If you don’t have witch hazel at the ready in your bathroom cabinet, add it to your shopping list just a soon as you’ve finished reading this primer because you’re going to want to implement it into your beauty routine, like immediately.
Perhaps everything you need to know about witch hazel is implied by its moniker: magician’s rod. Known for being gentle, witch hazel benefits for your hair and skin are just the start of it, it has even broader uses beyond that scope… making it nothing short of a minor miracle in your medicine cabinet.
What is witch hazel exactly?
According to Webster, witch hazel is a genus of deciduous shrubs or small trees native to North America and Asia with slender-petaled yellow flowers borne in late fall or early spring. Its flowers are fragrant, and the pretty plant is often grown for ornamental purposes. Additionally, the term witch hazel refers to the eponymous astringent made from the shrub’s bark and leaves.
This mild and soothing topical cooling agent, also known as witch hazel water, is the form you’re probably familiar with and will want to keep on hand. Moreover, witch hazel extract is a common ingredient in makeup and grooming products, and its organic nature makes it a popular addition to homeopathic remedies. The leaves and bark are occasionally used to brew witch hazel tea, as well. (It should be noted: In the United States, witch hazel is regulated as an over-the-counter drug for external use only; it’s approved for wider use in a number of European countries.)
Like many other good things, we have the Native Americans to thank for discovering the medicinal properties of witch hazel. According to Healthline, “They used it to stop bleeding and inflammation, and to treat everything from muscle aches to tumors.” Legend has it the Mohicans introduced the cure-all to early settlers, who enthusiastically adopted its usage.
What makes witch hazel so special?
Clearly, witch hazel has a lot going for it. Much of what makes it so remarkable can be attributed to its high tannic acid content. If you’ve ever gone wine tasting, you’ve probably heard the term tannins tossed around indiscriminately. Well, that’s because tannic acid is a phytochemical essential to wine (in addition to coffee, cheese, and tea) that tastes bitter, dry, and makes your mouth pucker. When translated to topical use, the anti-inflammatory properties and indirect antibacterial effect are helpful for the treatment of rashes, bruises, and minor cuts and burns.
The magic of witch hazel cannot be solely credited to tannic acid, though. In fact, there are a variety of other plant-based chemicals – including flavonoids and essential oils (namely safrole and catechin) – that contribute vital potency by way of antimicrobial, antiviral, antioxidant, anti-cancer, and other benefits.
Why witch hazel is awesome for your hair
We’re always searching for natural or DIY ways to make your hair healthier, and witch hazel is on that list. For oily-haired babes, witch hazel just might become your new BFF. If your scalp has run amok with dandruff, pH imbalance, or other scalp disorders, research indicates this elixir can alleviate itching, close oil-producing pores, and reduce inflammation – not to mention, it’s mild enough to include in treatment when scalp sensitivity is an issue. Witch hazel is also thought to reduce and help prevent hair loss by increasing blood circulation to the scalp and keeping hair follicles anchored firmly into pores on the scalp.
Why it’s even better for your skin
“It’s one of nature’s oldest, and continues to be one of the most effective, beauty ingredients,” Dennis Gross, a New York City dermatologist and founder of 900 Fifth Dermatology, told Huffington Post. “Witch hazel extract is a natural toner with anti-irritant properties. The most common use is to remove excess oil deposits in the skin and to clean pores by dissolving any debris.”
As such, witch hazel is routinely used to remove makeup and blackheads. Its skin-healing astringent qualities make it an excellent acne treatment too. You can apply witch hazel water directly to your face with a cotton ball for these purposes, but you’ll want to make sure to use an alcohol-free version to minimize dryness and irritation.
Witch hazel is also effective as a natural home remedy for minor cuts, scrapes, bruises, burns, skin infections, cold sores/fever blisters, and varicose veins.
It’s witch hazel to the rescue for the following nonexhaustive list of other skin issues, as well. However, keep in mind the research backing these applications isn’t as extensive as would be standard of more modern medicine (centuries of use should count for something though, right?).
- Puffy eyes
- Sun damage
- Diaper rash
- Wounds resulting from childbirth
- Razor burn
- Ingrown hairs
- Insect bites
- Bee stings
- Poison ivy
Even beyond this already impressive catalog of hair and skin-related interventions, witch hazel can aid in healing a sore throat, as well as with teething. Check out all the ways to incorporate this natural ingredient into your beauty and cleaning regiment.
Honestly, the real question is: what can’t witch hazel do? As the saying goes (or should go), if it’s good enough for Edna St. Vincent Millay, it’s good enough for the rest of us.