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What is Witch Hazel Used for Today?
Witch hazel is widely marketed for direct application to the skin to relieve pain, stop bleeding, control itching, reduce symptoms of eczema , and treat muscle aches. Pads, ointments, and suppositories containing witch hazel are used for treatment of hemorrhoids . Extracts of the bark and leaf are used in Europe to treat diarrhea , inflammation of the gums, canker sores , and varicose veins . However, there is no meaningful evidence that witch hazel is actually effective for any of these conditions.
One small double-blind study is commonly cited as evidence that witch hazel is effective for treatment of eczema . This study compared topical witch hazel ointment to the drug bufexamac, and found them equally effective. 1 However, bufexamac itself has not been shown effective for the treatment of eczema, and so this study proves little. A subsequent study failed to find witch hazel more effective than a placebo treatment for eczema. 2 There are no other meaningful studies of witch hazel. Extremely preliminary evidence hints that it may have anti-inflammatory properties, 3 4 and even weaker evidence suggests that witch hazel may increase the contractility of veins (potentially making it useful in varicose veins ). 5 However, this evidence is far too weak to support using witch hazel for any of these conditions.
- Swoboda M, Meurer J. Treatment of atopic dermatitis with hamamelis ointment. Br J Phytother. 1991;2:128–132.
- Korting HC, Schafer-Korting M, Klovekorn W, et al. Comparative efficacy of hamamelis distallate and hydrocortisone cream in atopic eczema. Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 1995;48:461–465.
- Korting HC, Schäfer-Korting M, Hart H, Laux P, Schmid M. Anti-inflammatory activity of hamamelis distillate applied topically to the skin. Influence of vehicle and dose. Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 44(4):315-8.
- Duwiejua M, Zeitlin IJ, Waterman PG, et al. Anti-inflammatory activity of Polygonum bistorta , Guaiacumofficinale and Hamamelis virginiana in rats. J Pharm Pharmacol. 1994;46:286–290.
- Bernard P, Balansard P, Balansard G, et al. Venitonic pharmacodynamic value of galenic preparations with a base of hamamelis leaves [in French]. J Pharm Belg. 1972;27:505–512.