Witch hazels are a group of flowering plants that grow in North America, Japan, and China. There are several varieties, but most people are talking about Hamamelis virginiana when they refer to witch hazel. The tall shrub or small tree has light yellow flowers appear in the fall. Constituents of the bark, leaves, and twigs — in particular, tannins but also natural antioxidants — are thought to possess anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and astringent properties. Native Americans have long used witch hazel extracts to make tonics. Today, witch hazel is one of the few plant products that meets the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards for safety and effectiveness. Creams, ointments, toners, and witch hazel water contain this natural product. Though a number of medicinal uses are not supported by scientific evidence, the widespread traditional use of witch hazel suggests it is at least safe to use.
Research shows witch hazel ointment can benefit skin irritations caused by sun exposure, diaper rash, insect bites, and localized inflammation. It can also help with greasy hair and sensitive scalp problems. Its astringent properties protect the underlying layers of skin by waterproofing the external layers. Studies show mild antioxidant effects that help protect against the damaging effects of ultraviolet light.
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