The actual number of active ingredients in witch hazel are in the hundreds. Of these 100's, witch hazel contains eight different types of active ingredients that are known to affect hemorrhoids in a positive way.
Witch hazel when used as a hemorrhoids treatment, is normally in the form of a topical astringent. That is to say, the witch hazel is applied to your external hemorrhoids and it then causes the inflamed tissues to shrink and cool while making the blood vessels shrink. Considering that a hemorrhoid is basically a swollen blood vessel, you can see why witch hazel is quickly considered when you have hemorrhoids.
Witch hazel also has antibacterial properties that help keep hemorrhoids from getting infected, a distinct possibility for injured hemorrhoids - scratched, bleeding - considering the nature of the area.
The addition of isopropyl alcohol in most drugstore preparations adds a great deal of cooling and cleansing to the hemorrhoids treatment mix as well, and of course, this antibacterial action of witch hazel is enhanced by the isopropyl alcohol that witch hazel is most often combined with when used for hemorrhoids.
The first time you go see a doctor for hemorrhoid problems, one of the first things the doctor will often recommend, is using witch hazel for treating your hemorrhoids. In fact, witch hazel is actually a very popular and worthwhile herb for treating many symptoms that your external hemoirrhoids may be causing you.
To begin with, it helps to know exactly what witch hazel is. The specific species of witch hazel which is used for hemorrhoids treatment, is known scientifically as Hamamelis virginiana, and it grows naturally as big shrubs or small trees all over the East Coast of North America, from Nova Scotia down to the southern United States. There are a multitude of other Hamamelis family members, but these are used for ornamental plantings only, and have no known value for treating hemorrhoids.
Native Americans would make witch hazel extract by boiling the bark and leaves to get a distillate, but that's an inadvisable practice today. It's too easy to make a witch hazel solution that's either too weak or too strong as a hemorrhoids treatment. If your witch hazel for hemorrhoids is too weak, of course it won't do you much good. If the witch hazel for hemorrhoids treatment is too strong, it can damage your anal areas even more.
Another home remedy of the Native Americans was to make a poultice of the witch hazel leaves and bark, and then apply it directly to the hemorrhoids. A poultice is: the witch hazel leaves and bark is combined with meal or clay, softened and heated, then applied to the hemorrhoid area. Due to the lack of hygeine and potential messiness, and the problem this may pose particularly to women, poultices are not suggested as a viable alternative.
You mostly get witch hazel as a hemorrhoids treatment in a liquid extract form, that has been combined with isopropyl alcohol - and you buy it normally from your local pharmacy. If you want a preparation without the isopropyl alcohol, you can find standardized preparations online. When using witch hazel for a hemorrhoids treatment, it's best to stick to a standardized extract solution that's been tested for consistency and the correct dosage, especially when such topical witch hazel hemorrhoids treatments are available so cheap.
You can also find some hemorrhoid creams that contain the witch hazel extract as well.
Pills can also be bought that contain witch hazel, but these pills are ill advised, as witch hazel was never meant to be used this, and can cause significant gastrointestinal problems, and some absorption problems, when taken by mouth. Although you can find these pills around the place, and read testimonials about how good they work, its not worth the risks, given that safer hemorrhoid pills are available.
Most witch hazel preparations for hemorrhoids are used topically, which means applied to the outer skin only.
To use pure witch hazel as a hemorrhoids treatment, all you have to do is soak a cotton ball or pad in the witch hazel extract and wipe over the area. Some prefer soaking toilet tissue with the witch hazel, while others report really good results by using witch hazel on baby wipes as an alternative to toilet tissue while the hemorrhoids are active. If you're going to use cotton balls, pads, or baby wipes with witch hazel for your hemorrhoids, it's important to make sure of what your septic system can and cannot handle. In addition, make sure that whatever you use with your witch hazel for your hemorrhoids is free of potentially irritating perfumes or dyes, that could worsen your hemorrhoid symptoms.
The other common way to use witch hazel for a hemorrhoids treatment is via a cream or ointment. Witch hazel is a common ingredient for all sorts of over the counter hemorrhoid preparations. Of course, in addition to the witch hazel, these hemorrhoids creams and ointments are liable to have all manner of other ingredients as well. This combination of ingredients is generally meant to relieve hemorrhoids a specific way, so it becomes vitally important to only use these hemorrhoid creams according to directions.
