With the ever-growing popularity of witch hazels as skin care products, questions about where exactly they came from or what they are really used for have been inevitable: What is witch hazel? Numerous good reviews have been circling across the web, claiming witch hazels to have the ability to fix a long list of skin problems – acne, oily skin, puffy eyes, skin inflammation, and many more.
Notably, apart from being widely used for these skin-related problems, there are claims that witch hazels can also solve other health problems when added to herbal teas or consumed orally in little amounts as a natural treatment. Astonishingly, they are deemed to help solve other health conditions from simple fevers up to something as grievous as tuberculosis or cancer. Although these claims call for better in-depth studies, witch hazels have quite an excellent reputation, garnering countless proponents across the globe.
What is witch hazel and where did it come from?
The witch hazel that most people use is basically the extract coming from the North American witch hazel tree called Hamamelis Virginiana. Other names for this tree include winter bloom, spotted alder, and striped alder.
These trees occur mostly in the United States mid-west and southern Canada. However, there is also a particular species of witch hazel found in Japan called Hamamelis Japonica, which is native to the country’s mountainous areas. In addition, China also has its own specie called Hamamelis Mollis, native to central and eastern China, in Anhui, Guangxi, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Sichuan, and Zhejiang.
These shrubs grow up to six or ten meters tall (depending upon the specie), with smooth, light brown bark and foliage buds of the same color. A flowering shrub, the witch hazel trees have pale to bright yellow blooms, embellished with dark green leaves when fully grown. The dried leaves, bark, and partially dormant twigs of witch hazel are the ones used for extraction.
Where are the uses of witch hazel?
Like other substances derived from plants, the extract from this shrub is a really good generator of various antioxidants. Also, some of its antioxidants help neutralize free radicals which may build up in one’s body and cause cell damage and diseases.
As mentioned, witch hazels are deemed to address a long list of skin troubles, like acne, bruises, burns, insect bites, varicose veins, and even hemorrhoids and eczema. Nonetheless, there is a limited study regarding the use of witch hazel as eczema treatments.
As a beauty treatment, notably, the extract is used by many as a toner to cleanse their skin day-to-day. This is because of the one famous chemical found in witch hazel called tannin. Tannins came from the bark of the tree, which are the ones responsible for making witch hazel a natural astringent. Tannins can fight bacterial infections, remove excess oil, reduce skin swelling, and tighten the pores.
Some also use witch hazel for DIY beauty or personal hygiene products such as skin refresher (combined with a few drops of essential oil), hand sanitizer (along with aloe vera and naturally antibacterial essential oils like lavender, tea tree, and frankincense), and make-up remover solution (combined with oil and water. Some parents also use witch hazel as an ingredient to their homemade baby wipes, which can be made by using cloth wipes or with something disposable, combined with aloe vera. Deemed excellent for the skin and packed with anti-inflammatory properties, some parents also use witch hazel to remove diaper rash. Alcohol-free witch hazel products are advised for baby-use. Various how-to articles and videos are accessible online for these DIY or home-made products.
On the other hand, while some people advice internal use of witch hazel for conditions such as diarrhea, colds, and even cancer, there is not enough evidence depicting the exact enhancement it can bring about to one’s internal health.
Are there studies linked to witch hazel and cancer?
There is very limited study if witch hazel is indeed powerful enough to be a treatment for cancer, as some evidence suggests that tannins might cause cancer while other evidence shows that tannins may put a stop to it.
However, there are relative incidences of certain cancers, like esophageal cancer, which have been described to be linked to consumption of food rich in tannins like betel nuts and herbal teas. Despite this, there are also studies claiming that the carcinogenic activity of tannins might be related to the components linked with tannins, rather than tannins themselves.
What are the side effects of witch hazel?
There are claims that witch hazel can dry the skin because of tannins, as they are believed to squeeze the proteins in the skin once applied, causing to minimize the pores which may then result in drying. Meanwhile, internally, witch hazels are deemed to have fallouts such as upset stomach, nausea, and constipation, as large amounts of witch hazel may result in a toxic reaction. Possible liver damage has also been noted if improper internal use has been done.
Allergic reactions are very rare, however, and are especially occurring to some people who are allergic to witch hazel, to begin with. Meanwhile, some people develop their allergies through overexposure – causing a rash, hives, itching, swelling, wheezing, or difficulty with breathing or swallowing when used topically or internally.
Despite all these, there is a slim chance of being negatively affected by witch hazel. It has also been noted that adults have a very good tolerance for it. Still, it is advised to consult with a physician first before using witch hazel for a chronic condition in order to avoid serious health consequences.
Where is witch hazel available?
The most popular witch hazel product found in the market, particularly in the US, is made from the whole twigs of the witch hazel shrub. It is also quite very popular in Europe, sold mainly as bark extracts. The products can be found in numerous drugstores and some grocery stores. However, witch hazels can also be ordered online for one’s convenience – coming in distilled liquid form, ointments, and medicated pads.