Witch hazel was the first product that got me started down the path of using natural products in the home.
Like most teenagers, I struggled with acne, nothing serious, but as any teenager will tell you – any acne is serious.
I remember visiting my first natural health shop when I was around fourteen. The shelves were lined with giant glass jars of dried herbs. There were brown glass bottles filled with all sorts of different tinctures. There were incense and loose-leaf teas and a whole skincare bar full of weird lotions and liquids.
I recall the lady behind the counter being everything that came to mind when I thought of the word ‘hippie.’ She had long gray hair, tons of beaded necklaces, a patchwork skirt, and she left a cloud of patchouli in her wake as she moved about the store. She was marvelous.
When I told her I used that good ol’ teenage standby, Sea Breeze Astringent, to clear up my acne, she admonished me for being so unkind to my skin, then handed me a bottle of Dickinson’s with instructions to use it every other night.
And my skin cleared up.
I was amazed that something made from plants and didn’t make my face feel like it was on fire actually worked. And while these days my skincare needs are more for, ahem, mature skin, there’s always a bottle of witch hazel in my home.
What is witch hazel?
Witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, native to North America, is a shrub found all along the east coast, from Florida all the way up to Nova Scotia. Not only is it a great medicinal plant, but it’s a beautiful addition to any winter garden. This interesting shrub blooms in the fall and some species bloom in the winter.
And like all other natural remedies, we have the indigenous people of the plant’s native habitat to thank for sharing the many benefits of this healing plant. The Native Americans would boil the twigs, leaves, and bark and use the resultant brew both internally and externally. Today, the bark and leaves are distilled, resulting in the healing liquid many of us are familiar with today.
Scientific Evidence vs. Anecdotal Evidence
When it comes to natural remedies, I’ve always been a bit of a skeptic. (I know, I’m a terrible hippie.) I love a good scientific paper to back up claims. However, having worked alongside a few labs over the years, I’ve seen how hard it is to get research dollars.
I’ve come to the realization that just because a research group hasn’t been given the time and money to look into the efficacy of a natural remedy doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.
While many natural remedies don’t have scientific research to back up their claims, don’t discount anecdotal evidence out of hand.
Over the years, I’ve taken the approach that if it’s not going to cause further harm, why not give it a try? Of course, you should always use common sense and consult with a healthcare provider before trying natural remedies. But I’m often pleasantly surprised and sometimes downright shocked at how effective natural remedies are.
Plus, the more anecdotal evidence that mounts up, the more likely the scientific community is to take notice; and that’s when the research dollars come in.
Even today, witch hazel is still one of the only medicinal plants FDA approved for non-prescription use.
And there have been a number of research papers published concerning the healing properties of witch hazel. That’s a pretty big stamp of approval.
If you’re a science nut like I am, hop on over to Google Scholar and see all the great research done with it. Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and possibly even anti-viral (more research is needed), this humble little flower has a lot going for it.
Here’s a list as long as your arm with great ways to use witch hazel around your home.
Most drugstore brands are a distillate, meaning an alcohol base. Good ol’ T.N. Dickinson’s is a good example. Some brands, such as Thayer’s, use a maceration method to create a witch hazel toner. Depending on the use, one may be preferred over the other; I’ll note those preferences below.
Beauty by Witch Hazel
This is one natural product you should always have on your vanity. It’s got a multitude of uses. It’s best to go with an alcohol-free witch hazel for all of the beauty uses listed below. Alcohol dries the skin and can disrupt the ph of your skin’s naturally occurring acid mantle.
Whenever using something new on your skin, it’s best to do a patch test on the crook of your elbow and watch for 24 hours for adverse reaction.
1. Reduce Redness
The anti-inflammatory properties of witch hazel soothe red, inflamed skin. With daily use, it can help to reduce redness for many skin conditions. For this specific use, it’s important to use an alcohol-free toner as alcohol can exacerbate inflamed skin.
2. Treat Acne
Flavonoids, tannins, and a few other naturally occurring compounds found in witch hazel give it a natural astringency. For light to moderate acne, try sweeping an alcohol-free witch hazel toner on clean skin to help dry out the acne. Follow up with a light, non-comedogenic moisturizer.
3. Soothe Sensitive Skin
Tough day on the ski slopes? Windy day at the beach? Soothe skin brutalized by the elements with witch hazel.
I remember in high school, I had a horrible reaction to an acne product with benzoyl peroxide. For a week, witch hazel was the only thing I could put on my face without wanting to cry.
If your skin is a little stressed out, give it a try.
4. Tightens Pores
The naturally occurring tannins found in witch hazel cause the blood vessels in your skin to constrict. Using it will temporarily tighten your pores to give skin a more smooth and toned appearance.
Despite what the beauty industry would like you to think, there aren’t any products out there that can permanently shrink your pores. But witch hazel will give you more even, taught skin for a little while.
5. Even Out Oily Skin
Witch hazel is a naturally occurring astringent, which means it can help break down the sticky, oily sebum that our skin secretes. If your face feels like you smooshed a slice of greasy pepperoni pizza on it, tame that oil slick with witch hazel.
It’s best to wash your face with a gentle cleanser first and then follow up with witch hazel, alcohol-free, of course. You may have to experiment a little to find out how often you need to use it to keep your oily skin in check.
6. Reduce Puffy Eyes
Skip the cucumbers; to soothe tired puffy eyes, put two witch hazel-soaked cotton rounds under your eyes, and relax for ten minutes. If you want an extra cooling at-home spa treatment, put your bottle of witch hazel in the freezer for ten minutes. The tannins help to reduce puffy eyes.
7. Razor Burn/Bumps
If you want a close shave but hate the itchy and often painful red bumps that can show up afterward, grab that bottle of witch hazel. You can splash it on afterward as you would with aftershave, or for smoother skinned areas, such as legs, use a cotton round to apply it.
8. Gorgeous Hair Even on No-Wash Days
We’ve all been told it’s not good for your hair to wash it every day, right? But what if you’re one of those people who struggle with oily hair? (Hi there, that would be me.)
Well, if witch hazel is good for oily complexions, it has to be good for oily hair, too, right? Right!
Refresh your hair with this lovely DIY hair spritz for beautiful, oil-free hair—Mix ¼ cup of alcohol-free witch hazel (I love Thayer’s) and ¾ cup of water. Add a drop of your favorite essential oil if you want to scent your spray. And if you want to give your hair an extra boost of moisture, mix in a teaspoon of 100% aloe vera gel. Lightly spritz your hair in the morning and let it air dry.
I’ve been using Thayer’s Alcohol-Free Rose Petal Witch Hazel Facial Mist Toner to refresh my skin during the day for years. When I read you could use witch hazel on your hair, I tried my facial mist toner instead of my go-to dry shampoo, and I was shocked at how great my hair looks. It leaves my hair soft and shiny, something my dry shampoo never does. And it controls the oil without leaving my scalp feeling powdery. Bye-bye, dry shampoo!
Witch Hazel in the First Aid Cabinet
The Native Americans knew the value of witch hazel and used it to treat many health issues – from ulcers to sprains to using it to stop bleeding or soothe sore muscles. The value of this natural plant medicine was well-known. It deserves a spot in every medicine cabinet to this day.
There’s nothing more uncomfortable than the sting and heat of a sunburn. Soothe your skin and help it to heal with witch hazel. If you aren’t too uncomfortable, you can daub it on your skin with a cotton ball.
But for an extra gentle application, put your bottle in the freezer for fifteen minutes. Pour some of the icy witch hazel into a spray bottle and mist your sunburned skin. Ahh, that’s better. Alcohol-free witch hazel is a must for treating sunburn.
10. Bug Bites
Who doesn’t love sitting outside in the summer? I know the bugs sure enjoy it; it’s like an all you can eat buffet. Only we’re the ones on the menu.
Help those itchy bug bites heal quicker by applying witch hazel with a cotton ball.
11. Perineal Care Postpartum
I had all three of my babies under the care of midwives. The oldest was birthed in a hospital, and the other two were born at home. All three of my midwives recommended the same post-partum perineal care – witch hazel.
Whether it was poured onto a sanitary napkin and then frozen or mixed with water and used in a peri-bottle, it was instant relief after bringing another being into the world. As we’ve already learned, witch hazel is wonderful for wound care and stressed-out skin.
If you’ve got a wee one on the way, I highly suggest adding witch hazel to your layette.
12. Treat Poison Ivy and Poison Oak
There’s nothing worse than a run-in with these blister-inducing plants. Help soothe and heal poison ivy and poison oak blisters and rash with witch hazel’s anti-inflammatory properties. This is another one where alcohol-free is best.
13. Hemorrhoid Relief
One of the most embarrassing health complaints is the pain of hemorrhoids. No one wants to talk about them, but they’re more common than you think. And one of the easiest ways to soothe the pain and itch of hemorrhoids is with all-natural witch hazel.
Many over-the-counter hemorrhoid treatments contain witch hazel, so if you want to skip the added chemicals, grab your trusty bottle and a cotton round.
14. Sore Throat Relief
To soothe a sore throat, add a teaspoon of witch hazel to a cup of boiling water. Once the mixture is cool enough, gargle the mix to help heal and soothe your raw, irritated throat.
15. Soothe a Cold Sore
Shorten the pain and discomfort of cold sores by dabbing the blister with a cotton bud dipped in witch hazel. Or better yet, if you feel the familiar tingle announcing that a cold sore is on the way, head it off at the pass by applying witch hazel to the tingly skin several times a day.
16. Diaper Rash
For an uncomfortably red rump, soothe your little one’s bottom by applying an alcohol-free witch hazel toner. Not only will it help their little bum feel better, but it will also help clear up the diaper rash faster.
Witch Hazel for Pets
Don’t put that bottle away just yet! Your four-legged friends can benefit too.
17. Use Witch Hazel to Clean Ears
Witch hazel is great for cleaning your cat or dog’s ears. Use a cotton bud or cotton ball dipped in witch hazel to gently clean your pet’s ear. Using a distillate will ensure the moisture evaporates quickly, leaving your pet comfy.
18. Bug Bites
Just like us, our pets get bug bites too. When you’re taking care of your bug bites, don’t forget the four-legged members of the family too.
19. Irritated Skin/Hot Spots
Itchy, red, irritated skin and hot spots are very common in certain breeds of dogs. Soothe your sweet little pup by applying an alcohol-free witch hazel toner to their inflamed skin.
20. Tick Removal
It’s said that ticks can’t stand witch hazel. To make removing a tick easier, first, drown the little bugger. Place a cotton boll soaked in witch hazel on the tick for a few minutes. It should back out, making it easier to remove from your pet’s skin.
Witch Hazel Around the House
Many of the properties that make witch hazel so great for your skin also make it an equally good cleanser for household items.
Here’s where things get a little gross.
Witch hazel is an astringent, and its tannins help balance your skin’s sebum production and even out oily skin tone. When it comes to cleaning many household surfaces, your biggest culprit is dust.
And guess what dust is mostly made of?
Yup, dead skin cells; which tend to be a little sticky because of the natural sebum produced by our skin. (I told you it was gross.)
But witch hazel is just as effective at breaking down the oily, sticky sebum on your counter as it is on your face. And because it’s so good at breaking down oily substances gently, it’s a good choice for a natural cleaner on surfaces that require a gentle touch.
It’s important to note that although witch hazel is a wiz at cleaning things, it doesn’t disinfect.
To fight illness or tackle surfaces that have come in contact with things like raw meat, you’ll need to use a disinfectant afterward.
21. Eyeglasses Cleaner
I’ve seen so many recipes for homemade eyeglasses cleaner, some with witch hazel and some without. Mix this and that and a drop of liquid dish soap.
Let me save you the hassle of mixing up this messy stuff and finding a tiny spray bottle to put it in.
Just clean your glasses with plain witch hazel.
