As summer approaches and mercury levels rise, all I want to do is stay indoors, sip on cool drinks and relax.
Unfortunately, this is just wishful thinking as my daily responsibilities require me to go out in the scorching sun almost every day. Of course, I make it a point to liberally douse my skin in sunscreen before I step outside.
However, there have been times when I have missed out on this ritual and the results have always been disastrous.
Trust me, getting sunburn is no fun at all!
Whenever I have had sunburn, my skin has taken forever to heal. Then there is the itching and peeling that happens as a part of the healing process and is rather worrisome to deal with.
That is, until I turned to an effective remedy for this problem—witch hazel!
This natural ingredient, with its rather unusual name, is an effective and fast-acting remedy for conditions like sunburn. Before I tell you all about how I use watch hazel for sunburn, let us first look at what this ingredient is.
What is Witch Hazel?
The first time I came across the term “witch hazel” was in the ingredient list in my toner. I was naturally quite intrigued by its name. Out of curiosity, I decided to find out more about this ingredient, secretly hoping to unravel some mystical connection to black magic and witchcraft!
Well, it so happens that the “witch” part of its name was derived from the old English world “wiche” which means bendable or pliant.
Although I was disappointed to learn that witch hazel had no connection to magical portions or sorcery of any kind, all this digging helped me learn a lot about the benefits and uses of this plant.
Witch hazel, scientifically known as Hamamelis virginiana, is a deciduous shrub that grows in North America, China and Japan, and is characterized by its spectacular bright yellow and orange flowers.
The first thing that comes to mind when we see these lively flowers with their tendril-like petals are exploding firecrackers, which is interesting considering that the seeds are explosively flung from the flowers for propagation into new plants.
Now, coming back to the topic of sunburn, witch hazel yields a liquid extract that can treat and heal sunburn. This extract is derived from the leaves, twigs and bark of the plant.
The bark and leaves are highly astringent, which makes it vey useful to cool and soothe injured skin. These are harvested in early spring or late fall and dried before being pressed to yield the extract.
Although witch hazel extract is available off the counter in drug stores and online, you can even prepare it at home if you have access to a good supply of witch hazel. Here is a simple recipe to do this.
DIY Recipe to Make Your Own Witch Hazel Extract
- Witch hazel bark—250 grams
- Distilled water—enough to cover the bark
- Add distilled water to witch hazel bark in a pot and place it on the stove. Cover with a lid and let it come to a boil. Then simmer for several minutes.
- Let it cool completely before straining the liquid into a storage container.
- Place this in the refrigerator and you can use it for up to fourteen days.
- If you would like to use it for even longer, mix the witch hazel extract with half the quantity of pure grain alcohol. You can now use it for up to a year.
Now, returning to the topic at hand, let us find out why witch hazel is effective in treating sunburn.
How Does Witch Hazel Help With Sunburn?
Sunburn is caused by continuous exposure of the skin to the harmful Ultraviolet rays, or more specifically UVB rays of the sun.
Our bodies have a pigment called melanin that acts as a natural defense against UV radiations. When our skin is exposed to sunlight, the body produces extra melanin. This results in a tan, which is the skin’s natural coping mechanism. However, with continued exposure, UV radiations overrides the natural defense mechanism and cause sunburn.
This article gives a detailed explanation of how it occurs.
Sunburnt skin is painfully red, itchy and often looks swollen and puffy. By the time your skin shows signs of sunburn, it has already undergone extensive damage and needs prompt treatment to reverse the condition.
This is where witch hazel can significantly help.
Witch hazel contains chemical substances called tannins, that are natural plant compounds with excellent skin repair properties. It also contains powerful anti-inflammatory ingredients and anti-oxidants that act against free radicals that damage skin.
When witch hazel is topically applied to sunburnt skin, it performs the following functions:
- Act as an anti-inflammatory agent: Sunburnt skin is prone to inflammation and swelling. When witch hazel is applied to sunburn, it prevents inflammation-causing agents from entering skin cells.
- Suppresses redness: Witch hazel can suppress reddening of the skin, thus providing relief for irritated and injured skin affected by conditions like sunburn.
- Acts as an astringent: Witch hazel is an excellent astringent that causes skin pores to shrink and tighten. When this happens, infection-causing bacteria cannot easily enter your pores. The tightening action also causes a soothing sensation.
- Neutralizes harmful free radicals: Harmful radiations from the sun generate free radicals in the skin that lead to conditions like skin cancer. The antioxidants in witch hazel can neutralize free radicals and protect the skin from such dangerous conditions.
- Prevents infections: Witch hazel fights against different types of viruses and other pathogens. When applied to sunburnt or wounded skin, it inhibits the spread of infection causing pathogens and germs, thus helping the skin to repair itself faster.
- Promotes overall cell health: The key polyphenols in witch hazel encourage skin cell regeneration in injury sites, thus enhancing the healing of sunburnt skin and restoring it to its original appearance.
