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What is Distilled Witch Hazel?

By Erica Stratton
Updated May 21, 2024
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Distilled witch hazel is a liquid tincture brewed from the leaves and roots of the witch hazel tree. It has multiple cosmetic and medical uses. Witch hazel is also known as winterbloom and snap hazel.

Once it has been steamed, the roots and bark of the witch hazel will be distilled into a liquid containing alcohols, tannins, and soothing agents. These ingredients make distilled witch hazel a sufficient product to use in skin and hair care. It is used as a skin toner, as an ingredient in shampoo for oily hair, and to soothe skin inflammation.

Cosmetically, distilled witch hazel can be used to remove makeup. Due to its alcohol content, it is often used as an astringent. When added to a toner or facial cleanser, the natural astringents tighten pores and make skin look more taut. It has also been used as a mild treatment for oily or acne-prone skin.

Witch hazel has just as many medical uses as cosmetic ones. Its alcohol content makes it an adequate antibacterial cleanser, and the soothing elements of the distilled liquid help lessen the irritation of bug bites, diaper rash, or other infections. Some people recommend using witch hazel on lightly windburned or sunburned skin. Even though witch hazel itself is used to treat many different internal and external conditions, the distilled form should only be used externally. It should not be swallowed and should be kept away from eyes and mucus membranes, as the natural alcohol will irritate them.

One of the best ways to apply distilled witch hazel is with a cotton ball gently rubbed all over the skin. It can also be put in a small spray bottle and spritzed over insect bites. Many guides to using witch hazel safely recommend keeping it away from open cuts or serious burns on the skin. Even though witch hazel tea can be used to treat bleeding gums or diarrhea, it's not recommended that individuals gargle with distilled witch hazel or put it in tea.

Distilled witch hazel has been approved for safe use by the US Food and Drug Administration. Bottles can be bought in drug stores or at retailers specializing in herbal cures. Individuals should make sure to read the label to ascertain whether the witch hazel has been mixed with other ingredients and determine its alcohol content — witch hazel that has been double distilled has less.

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Discussion Comments

By anon332719 — On May 01, 2013

Witch hazel is good for temporary relief of everything mentioned in the article and in the comments, but it is a cure for nothing. I have friends who are what I like to call "modern day hippies," in that they are always turning their noses up to synthetic and mainstream treatments because they claim that they are "unnatural." This seems to be a little ignorant to me. What is natural and/or unnatural, anyway? That's like claiming that something is normal.

If it means to be something from the earth, then I must ask, what isn't (besides meteorites and sunlight) not from the earth? If you are trying to cure something, then you must think of how to end the cause of the problem, not "treat" it; this is only maintaining. But you also must remember the law of cause and effect. Everything has side effects -- everything. Choose carefully and remember that nothing is a miracle cure, not even witch hazel.

By shell4life — On Jul 27, 2011

Over the years, my once acne-prone skin has improved in appearance to the point where I don’t have to wear makeup to look smooth. I still have an oily T-zone, so I decided I should start using witch hazel as a toner.

The witch hazel really reduced the oily appearance. It also shrunk my pores, and my skin appeared younger because it got tighter.

Most women carry around powder in their purses for touch-ups during the day. Well, I have started carrying witch hazel instead.

Everyone always seems to be searching for products to firm up their skin and reduce the look of aging. Though it may be only temporary, witch hazel does just that. As long as you apply it, it will deliver these results.

By StarJo — On Jul 26, 2011

I have always had extremely oily hair. I wash it in the morning, and by late night, it looks very oily. I found a clarifying shampoo that works good for removing and controlling the oil, and it contains witch hazel.

The alcohol in it helps dry up the excess hair grease. I have used several shampoos formulated for oily hair before, but this shampoo outperforms the others. It boasts that it deep cleans to really get the gunk out, and I’m sure that having witch hazel as an ingredient gives it an advantage over the other types of oily hair shampoo.

By cloudel — On Jul 26, 2011

After a tornado destroyed much of a nearby town, residents of local areas came to the aid of the victims who had lost everything. Among the items donated and dispersed was witch hazel.

A health food store donated lots of the brand it distilled itself for the victims to use as antibacterial cleansers. The lack of an immediate source of running water meant they couldn’t wash with soap, so the store considered cleansing with witch hazel to be the next best sanitary method.

Also, since the storm happened in summertime, mosquitoes were biting everyone left outdoors. The witch hazel helped these people ease their itching.

By Perdido — On Jul 25, 2011

I spend a lot of time outdoors in the spring and summer months. Consequently, I get a lot of bug bites. Witch hazel helps ease the irritation of moderate bites from insects like ants and mosquitoes.

