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Witch hazel, scientifically known as Hamamelis virginiana, is a plant native to North America. It grows as a big shrub or small tree, producing yellow-gold flowers with threadlike petals.

Traditionally, Native Americans in the Northeastern United States used witch hazel to soothe inflammatory disorders. They made an extract by boiling the stems in water.

Today, witch hazel extract is widely available in stores. It’s often just called “witch hazel” and can be made by boiling the stems, twigs, or bark.

Many people like using witch hazel as a facial toner. Others use it to relieve the pain and discomfort associated with sunburns.

As it turns out, there’s some scientific evidence behind this method. Let’s look at how witch hazel works and ways to use this remedy.

Witch hazel has natural compounds that may help treat sunburn. According to research from 2013, its active ingredients, called tannins, have anti-inflammatory effects. Its main tannins are hamamelitannins and proanthocyanidins.

Witch hazel bark is especially high in tannins. They make up about 8 to 12 percent of the bark’s weight.

However, there aren’t any recent studies examining how witch hazel specifically affects sunburns. Most of the relevant research is quite old.

In a 2002 human study, researchers found that lotion with 10 percent witch hazel decreased reddening due to a sunburn. A 1998 study determined similar results in people with sunburns.

According to other research, witch hazel may work in various ways. A 2001 lab study found that proanthocyanidins increase skin cell growth, helping reduce irritation. A 1997 study discovered that hamamelitannins and proanthocyanidins work by suppressing enzymes involved in inflammation.

More recent in-depth research is needed. Still, the older available research may explain why many people find relief when using witch hazel for sunburns.

To treat a sunburn with witch hazel, you can use the extract or a product infused with witch hazel.

Always do a patch test first. Although most people can use witch hazel without developing side effects, sunburns can make your skin more sensitive.

To do a patch test, apply a small amount of witch hazel on a quarter-sized patch of skin. During the next 24 hours, look for signs of irritation, such as redness or itchiness. Stop using witch hazel if you develop side effects.

If you don’t experience any issues, here’s how you can use witch hazel for sunburn:

Cotton balls

One of the easiest techniques is to soak a cotton ball or pad with witch hazel. Then, gently pat the cotton on your sunburn.

Be sure to use alcohol-free witch hazel. If it has alcohol, it may cause irritation.

Cold compress

For a soothing treatment, dampen a clean cloth in witch hazel and apply it on your sunburn.

You can even use witch hazel that has been cooled in the refrigerator.


If you’d like a travel-friendly option, add 1/2 cup of witch hazel to a 4-ounce spray bottle. Spray it on your sunburn.

To enhance its healing effect, add 10 drops of peppermint oil and a few drops of vitamin E oil.

Skin care products with witch hazel

You can also use witch hazel-infused products to treat sunburns. Examples include:

  • lotion
  • spray
  • pads

Some products are formulated for “after sun care.” For best results, follow the directions on the manufacturer’s packaging.

Witch hazel, and products with witch hazel, are easy to find. You can buy them at:

  • grocery stores
  • drugstores
  • health markets
  • apothecaries

Buy alcohol-free, organic witch hazel whenever possible.

Shop for witch hazel online.

If you’re sensitive to witch hazel, or if you’re looking for more options, try these natural sunburn remedies:

Cold water

Instead of making a cold compress with witch hazel, use cold water. This is a simple and inexpensive option that can provide relief.

Cold milk

Another method is to make a cold compress with cold milk.

Milk has lactic acid, a compound that gently exfoliates the skin. It also contains anti-inflammatory antioxidants. These properties can ease skin flaking and irritation.

Dampen a clean cloth with cold milk, then apply it on your skin. You can also place the cloth in a bowl of milk and chill it in the refrigerator.

Aloe vera

Aloe vera gel is a popular home treatment for sunburns. It contains an anti-inflammatory compound called aloin. It’s also extremely hydrating, making it ideal for skin flaking and dryness.

You’ll need fresh gel from an aloe plant or bottled aloe vera gel from a store. If you buy the gel, pick one without benzocaine or lidocaine.

Apply the gel directly on your skin. You can also mix equal parts aloe vera gel and witch hazel for a cooling spray.


Black tea, like witch hazel, contains anti-inflammatory tannins.

To use it for sunburns, brew one or two cups of black tea. If you have fresh mint, add a few leaves to increases the tea’s soothing effect. Let the tea cool, pour it on a cloth, and place it on your skin.

Colloidal oatmeal

Another option is to soak in a cool bath made with colloidal oatmeal, or ground oats. You can buy colloidal oatmeal in the skin care aisle at drugstores and grocery stores.

Colloidal oatmeal reduces discomfort by moisturizing your skin. It’s also rich in anti-inflammatory antioxidants, making it a great remedy for sunburns.

Baking soda

A baking soda bath can gently exfoliate your skin, relieving dryness and flakiness. It also reduces itchiness caused by sunburn.

Add several tablespoons of baking soda to a cool bath. Soak for 15 to 20 minutes, then gently pat dry.

Sunburns usually heal without medical help. However, you should see a doctor if you have:

A doctor will check your skin for swelling, redness, and signs of infection.

They might prescribe the following medications to help heal your sunburn:

Thanks to its rich content of anti-inflammatory tannins, witch hazel can help soothe a painful sunburn. You can use it to make a cool compress or spray. To enhance its cooling effect, mix witch hazel with aloe vera gel or peppermint oil.

As your skin heals, stay hydrated and avoid the sun. Moisturize peeling skin with a hydrating lotion or gel.

If your sunburn doesn’t get better within a couple of days, see a doctor. You should also get medical help if you have severe swelling, fever, or signs of a skin infection.