witch hazel, hamamelis virginiana, hamamelidaceae: nature's first aid medicine



exclusive feature
Madeline Lafontant
{Minneapolis, MN:USA & Jamaica}
(2021). The Liberator Magazine.

Hamamelis virginiana, Hamamelidaceae, also known as witch hazel, is nature's first aid medicine. It contains one of the most common therapeutic properties in nature, astringent. When used externally, it functions as vulnerary, meaning it promotes the healing of tissues and wounds. This remedy is one of the most sustainable and versatille bathing practices to clear and detoxify. The bark of the plant is distilled for use. For millennia, people have produced extract by boiling the stems of the shrub and using the decoction to treat swellings, inflammations, and even provide soothing relief to tumors. Northern Native Americans use extract of witch hazel extensively for medicinal purposes and during ceremonies and rituals of purification. "The Osage" Native Americans "called it Shemba and made a poultice out of the bark to treat tumours, sores, and ulcers" (Erichsen-Brown, 1979). To maintain youthful healthy skin throughout the aging cycle, understanding the function of skin is key. One of the first signs of basic aging is a decreased or loss of functioning at the cellular and /or tissue level of the body, which is directly linked to a body's pH. Your skin reflects exactly what’s going on inside your body. And there’s nothing you can do about it, except to make sure that what’s going on inside your body is healthy and non-inflammatory. Non-mucus, as Dr. Sebi would say. Often enough, prevention is better than the cure.

When skin becomes inflamed it becomes sensitized. Sensitized skin can be triggered in anyone, regardless of your genes. It's a reflection of your environment. Frequent irritability from lifestyle, irritants, cosmetic ingredients, including alcohol, lanolin, fragrance, and artificial color can contribute to sensitized skin. It occurs on the outermost layer, the stratum corneum, just above which is a thin layer called the acid mantle. It is a very delicate and vital film on the surface of your outermost layer. It is composed of sebum, which is the natural oil produced by the sebaceous glands in skin and sweat. It is slightly acidic (ranging from 4.4 - 6 pH) and your body’s first layer of microbiological defense and direct protection against external and alkaline challenges. It also prevents cellular water loss and keeps your skin soft, elastic and supple. Your skin's natural pH is 5.5. Water’s natural pH is 7. Our body's internal (blood) pH is between 7.35-7.45. If in a new environment, it takes up to 36 hours within the skin to regain its correct pH, however the damage that is done can take weeks or months to repair. If you have ever experienced a tight feeling after cleansing, for example, your acid mantle has been stripped, considering that water pH is higher than your natural pH of 5.5. Using soap also adds to the stripping and defense of this layer. If the skin’s pH rises to 7.0, it becomes less functional in regard to killing bacteria, which leads acne-causing bacteria to multiply rapidly in the skin. As the acne bacteria multiply, the skin can’t keep up with the growth, leading to more and more breakouts. Witch Hazel can protect and remove chlorine and minerals present in tap water and, unlike water, it acts like a moisturizer to help bind moisture to the skin.

Witch Hazel can be used topically for any skin type and most conditions. If you’d like to give it a try, I recommend Thayers as it is hypoallergenic, naturally preserved, and paraben-free. It is safe to use on babies. Simply apply it after any water or other cleansing, steaming, or even if skin is just oily, to re-balance skin pH. After you’ve washed your face thoroughly, pat it dry with a soft cloth or quality cotton pads. Then lightly soak some more cloth/cotton with witch hazel, apply it locally by gently wiping it on your skin, including ears and neck. The uses of witch hazel are most beneficial when used daily as a face wash. If you feel your skin is too oily or too dry, or has patches of dryness, it can be used as a toner or moisturizer to rehydrate and balance complexion. Applied to the chest area, it can help with stretch marks and deep detoxification around chest tissue. The delicate conditions of broken capillaries around the nose or varicose veins can be prevented by using witch hazel, simply soak cloth material in witch hazel to make compresses and apply to the legs to reduce the discomfort of varicose veins. Applied to the arm pit area, it will aid in any discoloration and odor. For hair removal, it's a great before-and-after topical aid or aftershave for the prevention of ingrown hairs. If you have dandruff or itchy scalp, witch hazel acts as a rinse to rehydrate your hair roots. If you have weak nails, use it as a soak to toughen and rebuild your nail enamel. If you love day after day in the full sun, use before and after hours-long exposure to prevent seen and unseen sunburn damage to (even melenated) tissue by UV-B rays; keep a spray bottle of it cold in the fridge.

For dry or sensitive skin, try to regularly replenish your skin’s natural barrier with plant oils after the use of witch hazel, especially for colder, drier climates. To aid in moisture retention, the use of aloe vera (another article? let me know!) acts as a delivery agent to penetrate deeper into the skin, adding another natural layer of protection and strength. Being an astringent, witch hazel heals with its active constituent, tannin, a polyphenol aiding in adding a hydrated layer of protection that is antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and also protects you from free radicals. This is a benefit for anyone in need of a topical for atopic dermatitis (eczema, rosacea, and acne). Many problems work themselves out. Skin naturally balances itself within 30 minutes after breaking a sweat. So move. Bend down low. Squat. Do something that makes you breathe controlled, deep breath. Movement, physical exercise, is the easiest path to health and to healthy skin after diet. Movement is very important in helping us move tense, nervous energy blockages out of the body. Exercise increases metabolism, bringing healing oxygen to every cell, and makes you sweat. Sweating through the skin makes your pores normalize immediately. Exercise makes your skin’s oil flow and keeps your skin’s pH in balance and glowing.

Witch hazel is a key part of your diet and exercise skin care routine because it can treat or prevent acute skin imbalances during any season or transition into new environment or age and, at under ten U.S. dollars (often cheaper), it is sustainable.

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