People living with hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) use various strategies for managing their symptoms at home. Some myHSteam members report drinking apple cider vinegar every morning to eliminate odors from weeping lesions, while others soak in bleach baths or use specialized soaps and body washes.
While there’s no cure for HS, witch hazel is a popular home remedy for managing the skin disease. Members have written about using witch hazel as an antibacterial to disinfect oozing abscesses, relieve inflammation, and dry out the skin. But like with any alternative medicine, the benefits of witch hazel may vary from user to user. There’s also limited research to back any health claims. Always consult with your dermatologist first before trying a new skin treatment.
Witch hazel is another name for the plant Hamamelis virginiana, which can be found blooming in late October to early November in the eastern parts of the United States. The plant looks like a small tree or a shrub with leaves and arching branches that reach heights ranging from 12 to 30 feet. These plants are iconic for their fragrant yellow flowers.
The bark, twigs, leaves, and flowers have historically been used to make different herbal remedies. For example, the leaves have been plucked to make leaf tea to treat asthma, colds, and sore throats. Witch hazel leaves could also be mixed into a wash to soothe muscle pain.
Today, you can find witch hazel at your local drugstore, sold as a treatment for relieving ailments including:
Witch hazel has a variety of uses in skin health, and it’s an ingredient in many beauty products, including toners, cleansers, and moisturizers. It helps remove excess oil and debris when applied to the skin’s surface.
The secret behind witch hazel’s wide range of health benefits is its high tannin content. Tannins are compounds that help relieve inflammation from skin irritation and act as a topical astringent that tightens the skin and dries out pores. Researchers have found that, along with having anti-inflammatory properties, witch hazel can have antiseptic (antimicrobial) and antioxidant effects.
There’s little scientific evidence about using witch hazel to manage symptoms of HS. However, some people have found witch hazel to be a helpful natural remedy for relieving different stages of an HS flare-up.
One myHSteam member found that mixing witch hazel with tea tree oil, aloe vera, and hydrogen peroxide, and soaking it in baby wipes helps them to soothe itching and burning in their armpits. Another member reported using witch hazel to eliminate odors that might come up when an HS cyst or boil oozes pus.
Another myHSteam member found that applying warm compresses with witch hazel effectively reduced swelling and promoted drainage. “The heat opens the pores and soothes the swelling, while the witch hazel works its magic and treats it as it pops.”
Keep in mind that what might work for one person with HS may not work the same for another. Additionally, it’s important to exercise caution when mixing essential oils, as some — like tea tree oil — can be extremely irritating. Make sure to talk with your dermatologist and ask if it’s safe for you to try witch hazel as an at-home remedy.
There’s no set directive on how much witch hazel people with HS should use. If you’re considering using witch hazel for your HS symptoms, talk to your dermatologist. They can give personalized recommendations on the dosage and how much witch hazel to use during a flare-up.
Witch hazel doesn’t need a prescription and can be found in your local drugstore. You can find witch hazel in different over-the-counter (OTC) products, from bottled toners to soap, to antibiotic wipes. Pads or wipes containing witch hazel can be used up to six times per day, according to Cleveland Clinic. Of course, you’ll want to defer to the instructions on the package label and not go past the advised amount.
If you do purchase an OTC witch hazel product, make sure to read the label carefully to see if it contains other ingredients. Some may be irritating and/or not recommended for someone living with HS.
Members describe using witch hazel for different situations. One myHSteam member said they prefer using witch hazel wipes for their face to remove dirt and sweat when they experience a breakout. Another member said they use witch hazel as a preventive measure. They mix it with apple cider vinegar and use the concoction to “wipe down on trouble areas after showering or bathing.”
Some people use witch hazel to dry out weeping sores and ease itching during the skin healing process. “Witch hazel works so well for me when it gets bad, usually during the summer months,” one member described.
As an alternative medicine, witch hazel is not guaranteed to treat any skin condition, including HS. With the lack of research on witch hazel as an HS treatment, people with the conditions should not use it as a replacement for prescribed medications.
You can look at other skin disorders like eczema as an example. For decades, some people touted witch hazel as an effective treatment for oozing eczema, but the research on these claims is contradictory. Some have found that it doesn’t help at all, while others show evidence that witch hazel helps to relieve itching and strengthen the skin barrier.
Although witch hazel may help some people living with HS, it won’t help everyone. One myHSteam member tried it after seeing recommendations in various support groups. “Unfortunately, it never helped,” they wrote.
Witch hazel is mostly safe for adults, but some could experience mild to severe allergic reactions, including tongue swelling, hives, and breathing difficulties. Other side effects involve mild skin irritation or discoloration in already dry skin.
Witch hazel should only be applied to your skin, not taken orally. Consuming it can cause stomach issues and liver problems.
When in doubt, follow the medical advice of your dermatologist. Have a list of the medications you’re taking and inform them of your drinking and smoking habits to give your doctor a clearer picture of how witch hazel may affect you.
On myHSteam, the social network for people with hidradenitis suppurativa and their loved ones, more than 34,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with hidradenitis suppurativa.
Have you tried witch hazel to manage your hidradenitis suppurativa symptoms? If so, how has it worked for you? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.