What is witch hazel?

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is a shrub that’s indigenous to the United States. It’s been used for centuries by Native Americans as a remedy for a variety of skin ailments related to irritation and inflammation.

Nowadays, you can find witch hazel in its pure form at your local drugstore. It resembles a bottle of rubbing alcohol. Even some over-the-counter (OTC) creams and ointments contain witch hazel, such as those used for bug bites or hemorrhoids.

Witch hazel is touted as a way to treat skin conditions that affect the face in lieu of a traditional astringent or toner.

But the wide availability of witch hazel doesn’t necessarily mean this ingredient is safe for your skin. Read on to learn more about the health claims related to witch hazel, and to see if this product is safe for you to try.

When in doubt, always check with a dermatologist first.

When applied to the skin, witch hazel-based toners have the potential to ease irritation, injury, and inflammation. Some of the most common uses include acne, inflammatory conditions, and sunburn.


While certain types of acne (such as cysts and pustules) are inflammatory, witch hazel may possible benefit noninflammatory acne (blackheads and whiteheads) too.

The idea behind witch hazel for acne treatment is that it can act as an astringent by drying out your acne blemishes, much like other OTC treatments.

Part of this is related to the active tannins in witch hazel. These plant-based compounds also have antioxidant effects.

Inflammatory skin conditions

There’s also the potential that witch hazel could possibly benefit other types of inflammatory skin conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema. The thought here is that if the underlying inflammation is treated, then there may be fewer reactions in the form of tell-tale rashes.

Witch hazel has also been proven safe when applied to the scalp.

Witch hazel may also help under-eye bags. However, it should not be applied directly in the eyes, or else you could risk burns.


Traditionally, witch hazel has been used as a treatment method for sunburns. (However, contrary to some information touted online, witch hazel is not a suitable sunscreen.)

You can also apply witch hazel to other types of minor skin burns, such as those from chemicals. This may even be a safe method for razor burns (irritation you might get after shaving).

To use witch hazel for skin burns, soak either a soft cloth or a sturdy paper towel with the solution. Then gently press onto the burn. Don’t rub it in, as this can cause further irritation.

For scalp burns, witch hazel has been proven helpful for both men and women. Such burns may be related to chemicals or UV-ray exposure. Witch hazel may be applied directly to your scalp in the shower, or you can mix a small amount with your regular shampoo.

Other uses

According to Berkeley Wellness, an online resource for evidence-based wellness information, witch hazel is also sometimes used for the following:

  • bruises
  • bug bites
  • cuts and wounds
  • diaper rash
  • hemorrhoids
  • other burns

While witch hazel may help with some skin conditions, there are mixed results on its efficacy. For example, witch hazel might not be sufficient for eczema.

Part of the problem is that while witch hazel may reduce inflammation, it doesn’t get rid of the itchiness associated with these types of rashes.

Anecdotal research on witch hazel also has mixed results. For example, a forum on the use of witch hazel for acne is mostly positive, but some users claim excessive dryness and even worse breakouts.

Since these testimonies are circumstantial, it’s difficult to know which types of witch hazel were used, and how long these side effects lasted.

The American Academy of Dermatology still recommends proven OTC acne treatments: benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. (Check out Healthline’s comparison of the two.)

It’s also important to know that the majority of research articles that back up the benefits of witch hazel are based on topical uses only. There’s no evidence that witch hazel can help internally when taken in a capsule, for example.

There’s not enough evidence that witch hazel can treat anti-aging concerns, either. These include fine lines, wrinkles, and varicose veins.

A final consideration is the type of witch hazel used. Pure formulas contain witch hazel, and nothing else. Many OTC formulas can also contain fragrances and alcohol, though. These can aggravate your skin if you have inflammation, wounds, or have sensitive skin overall.

Overall, witch hazel is proven as safe for the skin. The caveat is that witch hazel, like anything else applied to your skin, may not work for everyone.

If you’re trying out witch hazel for the first time, it’s a good idea to test it out in a small area of skin away from your face, such as the inside of your arm. If you don’t see any redness, rash, or dryness after a couple of days, then you can try it out on your face.

Also, witch hazel may not be advisable for certain skin conditions, such as rosacea or extreme dryness. You may also want to use with caution if you have sensitive skin.

Remember, just because witch hazel is a “natural” ingredient, this doesn’t mean that it’s right for everyone. Plus, some OTC formulas can contain added ingredients that may irritate your skin, such as alcohol.

Finally, talk to your dermatologist for advice on handling any skin condition. They can determine which products are both effective and safe for you.