 2009 study conducted at Kingston University in London found that levels of a particular type of polyphenol called phenolic acid were high enough in witch hazel to inhibit the production of collagenase and elastase. These are enzymes are responsible for the breakdown of peptide bonds in collagen and proteins in elastin.

Stopping this breakdown is important as the steady production of both collagen and elastin are needed to keep skin supple and wrinkles at bay [6].

2. Witch Hazel is an Astringent that Promotes Skin Tightening

Witch hazel is also an astringent. This means that besides having antioxidant and antibacterial properties, it also helps to tighten the skin naturally. This is mostly because of its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Witch hazel’s skin tightening effect helps pores seem smaller, which has the happy outcome of making your skin appear smoother with puffiness and discoloration less noticeable. This is why witch hazel can be especially beneficial for wrinkle spots near the eyes.

3. Witch Hazel Protects Against the Sun

Women Hold Hands and Smile

The many kinds of tannins found in witch hazel provide the most influential antioxidant protection against the harmful UV rays of the sun. In fact, besides its antibacterial effects (which we will discuss in the next point), it is the antioxidant tannins within witch hazel that are the main reasons why many of the top quality face and eye creams and cleansers include this herb in their organic formulas.

A 2008 study conducted by researchers at the Institute for Chemical and Environmental Research in Barcelona, Spain, found that “(w)itch hazel phenolics protected red blood cells from free radical-induced hemolysis and were mildly cytotoxic to 3T3 fibroblasts and HaCat keratinocytes.”

In other words, the antioxidant load in witch hazel’s tannins and other phytonutrients are high enough that it may help to protect against melanoma in some cases [7].

4. Witch Hazel Helps Fight Acne

Witch hazel is also a known antibacterial. This means that blemishes, scarring, and other conditions related to bacterial overgrowth – including acne – can often be helped greatly by witch hazel.

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology explains how chronic acne is actually an inflammatory disease that can be remedied through the help of powerful yet gentle-to-the-skin plants.

Researchers found that moisturizers containing “botanical anti-inflammatories” such as Aloe and witch hazel had the most positive effect on the signs and symptoms of chronic acne sufferers.

On the other hand, said the study authors, many common conventional treatments, such as antibiotics and synthetic creams, actually caused skin irritation [8].

Witch Hazel Has a Proven Track Record

As impressive as they are, the above four witch hazel skin benefits represent just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the conditions that witch hazel can be used for. Some other skin-related challenges witch hazel may help include:

  • bruises
  • sores
  • burns
  • insect bites
  • plant poisons (like poison oak or ivy)
  • oily skin
  • scalp issues
  • allergic reactions

Because of its track record for skin health, organically sourced witch hazel is an ingredient in both Organixx Restore Vitamin C Serum and our brand-new Renew Eye Cream.


Looking for an all-natural, toxin-free eye cream that can reduce wrinkles, nourish skin from the inside out, and help keep you looking young… longer? Introducing Organixx Skin: Renew Eye Cream – the most powerful and synergistic all-natural eye cream on the planet!

Organixx Skin: Renew Eye Cream

Article Summary

  • Many of the health benefits of American witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) have been known for centuries. In addition to skin benefits, witch hazel has been used traditionally to:

    • treat colds and coughs
    • help stop bleeding
    • ease hemorrhoids
    • help stop serious diseases like dysentery
  • Witch hazel was one of the first plants to appear on the “mass market” in the U.S. and is one of the only herbs to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a non-prescription drug ingredient.

  • For most people, the phytonutrients found in witch hazel are best known for what they can do for the skin.

  • Witch hazel’s gentle cleansing, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties can help keep your face looking younger, softer, and smoother.

  • 4 ways witch hazel improves skin:

    1. Helps fight wrinkles
    2. Promotes skin tightening
    3. Protects against the sun
    4. Helps fight acne
  • Organically sourced witch hazel is an ingredient in both Organixx Restore Vitamin C Serum and our Renew Eye Cream.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed this article. Very informative. Usually instead of getting the facts you have to listen to an hour long miasma of info you don’t need. Thank you.

    • Hello Shirley!

      Thank you very much for your feedback. We are pleased to hear that you enjoyed this topic.

      We’re glad you mentioned the importance of keeping articles concise. In fact, most of our health and wellness articles have summary lists at the end of the posts to help other readers save time. We hope you can check them out and let us know your thoughts on them.

      Thank you for being here with us and we wish you the best!

      • Just a bit of information you might Like I Come Across Witch Hazel in the 70 s while visiting my Grandmother she used it in the morning and Last thing at night before bed, she had the complexion of a 30 year old no wrinkles or Lines up to the day she passed, myself I’ve used it ever since fantastic product!

    • Hi Anne, thank you for your feedback.

      Witch hazel solutions from previous generations were often said to be drying to the skin. This is because earlier formulations contained large amounts of ethanol alcohol, which is drying. Today, there are alcohol-free formulations available which are much gentler on sensitive skin.

      Studies have also shown, that unlike many toners, Witch Hazel is non-drying, helps soothe irritated dry skin, and reduces blemishes with prolonged use.

      Because of its track record for skin health, organically sourced witch hazel is an ingredient in both Organixx Restore Vitamin C Serum and our brand-new Renew Eye Cream.

      If you haven’t had a chance to check them out yet, be sure to do that below:

      Restore Vitamin C Serum- https://shop.organixx.com/products/restore-vitamin-c-serum
      Renew Eye Cream- https://shop.organixx.com/products/renew-eye-cream

      Thank you so much for being here with us. We hope you have a wonderful day!

    • Glad you think so, Phillip!

      We appreciate your feedback and we hope to see more of you in our other articles. It would be really nice to hear more of your thoughts about our other posts.

      Thank you for being here with us! Have a great day!

    • Hi Sylvia!

      It is nice to hear about your simple yet effective skin care routine. Thank you so much for sharing this with us!

      May we ask how the witch hazel has helped your skin? Do you have other tips when it comes to staying young and fresh?

      Thank you for being here with us and we wish you a wonderful day!

    • Thanks for your feedback, Rasila!

      We are pleased to hear that you enjoyed this article. We hope you found the topic informative and interesting.

      Thank you for being here with us. We wish you a great weekend!

  2. I love witch hazel, I’ve been using it for decades.
    My mother and grandmothers all have used it. It’s been part of my skin care routine daily, morning and before bed.
    I always look for non-alcohol solutions . My favorite brand has rose petals.
    I use it for all kinds of skin issues, I even use it for eyelid irritations, mixing witch hazel with a little warm distilled water, and applying as a cotton ball compress over the closed eyelid, it works wonders.. Thank you for your article.

    • Thank you so much for tuning in, Isabel! We are glad to know that you found this article informative.

      We love witch hazel because it is natural astringent that helps keep pores small, reduce inflammation, soothe irritated skin, and reduce puffiness around your eyes, definitely perfect for an eye cream!

      We hope you can also check out our very own powerful and synergistic all-natural eye cream with witch hazel:

      https://shop.organixx.com/collections/all-products/products/renew-eye-cream

      We would love to hear what you think!

  3. Thank you for a very informative article. I remember Witch Hazel from when I was a child in the UK. Not sure if it is available
    in South Africa but will check.
    One of the only doesn’t make sense. It is either the only one or one of three or four. Need to check your article before posting.
    Thanks again.

  4. I was surprised that no mention was made of using it to clean a pets ears. I used it for many years to clean my chocolate lab’s ears.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *