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Ingredient Spotlight: Hamamelis Virginiana

I’m often asked about specific ingredients in our formulas – why we use them, what they do, how they benefit the skin, if it’s possible to get an allergic reaction to them, and the list goes on.

With spring around the corner (for some parts of the country it’s already here), allergies are likely to kick up for many people once things begin to bloom. This reminded me of a question I received years ago about witch hazel – a client mentioned she was allergic to it and was curious why it would cause an allergic reaction. I thought it a good time to talk about allergic reactions in the treatment room and go more in depth on witch hazel.

What It Is

Witch hazel is a deciduous shrub, known in North America as hamamelis virginiana. It has traditionally been used for its astringent quality, which is produced from its leaves and bark. A common misconception is that witch hazel is a nut, which may also explain the allergy correlation.

Witch hazel has a long history with more than 30 noted uses including healing sores, bruises, swelling, burns, varicose veins, and hemorrhoids, and internally for colds, fevers and tuberculosis. The main constituents of the extract include tannin, gallic acid, catechins, proanthocyanins, flavonoids (kaempferol, quercetin), essential oil (carvacrol, eugenol, hexenol), choline, saponins, and bitters.

How It Works

In the world of aesthetics, witch hazel is used as an antioxidant, astringent, and too sooth and heal problematic skin conditions. One reason it is so widely used in skin care formulas, including ours, is for its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antioxidant, and astringent benefits – it is a powerful protector of our cells.

It has been recommended for psoriasis, eczema, aftershave applications, cracked or blistered skin, for treating insect bites, poison ivy, and aiding in the soothing and healing of sunburn. Witch hazel is also useful for locking in moisture as it reduces water loss.

As I mentioned, we use witch hazel in a number of formulas for its moisture-balancing, protective and healing abilities. It can be found in the Growth Factor Serum, Regenerating Cream, Cucumber Spritz, C-Peptide Complex, and the Antioxidant Complex Serum, to name a few.

Working with Allergies

Allergic reactions are very rare, but if someone is truly reactive to this, it may not be solely witch hazel, but rather an allergy related to plants in general. It’s also important to examine the other ingredients in the formula. It could be a reaction to an added fragrance or some other type of ingredient.

This brings me to another point about reactions and allergic responses to ingredients in general – oftentimes there are many variables that impact skin reactions and I always recommend easing into the use of a new product or working with a new client by applying a small amount to the neck for a week or so. Using one consistent product line can also help eliminate reaction variables as well.

Over the years I’ve noticed it wasn’t always one specific ingredient, but a blend of less than skin friendly ingredients that turned out to be the culprit. Also determine how the reaction was discovered, if it was through allergy testing, that can be misleading depending on the ingredient, since reduced concentrations in most formulas are not anywhere near the same as placing a high concentrate directly on the skin.

Nonetheless, nothing is 100 percent perfect for 100 percent of the population. Some people are allergic to water! So when a client comments on an ingredient being an issue for them, pay attention to that and proceed cautiously.

Question: What ingredient questions do you frequently get from clients?

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