Those persistently itchy bumps that mosquitoes leave behind can make you scratch yourself raw. If you apply some witch hazel with a cotton pad, you will find that the urge to scratch soon fades.

Ants leave behind more of a burn and a sting when they attack. Witch hazel is just as effective for this. It takes the kick out of the venom.

By LisaLou — On Jul 24, 2011

If you get razor burn or those unsightly, itchy razor bumps, you will get relief with some witch hazel. My father used this for years and wouldn't be without it.

Even if you have never heard of it before, it is very easy to find. You can buy witch hazel at most any retail or health store. I found at bottle at Walgreens and was surprised at how cheap it was!

By golf07 — On Jul 23, 2011

I call this clear liquid wonderful witch hazel because there are so many uses for this product that many people know nothing about.

After reading how useful it is in skin products and how economical it is, I bought a bottle of Thayers witch hazel. I found out there are a lot of other ways to use this product besides on my face.

I think it is safe to use on just about any area of skin on your body. One tip I remember reading was to apply it to any bruises you have. It seems like it doesn't take much of a bump for me to develop a bruise.

After reading about this, I applied some witch hazel and noticed the bruising seemed to go away much faster than if I did nothing.

By bagley79 — On Jul 22, 2011

I always have a bottle of witch hazel around. I don't use it very often so a bottle lasts a long time, but there is always something that comes up that using witch hazel is perfect for.

I have used it as a toner in the past, but there are also many other good uses for it. We like to camp with our family in the summer and I have found that it is great for poison ivy and poison oak.

If you happen to get into some of this, spray some witch hazel on, or use a cotton ball and wipe some on the affected area. It does a great job of relieving the itching and also helps keep down any swelling.

By wander — On Jul 22, 2011

Distilled witch hazel is great for tons of thinks, not just keeping your skin looking good. If you have bad bags under your eyes, a little witch hazel can help to shrink their appearance and make you look more youthful.

If you suffer from hemorrhoids, witch hazel is also a great natural treatment as it works as a soothing treatment. All you need to do is mix it will a little aloe and Vaseline to make an inexpensive alternative to over the counter medications.

For those who have had the misfortune of running into poison ivy, the same properties that make distilled witch hazel so effective in reducing the swelling of under eye bags and hemorrhoids, also works on the blisters you get from touching the leaves of itch-inducing plants. I really think distilled witch hazel is one of the more impressive cure-alls available.

By animegal — On Jul 21, 2011

I've had oily skin for years and it can be a real pain to control breakouts, especially during that wonderful time of the month. My aunt recommended I try distilled witch hazel for my skin as she said it could do wonders for my complexion.

After visiting a pharmacy I was able to get my hands on some distilled witch hazel and started using it once a day on my skin in hopes of controlling my oil issues, and making my skin look better overall. The witch hazel worked wonders and I am happy to report that I don't have nearly as many problems with breakouts as I used to.

I really think that natural products can be the best way to go. Especially after all the problems I had with brand name cleansers and toners.

By serenesurface — On Jul 20, 2011

I keep a bottle of this at home but I've never used it as a face toner. That might be a good idea.

I actually use it for injuries and bruises. I have two little kids who are very active, so we get bruises, bumps, and swelling pretty often. Distilled witch hazel is a good first aid medicine, helps with the swelling and bruising. It's also good for bug bites, takes away the redness and itch very quickly.

I even used it on my dog once when she was stung in the foot by a bee. I applied the witch hazel on the area and about five minutes later, she stopped crying.

It's nice to have something safe and natural to use in these situations.

By JaneAir — On Jul 20, 2011

@JessicaLynn - My skin gets oily sometimes too. I think next time it does I will try out the witch hazel!

A good friend of mine swears by this stuff for her diaper rashes. Her mom recommended it to her as well and she's used it on two babies so far. She likes it a lot because it's cheaper than most diaper rash creams and it is all natural.

By burcidi — On Jul 19, 2011

My best friend introduced me to witch hazel as a toner. She has really oily skin and I have combination skin. She uses the once distilled type but I have to use the double distilled because it is too strong for me and dries out my skin too much.

I also add some rose water to it to mask the scent because I don't like the scent of witch hazel much. Rose water is also sometimes used as a face toner but it is not astringent so doesn't clarify the skin and remove excess oils as well as witch hazel. But when they are mixed together, it is perfect. I just add equal amounts to an empty bottle and use it with a cotton ball.

By JessicaLynn — On Jul 19, 2011

When I was in high school I had very mild acne. My mom suggested I try witch hazel astringent first before trying harsher face washes. I was extremely skeptical about it, but I tried it anyway and it worked very well!

I actually really like witch hazel to this day. In addition to being great for acne, it's very good for oily skin. My skin doesn't get oily too often, but when it does I go right for the witch hazel.

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