To begin with, you can control exactly what goes into it and leave out any preservatives or chemicals you really don't want.
Before you begin, make sure that you've sterilized all of the equipment you will use, including your hands. Furthermore, take care to keep things sterile as you go along until you don't need them any more.
To make your own witch hazel hemorrhoids cream, you will need to find a good recipe. There are a number of recipes for skin creams that would be suitable as a base for a witch hazel hemorrhoids cream - you need to find one that shows you how to mix liquids and fats together ("emulsification" is the technical term) - hemorrhoid creams are fat based, but witch hazel extract is water based, so if you add the two together, they wont mix unless you do something else.
When creating a witch hazel hemorrhoids cream, you can use other ingredients that are proven to work well for hemorrhoids, such as cocoa butter, and with a little experimentation, you can come up with your own witch hazel hemorrhoids cream that does exactly what you want it to.
The down side: However, before you get too far into making the witch hazel hemorrhoids cream, you should know that it is a very detailed, painstaking process that you will have to take quite a bit of care with. If you're unwilling or unable to take the care needed when compounding medications, then you will be better off if you just use commercial preparations.
When it comes to any sort of medical treatment, even one as common as witch hazel for hemorrhoids is, safety is always vital. Witch hazel has hundreds of active constituents and there are some unwanted side effects that can crop up.
The first and most obvious thing to watch out for when it comes to using witch hazel on hemorrhoids is allergic reactions. You've heard it in other places, and you'll hear it again here, but If you start developing a rash, hives, or if the area starts getting more inflamed than it already was, discontinue the use of witch hazel on your hemorrhoids immediately.
If you are making your own witch hazel hemorrhoids treatments, remember that homemade hemorrhoid treatments don't have the same preservatives as many commercial preparations. You should keep homemade witch hazel hemorrhoids treatments in the refrigerator. If they've been in the refrigerator for more than a few days, or if they look or smell "off", then you should throw it out and make more from scratch.
The next thing to take note of is that witch hazel for hemorrhoids should usually not be used internally without a doctor's or certified herbalist's supervision. You should especially never drink or internally insert the witch hazel for hemorrhoids treatment you get from the drugstore or grocery.
Further, the common witch hazel extract that's sold everywhere for hemorrhoids is frequently mixed with isopropyl alcohol, which is a poison. If you drink isopropyl alcohol or put it up into the anorectal canal to treat internal hemorrhoids, extremely serious health problems can happen, including flushing, headache, dizziness, depression of the central nervous system, vomiting, fainting and coma. It also metabolizes into acetone within your body, with all of the problems that ingesting acetone can cause.
If you really want to use witch hazel for hemorrhoids internally to shrink the blood vessels systemically, then you should consult a certified herbalist or take a special formulation that's specifically designed and labeled for internal use. Even so, witch hazel, when taken internally for hemorrhoids, should only be used for a very short period of time. There are dangers when witch hazel is taken internally - stomach irritation and cramping, and it may stop some medications and supplements from working, or cause them not to work fully - especially the alkaloid based ones.
As you can see, witch hazel as a hemorrhoids treatment can be a wonderful part of a hemorrhoids fighting plan. It soothes, cools, and helps to shrink the blood vessels on inflamed and painful hemorrhoids. However, remember to use any witch hazel hemorrhoids treatment correctly. Your hemorrhoids will not be cured by any given witch hazel hemorrhoids treatment. Instead, witch hazel is most often used successfully as symptom relief for hemorrhoids. To get the maximum benefit from witch hazel for hemorrhoids treatment, you must combine it with an overall hemorrhoids treatment and cure plan. By using other hemorrhoid curing remedies in conjunction with witch hazel, and deliberately improving your lifestyle, you can finally get hemorrhoids gone for good!
Gaby, A.R. et al, The Natural Pharmacy, 3rd ed., Healthnotes Inc., 2006.
Keville, Kathi, The Illustrated Herb Encyclopedia (New York: Michael Friedman Publishing Group, 1991) 97-98.
Korting, H. C., et al. "Comparative Efficacy of Hamamelis Distillate and Hydrocortisone. European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 48(1995)(6):461–465.
Research and main write by Loni L. Ice, quality control, editing and additional writing by D. S. Urquhart.