People are quick to spring for drug store products to combat what ails them, without knowing exactly what’s in those products or how they’re tested.
Why not go back to the basics and use plant medicine like our ancestors did? For example, instead of buying chemically infused shampoos for dry flaky skin, you can try using witch hazel for hair and scalp problems such as dandruff.
There are many uses for witch hazel — it’s not just for use on the scalp. It can be applied topically for its skin-healing properties, a natural way to help treat skin irritation, including acne-prone skin, eczema, sunburns, bug bites and even hemorrhoids.
In some cases, it can be consumed orally as a remedy for colds, fevers and diarrhea. You’ll also find it in an assortment of beauty products. In this article, however, we’ll focus on the benefits of witch hazel for hair.
What is Witch Hazel?
Witch hazel has been around for a long time. The healing properties of the witch hazel plant come from its bark, leaves and twigs. It’s believed that Native Americans, centuries ago, used it as a medicine. Since then its use has become widespread, finding its way into home remedies and beauty products.
From the bark of a shrub to the medicine cabinet, witch hazel has become a staple product for health-conscious consumers, mostly for topical application. Due to its chemical makeup, there are many benefits.
According to Dr. Kautilya Shaurya of Schweiger Dermatology Group in NYC, witch hazel is a natural astringent, which means it causes pores or tissue to contract or shrink. It contains compounds such as gallic acid and tannins. Astringents are commonly applied to the skin to stop bleeding and also makes the skin less oily.
These astringent chemicals have natural anti-inflammatory properties. The substance also contains antioxidants, making it great for reducing and preventing inflammation, as well as bringing down levels of free radicals in the body.
When you buy witch hazel, it comes in a liquid form, making it easy to apply wherever your skin needs it, or to mix into a DIY beauty product, like witch hazel shampoo.
Witch Hazel Casts a Spell on Dry Scalp and Dandruff
Dandruff is an annoying — and unfortunately common — skin condition. Researchers have determined that about half of the general population deals with dandruff, resulting in dry, flaky, itchy scalps.
Seborrheic dermatitis, another skin condition that causes dry flaky skin that isn’t necessarily limited to the head, is usually the cause of dandruff. With seborrheic dermatitis, you might also have red, scaly patches of skin elsewhere.
With so many people dealing with dandruff, it’s no wonder that one of the most popular witch hazel uses is to combat flaky scalps. Aside from plenty of anecdotal evidence that this plant extract is helpful for dandruff, there has been some concrete scientific research on the benefits.
A study of 1,373 patients tested a shampoo containing witch hazel to determine the effectiveness of witch hazel for scalp problems. The researchers concluded that witch hazel was effective in overall improvement of the condition.
Many dermatologists back the use of witch hazel for scalp and skin irritations. According to Dr. Shaurya, because seborrheic dermatitis (aka dry scalp) is caused by inflammation, witch hazel’s anti-inflammatory properties can be effective in calming down the skin. This outcome, in turn, will improve the dry scalp.
According to Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, witch hazel can act as a toner that extracts oil from the skin.
“By removing oil, [witch hazel] creates an environment not ideal for yeast to grow. It also may directly lower levels of yeast on the scalp, subsequently minimizing inflammation and flaking,” he said.
So, if you’ve been suffering from annoying flakes and itching, it’s a good idea to try witch hazel for hair and scalp, and dermatologists are on board.
“For people who are in search of an over-the-counter, natural treatment, this may be a good starting point,” Dr. Shaurya said. “If the problem persists, there is the option of moving to a prescription treatment.”
Methods of application of witch hazel for scalp irritations:
- Method #1: Saturate a cotton ball or cotton pad in witch hazel extract and apply it along the hairline, if that is your main problem area
- Method #2: Part the hair in sections and use a dropper or a spray bottle, and then rub it in
- Method #3: Saturate a cotton round, part the hair, apply all over, then rub in
For all of these instructions, leave the witch hazel on for about 10 minutes, and then wash it out by shampooing as usual. If you have an extra sensitive scalp, you may want to dilute it with a little bit of water before application. Do these treatments once or twice a week, as long as no irritation is occurring.
Another option is using a witch hazel shampoo instead, but we’ll talk about that later.
Witch Hazel for Hair Loss: How Does it Help?
The jury is out on an official verdict for whether you can use witch hazel for hair loss. Some blogs say that one of the uses for witch hazel is to prevent hair loss and stimulate growth due to its vasoconstrictive properties, meaning it narrows blood vessels. Advocates claim this narrowing of the blood vessels can help keep hair follicles anchored in, reducing fall out and stimulating hair growth by increasing blood flow to the scalp.
However, there really isn’t any concrete scientific evidence for this theory. More research is certainly needed, and professionals have mixed opinions.
“These claims are unsubstantiated because there have been no controlled studies that have demonstrated that witch hazel can improve hair growth,” Dr. Shaurya said. “Although some hair growth formulations may have witch hazel as an ingredient, it is most likely there for its anti-inflammatory effects and not for hair growth itself.”
Nonetheless, it won’t hurt to try witch hazel for hair growth. If you’re looking for a natural way to possibly stimulate hair growth, just go into the process with realistic expectations.
How to Make Your Own Witch Hazel Shampoo
If you would rather use shampoo instead of applying it directly to the scalp, you can buy a shampoo that contains witch hazel. Or you can make your very own DIY shampoo with witch hazel extract. This way, you can use your favorite vegan and paraben-free shampoo as a base.
It’s better to mix the witch hazel into your shampoo rather than your conditioner, because shampoo is focusing more on the scalp. Conditioner, on the other hand, is more for the length of your hair to strengthen and to soften it.
Grab a small bowl and add a few drops of witch hazel into the amount of shampoo you normally use for a wash. Mix it together and massage the scalp, thoroughly rubbing it all in. Rinse and use conditioner as usual.
If DIY Doesn’t Work, Ask the Pros
Consider giving witch hazel a try to reduce irritation, inflammation, itching and those pesky flakes. There’s a reason this plant has been used as a medicinal remedy for centuries: it works. There are so many benefits across the board, so if you buy some for your hair, you will have some handy for any other ailments you might have.
Although witch hazel is safe to use, there’s always the possibility that a new product can irritate the skin. Dr. Zeichner advised discontinuing use if side effects such as redness, burning or itching occurs. If you end up steadily using witch hazel for dandruff for a while, and your condition is not improving, speak to your primary care doctor or dermatologist for further care.
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