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Witch Hazel

Uses for Witch Hazel

You might call witch hazel the “baking soda” of skin care: It’s a simple, all-purpose, old-fashioned product that’s been used for generations. When distilled and combined with alcohol, the aromatic oil extracted from the bark of the witch hazel shrub makes a soothing and mildly astringent lotion. And with only 14 percent alcohol, the lotion is nondrying and hypoallergenic — two added bonuses.

Witch hazel lotion can be used to cleanse the skin and remove makeup, to soothe sunburn, windburn and shaving irritations, and to treat the pain and swelling of minor bruises, sprains, cuts, abrasions and insect bites. Although witch hazel isn’t sold as an acne fighter, many teens report that it reduces the swelling of minor pimples and blemishes. Also, when incorporated into pads and ointments with other ingredients like glycerin, witch hazel is said to help shrink external hemorrhoids.

The active ingredient in witch hazel is a tannin acid derivative called catechol tannin, much like the tannins present in tea. Tannins are vasoconstrictors — they constrict the tiny capillaries and venules below the skin surface.

The Latin name for witch hazel, Hamamelis, means “together with fruit,” referring to the fact that it bears flowers and fruit at the same time. In early fall witch hazel, which can be called a small tree or a tall multi-stemmed deciduous shrub, produces a multitude of small, spidery blossoms. The four yellow petals that make up each bloom are a little more than one inch long. On sunny autumn days the flowers unfurl; as temperatures drop, they curl again.

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