Important Factors to Consider When Using Witch Hazel for Sunburn
We have already looked at why witch hazel is effective in curing sunburn conditions. So, let us now look at the important factors to keep in mind when using this ingredient for the purpose.
1. Select good quality witch hazel extract
In an earlier section I shared the recipe to create your own witch hazel extract. The best benefit of this approach is that you will know exactly what goes into each batch and needn’t worry about any synthetic additives that can trigger unwanted side-effects.
Nevertheless, it is important to remember that homemade witch hazel extract has a short life span of just few weeks, unless you add pure grain alcohol into the mixture.
In case you are unable to make your own batch of fresh witch hazel extract, you can always go for the store-brought variety. But, read the label carefully when buying witch hazel. Opt for fresh extract and not the distilled variety as the distilled variety has a lower concentration of tannins and isn’t as effective as the pure version.
2. Look out for additives
Although pure witch hazel extract is readily available in the market, you will also find numerous products with other additives as well. For instance, most witch hazel toners contain rose water, glycerine and similar ingredients.
Since sunburnt skin is already very irritated and susceptible to scarring, you risk more damage if you apply witch hazel products with other ingredients on the area. So, ensure that the additional ingredients in the product you use are suitable for injured and sensitive skin before application.
How to Effectively Use Witch Hazel for Sunburn?
The two most effective ways to apply witch hazel on sunburnt skin are:
1. Direct Application of Pure Witch Hazel Extract
Soak a cotton ball or cloth into witch hazel extract and slowly dab it all over the area affected by sunburn. Wait till all the liquid is absorbed. You will experience a cooling sensation afterwards and the itchiness and swelling will also considerably reduce.
Repeat the same process several times a day to speed up the healing process.
2. Apply Witch Hazel With Aloe Vera for Enhanced Effectiveness
Aloe vera is another cooling and soothing agent that has abundant skin repair and restoration properties of its own. When combined with witch hazel, it hastens the healing process.
You can either mix freshly extracted aloe vera gel or the readymade variety with an equal quantity of witch hazel till it is completely combined. Dip a cotton ball or cloth into this mixture and slowly apply over the area affected by sunburn. Leave it on to soak into the skin.
Repeat as necessary.
Note: Remember that sunburnt skin is extensively damaged and vulnerable to infection and scarring. Hence, it deserves extra TLC to repair and heal. It will take significant amount of time to return to its original condition. Keep this factor in mind when using any treatment, including witch hazel to cure the associated symptoms.
Continuous and consistent application of witch hazel to the affected area will alleviate most of the painful symptoms of sunburn. This ingredient also encourages skin repair from within and hence it can produce results quickly.
Possible Side-effects and Precautions of Using Witch Hazel
One of the main benefits of using natural ingredients like witch hazel to treat skin conditions like sunburn is that it is free from chemical substances that commonly cause adverse skin reactions.
Although witch hazel is generally a very safe ingredient, it may rarely cause skin irritation in some people. If you are allergic to witch hazel, direct application to skin can result in itches, rashes or swelling. So, to be on the safe side, we always suggest doing a patch test to ensure that witch hazel doesn’t trigger any unwanted reactions in your body.
Also, never apply witch hazel to broken or infected skin without consulting a doctor first.
If you buy witch hazel extract from a store, it is a good idea to check for the presence of preservatives in it. You shouldn’t face any issues with continued use of witch hazel for skin conditions when the sample is pure, free from synthetic agents and not past its shelf life.
Other Uses of Witch Hazel
It is always a good idea to stock up on witch hazel, as this herbal ingredient can address various purposes apart from treating sunburn, like the following.
1. Treats acne
Witch hazel is a mild astringent that can be used daily to reduce the oiliness of skin and pore size. It has excellent antiseptic properties by which it prevents the growth of germs that trigger acne breakouts. Witch hazel also helps to reduce inflammation and redness associated with acne conditions, thus improving the appearance of skin affected by acne.
2. Insect bites and stings
A mix of witch hazel and baking soda will come to your rescue if you have been stung by insects like bees, ants and wasps. You can also use witch hazel as an insect repellant during summer months by mixing it in equal quantities with water and alcohol and few drops of essential oils like eucalyptus or citronella.
3. Stretch marks
Witch hazel can reduce the color of stretch marks. Topical application of witch hazel to skin affected by stretch marks will help it to become smooth and lose its puffy appearance.
Where going out in the sun is concerned, prevention is always better than cure. But let’s face it! It is human nature to occasionally overlook associated tasks like applying sunscreen. Unfortunately, this may cause you to suffer the wrath of the scorching sun and end up with agonizing sunburn.
In such situations, witch hazel can be a wonderful product that soothes and repairs sunburnt skin. As a one-hundred percent natural ingredient with excellent anti-inflammatory and antiseptic products, witch hazel enhances the ability of the skin to repair and restore itself to its original condition and prevents it from getting infected. So, stock up on witch hazel or brew some of it in your kitchen and keep it ready for those unfortunate times when you suffer sunburn.