As long as you’re using a distillate (meaning there’s alcohol in it), it will break down the gunk from your face that falls on your glasses and the hamburger grease on them from when you were cooking dinner last night. Plus, it will dry lickety-split.
You shouldn’t use regular tissues or most paper products to clean your glasses. I use a cotton ball with several drops of witch hazel to clean my glasses and lens tissue paper to dry them. (This stuff is amazing, I discovered it when I got serious about photography.)
The witch hazel won’t ruin any coatings you have on your glasses, either. Hooray for blue-light blocking lenses!
22. Camera Lens Cleaner
As any photographer will tell you, the real money goes into your glass. So, it’s important to treat your lenses better than you would treat your children. I’m kidding—sort of.
You can use a witch hazel distillate to clean your lenses instead of buying a commercial lens cleaner. It won’t harm the coatings and is just as effective.
It also does a good job on your live preview screen.
23. Keep Windows and Kitchen Chrome Sparkling
Use straight witch hazel to clean windows and chrome surfaces. Spray directly on the surface or pour some on a microfiber cloth and wipe clean. The alcohol-based witch hazel will evaporate quickly, leaving you with a streak-free shine.
24. Clean Dusty Window Blinds
Dusting window blinds just doesn’t get them clean enough. We’ve already discussed why it’s so hard to get that dust off.
Spray your window blinds well with straight witch hazel and let them sit for five minutes. Wipe them down with a clean cloth, and the dust and gunk will wipe right off.
25. Gently Clean Your Jewelry with Witch Hazel
When you wear jewelry, your skin’s oil builds up on it and dulls the metals and gemstones. Witch hazel is an excellent, natural, yet effective jewelry cleaner.
Use a cotton swab and a soft-bristled toothbrush. If the piece hasn’t been cleaned in quite some time, soak it in witch hazel for 15-20 minutes before polishing it. Witch hazel is safe for precious metals and gemstones.
26. Clean Granite, Marble, Tile, and Laminate Flooring or Countertops
Mix 1 cup of witch hazel with a gallon of water and wipe down your countertops or mop your floors. Use a microfiber cloth or mop for a streak-free mirror-like shine.
27. Gentle Degreaser
Make a gentle degreaser with 1 cup of water, 1 cup of witch hazel, and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice in a spray bottle. Spray down the soiled surface and wait a few minutes; the witch hazel will break down the grease making it easy to wipe away. This works great for stovetops.
28. Remove Blood Stains
Nothing is more disappointing than finding a bloodstain on your laundry, especially if that piece of clothing has been through the dryer. Before you give up and toss that favorite shirt, try soaking the affected area in a bit of witch hazel.
Bunch up the stained area and tie a rubber band around it, as you do to tie-dye. Place the knotted fabric in a cup of witch hazel and let it soak for approximately 30 minutes. Afterward, launder as usual. The compounds in the witch hazel purportedly breakdown the proteins in the blood.
29. Remove Sticker Adhesive
As someone who loves to thrift, I can tell you my number one complaint about this kind of shopping is always the terrible price stickers. Sometimes I think it would be easier to separate my arm from my body than a Goodwill price sticker from a .25 picture frame.
When I heard you could use witch hazel to remove gunky stickers, it made sense to me. The tannins break down oil on your face; why not the adhesive from a price tag? I gave it a try and was surprised to see it worked quite well.
30. Stainless Steel Cleaner
If you have stainless steel appliances and kids, or hands for that matter, then you know how hard it is to keep those sleek surfaces clean. And the ingredients list for the fancy stainless steel cleaners is just one harsh chemical after another.
For an inexpensive way to keep your stainless appliances looking great, use undiluted witch hazel. Spray it on or pour a bit on a microfiber cloth and wipe away all of those fingerprints; no need to rinse.
Witch hazel is inexpensive and incredibly useful. If we’ve learned anything after reading this extensive list (You’re still with me, right?), it’s that you’re going to need a lot more witch hazel. And for even more ideas for a natural home, check out 8 DIY Natural Cleaning Products.
Or if you’re looking for another hard-working one-ingredient wonder, here’s 25 Brilliant Uses for Castile Soap.