What is Hamamelis Virginiana?

What is Hamamelis Virginiana?

This is part of our ongoing series helping consumers better understand chemicals, chemistry, and product formulations. We translate the science, bust the myths, and give you an honest assessment, so you can make informed choices for your family!


Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Leaf Water

What it is:

Witch hazel is a shrub native to Eastern North America that blooms with fragrant yellow flowers late in the year. Witch hazel water comes from steam distillation of the leaves, bark, and branches.

What it does:

Native Americans have been using witch hazel for its numerous benefits for centuries. It has been traditionally used to soothe minor skin irritations, itching and dryness. It’s also has other beneficial properties, which make it useful for many occasions.

There is some clinical evidence to support these traditional uses, and ongoing studies are confirming the scientific legitimacy and safety of witch hazel’s use (1,2,3,4).

Why we use it:

We use witch hazel in our Natural Deodorant and Soothing Bottom Wash for its skin soothing benefits. Plus, it’s a naturally-derived, plant based, renewable resource! We love finding gifts from nature that are not only safe and effective, but are also easy to source and take relatively little effort to process into a raw ingredient for commercial use.

Why we’re featuring it today:

We’ve received questions from concerned pregnant moms about the safety of using witch hazel while pregnant or nursing, as some websites recommend against it and others mention the presence of safrole, which is linked to cancer. Today, we would like to address some of those concerns!

Many websites recommend avoiding witch hazel during pregnancy and lactation due to a lack of evidence of safety – they're referring to a lack of formal human studies. Meanwhile, it's sometimes recommended during pregnancy and lactation for helping to relieve symptoms associated with things like hemorrhoids and there have been no reports of negative effects. We found a recommendation for using it during pregnancy dating all the way back to 1942 in The American Journal of Nursing – so clearly women have been successfully benefiting from using witch hazel topically during pregnancy and lactation for a very long time (3)! According to the book, Phytopharmacy: An Evidence-Based Guide to Herbal Medicinal Products, “No significant problems have been reported for external use of witch hazel during pregnancy and lactation, although safety has not been conclusively established (2).” We know sometimes people ingest medicinal doses of witch hazel – and we're not so sure about the safety of that, but the small, topical exposure you'd experience from our Deodorant is really nothing to worry about.

Witch hazel does contain tiny amounts of safrole, a compound that the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned for use in food during the 1960s after laboratory animals that ingested large amounts of the compound developed cancer. Still, the key here is exposure level and route. You'd have to drink an enormous amount of witch hazel to get the same exposure the laboratory animals were exposed to. Interestingly, safrole naturally occurs in spices like cinnamon and black pepper and herbs such as basil and any minimal role it plays in cancer would be equal to the hazards presented by orange juice (due to natural limonene) and tomatoes (due to the natural caffeic acid)(5). Beyond that, in regards to our products, we use the steam distillate water created from the plant, but the safrole is found in the volatile oils – making it a non-issue for our products anyway.



  1. Abascal, K., & Yarnell, E. (2005). Botanical treatments for hemorrhoids. Alternative & Complementary Therapies, 11(6), 285-289.
  2. Edwards, Sarah E., et al. "Witch Hazel Hamamelis virginiana L."Phytopharmacy: An Evidence-Based Guide to Herbal Medicinal Products(2015): 396.
  3. Kotila, G. (1942). Discomforts of Pregnancy: And How to Relieve Some of Them. The American Journal of Nursing, 359-363.
  4. Swain, Liz, and Rebecca Frey, PhD. "Witch Hazel." Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. Ed. Jacqueline Longe. Vol. 4. 2nd ed. Detroit: Gale, 2005. 5 pp. 4 vols. Gale Virtual Reference Library.
  5. Gold, L.S., Slone, T.H., Manley, N.M. and Ames, B.N. Misconceptions about the Causes of Cancer. Vancouver: Fraser Institute (2002).

We aim to provide you with the most honest and credible information possible. This article was reviewed for accuracy by The Honest Team and was written based on trusted sources that are linked at the bottom of the article.