Tread Lightly: Dr. Nina Radcliff on Witch Hazel

Tread Lightly on Your Skin, In Your Wallet & On the Earth:  In the first piece in her series on natural beauty products for Tonight at Dawn, Dr. Nina Radcliff discusses the origins and potential uses of witch hazel.  Dr. Nina Radcliff is a syndicated medical columnist who also appears on the Fox News Channel and The Dr. Oz Show.


Dr. Nina Radcliff (Photo Credit: Charles Skaar)

Don’t let the name scare you. Witch hazel branches were once the wood of choice for dowsing rods used to locate water (heard of the term “witch a well” or “water witching?”). Obviously dowsing is not based on scientific evidence and hence where the wishful or magical thinking comes into play. However, rest assured that there is no witchcraft, sorcery, or paganism when it comes to this herbal remedy.

Today, our witch hazel preparations come from the leaves and bark of the North American Witch Hazel shrub, which are high in tannins. Tannins give this plant its astringent properties. And just a refresher course: astringents are substances that can dry, tighten, and harden tissues.

Here are some potential uses:

o Pimples. Even the word sounds icky. Witch hazel reduces inflammation, redness, pore size, and excess oil from our skin. After washing our face, saturate a cotton pad and apply to our skin, letting it dry. Some people apply it daily to prevent acne.

o Diaper rash. My daughter’s pediatrician recommended applying witch hazel with a cotton ball to soothe and heal her diaper rash. While I continued with keeping her bottom clean and doing “naked” time, the witch hazel appeared to provide her much needed relief.

o Puffy eyes. Wanna get rid of those bags under your eyes, but not so keen on using hemorrhoid cream? Applying witch hazel can shrink our under-eye bags. Afterall, one of the magic ingredients in hemorrhoid cream is witch hazel. Generously soak a cotton pad and apply to your closed eye for 2-3 minutes. Allow it to dry and then repeat.

o Varicose veins. The compound tannins help constrict blood vessels and will help reduce the inflammation, especially the swelling of the varicose veins. Soak a washcloth in witch hazel and lay on your legs to help tighten the veins and temporarily relieve discomfort.

o Bruises. These unsightly marks that come from walking into things or falling will eventually heal after several days. Want a short cut? Consider dabbing witch hazel to the bruise 3-4 times a day.

o Razor burn. Witch hazel is believed to possess anti-inflammatory properties, and can thereby decrease those itchy bumps around hair follicles that form after shaving. Consider applying before or after shaving.

o Sunburn. Broken blood vessels result in the redness that we see with sunburn. Pain comes from the inflammation and swelling. Witch hazel may decrease the inflammation and discomfort. But make sure to use an alchohol-free preparation.

o Dry skin. Apply witch hazel right after showering to lock in the moisture that just soaked into our skin.

o Cuts and scratches. There are a plethora of over-the-counter choices when it comes to cuts. In the past I have thrown everything I can find at them to decrease the discomfort, risk of infection, and scarring. Although there is no scientific evidence that witch hazel can do this, it seems plausible for minor skin breaks.

o Bug bites. Witch hazel is believed to have anti-pruritic (itching) and anti-inflammatory properties. Worth a try!

o Tired or red eyes. Apply witch hazel and cold water to a clean washcloth and then place the compress over your closed eyes for 10 minutes.

o Deodorant. Witch hazel is believed to possess antibacterial properties, remove excess oil and moisture, and constrict tissue to which it is applied. The malodorous odor that we call “B.O.” comes not from the sweat that our body secretes, but the bacteria that live on our skin. To use as a “deodorant” you can pour a generous amount onto a large cotton ball and dab liberally to your armpits. Alternatively, pre-soaked pads are available.

Eczema and psoriasis. The anti-inflammatory effects can decrease itching, redness, burning, and the scarring that results from this.

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Notice: This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither Dr. Nina Radcliff or Kimberly Cecchini take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.
Before engaging in any complementary medical technique, including the use of natural or herbal remedies, you should be aware that many of these techniques have not been evaluated in scientific studies. Use of these remedies in connection with over the counter or prescription medications can cause severe adverse reactions. Often, only limited information is available about their safety and effectiveness.