March 20, 2019
Flowers of Chinese witch hazel

Witch Hazel: Which Claims are True?

by Berkeley Wellness  

From a small shrub native to 
the U.S. (Hamamelis virginiana), witch hazel has 
long been part of traditional 
Native American medicine and a popular topical home remedy for various skin ailments, including inflamed and irritated skin (such as from acne and diaper rash), minor burns (including sunburn), insect bites, small wounds (to stop bleeding), bruises, and swelling. It’s an ingredient in many facial toners, makeup removers, skin cleansers, and other skin care products. If you have hemorrhoids, you may have noticed it in some formulations of Preparation H and Tucks.

A brew of research

Extracts of the leaves, bark, and twigs of the shrub contain an array of phytochemicals, including tannins, flavonoids, and essential oils, which have astringent effects. Lab studies have also found anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, anti-cancer, and other properties. But as with many herbal remedies, there are few studies in people (and even fewer good ones). One study, in the European Journal of Pediatrics in 2007, noted that witch hazel ointment helped reduce minor skin irritations in children. An older study in Dermatology found that an after-sun witch hazel lotion reduced skin inflammation after UV exposure better than other lotions. And in a study in the International Journal of Trichology in 2014, people with sensitive scalps reported reduced irritation after using a witch hazel shampoo for four weeks—though the authors didn’t provide a lot of data and there was no control group.


The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, which evaluates research on alternative and complementary therapies, rates witch hazel as “possibly effective” for minor cuts, mild skin irritation, and temporary relief of hemorrhoid symptoms. There’s evidence it might not work, however, for itchy and inflamed skin as in eczema (hydrocortisone cream is better) and insufficient evidence to know if it helps anything else, including eye inflammation and varicose veins. Don’t believe claims that witch hazel can naturally protect your skin from the sun or that taking it in capsule form will be beneficial.

Bottom line: Witch hazel is safe to use topically—though many commercial products contain alcohol and added fragrances, which may irritate sensitive skin. You can try applying it to hemorrhoids and minor skin injuries to see if it helps, or use it as a facial toner if you find it refreshing.