Natural Ingredients

Witch Hazel: Uses in Eczema

How effective is it for eczema?

Witch hazel flowers blooming outdoors that are used for the skin
Credits: "Hans at Pixabay.com"
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Edited by:
Vivian Shi, MD

Vivian Shi, MD

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 usage of various treatments and modalities that have been used traditionally 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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4]  It can also be an effective and well-tolerated method of treatment of inflammation and diaper rash.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]

 

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.

 For further information on Eczema, click on the article links below:

Genetics vs Environment in Eczema

Bathing Tips for Eczema

Epigenetics in Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema)

5 Alternatives to Steroids for Eczema

* This Website is for general skin beauty, wellness, and health information only. This Website is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any health condition or problem. The information provided on this Website should never be used to disregard, delay, or refuse treatment or advice from a physician or a qualified health provider.

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References

  1. Yates JE, Phifer JB, Flake D. Clinical inquiries. Do nonmedicated topicals relieve childhood eczema? J Fam Pract.2009;58(5):280-281; PMID: 19442393 Link to research.
  2. Korting HC, Schafer-Korting M, Klovekorn W, et al. Comparative efficacy of hamamelis distillate and hydrocortisone cream in atopic eczema. Eur J Clin Pharmacol.1995;48(6):461-465; PMID: 8582464 Link to research.
  3. Reuter J, Wolfle U, Korting HC, et al. Which plant for which skin disease? Part 2: Dermatophytes, chronic venous insufficiency, photoprotection, actinic keratoses, vitiligo, hair loss, cosmetic indications. J Dtsch Dermatol Ges.2010;8(11):866-873; PMID: 20707877 Link to research.
  4. Hughes-Formella BJ, Filbry A, Gassmueller J, et al. Anti-inflammatory efficacy of topical preparations with 10% hamamelis distillate in a UV erythema test. Skin Pharmacol Appl Skin Physiol.2002;15(2):125-132; PMID: 11867970 Link to research.
  5. Colantonio S, Rivers JK. Botanicals With Dermatologic Properties Derived From First Nations Healing. J Cutan Med Surg.2016;10.1177/1203475416683390:1203475416683390; PMID: 28300437 Link to research.
  6. Deters A, Dauer A, Schnetz E, et al. High molecular compounds (polysaccharides and proanthocyanidins) from Hamamelis virginiana bark: influence on human skin keratinocyte proliferation and differentiation and influence on irritated skin. Phytochemistry.2001;58(6):949-958; PMID: 11684194 Link to research.
  7. Baviera G, Leoni MC, Capra L, et al. Microbiota in healthy skin and in atopic eczema. Biomed Res Int.2014;2014:436921; PMID: 25126558 Link to research.