Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is frequently used to treat itchy skin and eczema (also called atopic dermatitis). The treatment of eczema is often multifactorial, which means that many different possible causes are evaluated and managed in order to achieve superior relief from symptoms.
With growing research in integrative medicine, there has been more research on the proper dosage and use of various treatments and modalities that have been traditionally used to reduce symptoms in a number of conditions, including eczema. Likely, the largest body of integrative treatment modalities is botanical medicine. Botanical medicine involves the use of plant extracts and plant-derived chemicals that span many different cultures and generations. Witch hazel is one of these members that is traditionally known for its use for eczema treatments.
Is Witch Hazel Helpful For Eczema?
Witch hazel is a commonly used herb which has been studied in a variety of skin conditions. Only a small amount of research has been done regarding witch hazel use for eczema treatments. One research study showed that witch hazel creams are ineffective for decreasing symptoms in children. Another study of thirty-six patients with eczema compared three different products: hydrocortisone steroid cream, a base cream with witch hazel, and the same base cream alone (known as a placebo cream). The results showed that all the treatments reduced itching, scaling, and redness at one week, but the steroid cream was the best at reducing symptoms, and the witch hazel was no different than the base cream. The effects appear to be weak when looking at witch hazel for eczema therapy.
Does Witch Hazel Help the Skin?
Witch hazel has antioxidant polyphenols that can reduce the skin’s inflammation after a sunburn. A comparison of different topical witch hazel preparations against a hydrocortisone 1% cream (which is similar to what is available over the counter in the United States) applied after different doses of ultraviolet light found that the hydrocortisone was the most effective in reducing the redness, but the witch hazel preparations had a significant anti-inflammatory effect for suppression of sun-induced redness. It can also be an effective and well-tolerated method of treatment of inflammation and diaper rash. Overall it seems that witch hazel has a weak anti-inflammatory effect that is less than the anti-inflammatory effect of hydrocortisone 1% creams
Other Ways Witch Hazel Can Affect the Skin
Though it does not prove to have benefits specifically for eczema, one of witch hazel’s components (pro-anthocyanins) appears to be helpful for the skin by improving transepidermal water loss, redness formation and may help control the irritative process. A different laboratory study evaluated a witch hazel distillate for its benefits of reducing bacterial colonies. The bacterial growth inhibition was weak, but the study suggests that the product may provide an additional manner in which to control the overgrowth of bacteria. This has potential or eczema where the bacteria tend to overgrow on the skin.
What Is the Overall Effect of Witch Hazel?
Witch hazel may be useful for controlling some of the symptoms of eczema. However, studies do not show that it can improve eczema overall. It does appear to have a few effects:
- Mild anti-inflammatory effect
- May improve the skin barrier transepidermal water loss
- May help control bacterial overgrowth although it is not useful to treat an infection
However, there are very few studies and all of these factors need to be studied in greater detail with more clinical investigations.