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Witch Hazel is your friend.

August 04, 2010

Witch hazel is a time honored medicinal that has been around so long it is positively new again. While we are lurching around for the next designer mushroom cosmetic additive, it is helpful to remember traditional (and natural) ingredients that are valuable because--well, because-- they work. Like the favorite aunt who gives you that bracing advice, witch hazel is your friend. NOTE: Witch hazel extract is not the same as witch hazel hydrosol. Witch hazel extract is the familiar preparation that contains alcohol. Witch hazel hydrosol is gentle and has no alcohol. (See Witch Hazel hydrosol below.) Abbey preparations use both, but we only use purified extract which contains minimum alcohol and thus is non-drying. Abbey products that contain witch hazel:
  • Vitamin C Tonic (hydrosol)
  • Comfrey Tonic (hydrosol)
  • White Tea Cleansing Milk (extract/hydrosol)
  • Green Tea Scruffing Milk Cleanser (extract/hydrosol)
  • Tea Tree Cleansing Gel (extract/hydrosol)
  • Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)extract Witch Hazel extract is produced from the leaves and bark of the North American shrub Witch-Hazel, Hamamelis virginiana. It is a classic folk medicine astringent that has been used for generations on insect bites, stings, and sunburn because it is anti-inflammatory and slightly anesthetic. Native Americans used poultices of witch hazel to treat a variety of conditions including hemorrhoids, tumors, and eye inflammation. Witch hazel extract has varying levels of astringent, antiseptic, antimicrobial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, and anesthetic properties which makes it a fundamental component of many medicinal preparations. Witch hazel is used for bedsores, bruises, eczema, insect bites, hemorrhoids, poison ivy or oak, bruises, sore muscles, swelling, psoriasis, cracked or blistered skin, diaper rash, windburn, and sunburn. Athletes rub witch hazel extract onto their arms or legs prior to workouts to help prevent muscle strain, or after a workout to help relieve soreness. It is added to bath water to relieve muscle pain. The value of witch hazel is being appreciated anew in skin care because in addition to its softening and emollient properties, it is becoming recognized as a potent antioxidant against free radicals. It is often found in toners and creams that strive to regenerate aging and distressed skin. It is used to cleanse oil and remove makeup, decrease under-eye puffiness, and reduce pore size. Its astringent properties make it useful as an aftershave and applied to blemishes and pimples. Sun preparations include witch hazel because it appears to counter the effects of UVA while acting as a UVA and UVB absorber. It is used to decrease swelling of varicose veins. For all these seeming extraordinary powers witch hazel has no connection with wizards and witches or with magic, black or white. Witch is derived from wych meaning “pliable” in old English and hazel may be related to a sister plant whose forked branches were used for divining water. So you can use it for its powerful but definitely earthbound qualities. Witch hazel extract is approved by the FDA for external use Avoid using witch hazel extract close to the mucus membranes or in the eyes, as it contains alcohol. It is best to use this product on unbroken skin. The natural alcohol content of quality witch hazel extract is 14% which does not irritate or dehydrate the skin. Caution is advised in OTC preparations as most of them are more alcohol than extract by volume. A preparation that contain excess alcohol content can be an irritant and drying when repeatedly used directly on the skin. The tannin content is 2-9%. See tannin. Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) hydrosol Witch hazel hydrosol is unlike commercially available witch hazel extract because it is gentle and free of the alcohol content that is often irritating or drying. It has a subtle, fresh, herbaceous aroma. Suppliers will not ship it without a preservative system because it can be unstable, so a small amount of benzoic acid is added as a gentle preservative. Witch hazel hydrosol is possibly the strongest antioxidant hydrosol and should be considered one of the most important anti-aging substances. It can be included in skin care preparations or misted directly on the skin. It is astringent enough for teenage skin, but equally suitable for mature or damaged skin. Because it does not contain alcohol, it does not dry the skin. Witch hazel hydrosol has a host of topical applications: • Reduce redness, rashes, itching, swelling, and scaling of skin. • Powerfully anti-inflammatory and cicatrizant, it is useful as a wound wash and for healing cracked or blistered skin, sunburn. • It is extremely good for soothing eczema and psoriasis. • Reduces edema, arthritic and rheumatic pain, stings and bites. • Famous for its healing effects on varicose veins and hemorrhoids. • Helpful after radiation treatments to soothe skin. Unlike commercial products, witch hazel hydrosol can be used in oral care as an effective gargle for hoarseness or a sore throat. Reference: Suzanne Catty, the hydrosol expert, has given her permission for us to provide information from her book Hydrosols: The Next Aromatherapy. Tannin Tannin is a substance common in fruits (grapes, persimmon, blueberry, etc.), tea, chocolate, legume forages (trefoil, etc.), legume trees (Acacia spp., Sesbania spp., etc.), and grasses (sorghum, corn, etc.). The word tannin comes from the historical practice of using the tannin found in oak bark to tan leather, though in the modern world, synthetics are now used for this purpose. Tannins are responsible for the astringent taste we experience when we partake of wine or unripe fruits, and for the enchanting colors seen in flowers and in autumn leaves. They can have an anti-tumor benefit when consumed in tea or foods. There is some research pointing to similar benefits for skin. Tannins in herbs are astringent and may have constricting properties on skin. They are soothing to the skin and are used to treat burns and for wound healing.

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