There’s nothing quite like the intense discomfort that comes along with hemorrhoids: The itching can get so intense, you can feel like you literally have ants in your pants! And while there are creams and such that claim to ease this itch, they can be messy and necessitate a trip to the drugstore. When, the truth is, you likely have bottle of witch hazel collecting dust somewhere that will work even better.
What is witch hazel?
Witch hazel is a plant grown in gardens throughout the world and known for being an early bloomer. It breaks forth with scraggly yellow flowers while it’s still snowing. Its Latin name is Hamamelis virginiana, and it’s native to North America and parts of Asia. The leaves and bark from the witch hazel shrub are commonly used to produce a liquid known as witch hazel water, or distilled witch hazel extract. Witch hazel extract is an extremely inexpensive fixture in any drug store worth the name.
People have been using witch hazel medicinally for centuries. Native Americans relied on it as a remedy for such ailments as colds, fevers, toothaches, bruises, and sore muscles, according to the American Botanical Council. It’s many folks’ go-to treatment for minor scrapes, bug bites, poison Ivy and even acne.
It’s also experienced a resurgence in the last few years: #witchhazel has more than 80 million views on TikTok, and the search term “witch hazel for hemorrhoids cure” has increased 550%. And for good reason. Here’s how witch hazel helps tame hemorrhoids and why you might want to make it a part of your self-care routine.
Understanding the two types of hemorrhoids
There are two types of hemorrhoids (also called piles): Internal and external, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Internal hemorrhoids form in the lining of the lower rectum and anus. The external kind form under the skin outside the anus. You may not even know you have internal hemorrhoids, since they are typically painless. But when they protrude outside of the anus, they’re more likely to cause symptoms such as pain, stinging, itching and bleeding.
What causes hemorrhoids?
External hemorrhoids can appear when there’s too much pressure put on the internal veins or blood vessels, such as when you’re constipated, passing a too hard stool, or sit for long periods of time. A sneaky cause of hemorrhoid flares? Pelvic floor dysfunction. Your pelvic floor is made up of the muscles and connective tissue that support organs in your pelvis. This includes your bladder, bowel, and reproductive organs.
“Pelvic floor dysfunction is caused by poor coordination or weakness of the pelvic floor when straining, which in turn is a common cause of hemorrhoids,” explains gastroenterologist Eric Dinesh Shah, MD, a clinical associate professor of medicine at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and a spokesperson for the American Gastroenterological Association. The condition affects roughly 25% of women in the US. (Click through to see the telltale signs a pelvic floor problem.)
How witch hazel soothes hemorrhoids
The bark from which witch hazel is extracted boasts a large amount of beneficial phytochemical compounds including tannins and flavonoids. Both are antioxidants that protect against cell-damaging free radicals and contain anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties.
“A lot of people use witch hazel to soothe or cool their hemorrhoids,” says colorectal surgeon Lynn M. O’Connor, MD, chief of colorectal surgery at both Mercy Hospital and St. Joseph Hospital in NY. “As an astringent, which hazel has anti-inflammatory properties and may help with the inflammation, redness, and burning associated with a hemorrhoidal flare.”
Witch hazel’s astringent powers allow it to work to shrink or tighten inflamed tissues. The botanical remedy is also a vasoconstrictor, meaning it helps to narrow or constrict blood vessels, reducing swelling and taming bleeding.
“One good thing about witch hazel as an astringent is it can also help reduce any bleeding, and that includes hemorrhoidal bleeding” says board-certified dermatologist Dina Strachan, MD, director of Aglow Dermatology and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at New York University. (Click through to see 8 surprising ways you can use leftover witch hazel around the house.)
The best way to use witch hazel for hemorrhoids
When it comes to treating hemorrhoids, witch hazel is widely available and easy to use. One of the simplest ways to tap into its healing power is to apply 100% witch hazel directly to hemorrhoids. Simply dip a cotton ball in the solution and lightly dab the area. You should feel an instant cooling. Credit goes to witch hazel’s tannic acid. Research in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces suggests the compound shrinks swelling on contact, dulls pain and speeds healing.
The one hitch: Astringent can be drying when overused. “I’d recommend only using witch hazel once or twice a day because it can dry out hemorrhoidal tissue and irritate it further,” says Dr. O’Connor.
It’s also important to note that not all witch hazel products are created equal: Some are diluted with alcohol. “Since witch hazel products containing alcohol may irritate and dry out the skin, you’ll want to apply this type of witch hazel once or twice daily,” suggests Dr. Strachan. One 100% witch hazel product to try: T.N. Dickinson’s Witch Hazel (Buy from Walmart.com, $3.98).
Other natural remedies for hemorrhoid relief
No witch hazel on hand? These simple home cures can also speed relief from hemorrhoid symptoms naturally.
Smooth on pure aloe vera gel
Aloe vera is known for its hydrating and anti-inflammatory properties and for its wound healing capabilities. Your best bet is to dab on pure aloe vera gel, which Cleveland Clinic experts say tames hemorrhoid inflammation without further irritating skin. Extracting the gel from the inner part of a fresh aloe leaf is a surefire way to know you’re getting it in its purest form. Tip: Refrigerate the gel before using for an added burst of inflammation-taming chill. (Click through to see how drinking aloe vera juice can boost your health in other ways.)
Relax in an Epsom salt sitz bath
Taking a warm sitz bath, in which water only covers your hips and bottom, tames hemorrhoid pain. The key: Adding Epsom salts to your soak. Research in Women and Birth found soaking the affected area in warm water with Epsom salts for 5 minutes three times daily relieves pain and itching even better than topicals like Preparation H and Anusol. Simply add 1 to 2 cups Epsom salts to your next soak to reap the benefits. (Click through to our sister site to discover more ways Epsom salts can soothe skin bothers.)
Apply coconut oil to irritated skin
Thanks to coconut oil’s anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and analgesic properties, it tames hemorrhoid pain and speeds healing. To get the benefits, you can apply it directly on your hemorrhoids or add 1/2 cup to a warm bath and soak for at least 15 minutes. You can even add coconut oil to your favorite smoothie recipe or use in stir fries.
When ingested, coconut oil can act as a natural laxative, providing internal lubrication to assist stool in moving through the intestines and rectum more smoothly. This reduces straining on the toilet, a top cause of hemorrhoid flares. For these purposes, opt for the organic, virgin kind. It’s the least processed type, which means it retains more of the oil’s healing antioxidants, Dr. Strachan says.
Also smart: Making your own coconut oil suppositories with an at-home suppository mold kit. The molds come with trays featuring bullet-shaped containers to house the individual suppositories. “You can melt the coconut oil down first, pour it into the mold, and freeze them,” says Dr. O’Connor. When inserted into the anus, it delivers hemorrhoid-healing coconut oil directly to the highly absorbent tissue there. Plus the coldness temporarily numbs any pain and itching, Dr. O’Connor adds. One to try: Flora Natural’s Reusable Suppository Mold Kit (Buy from Amazon, $24.95).
For more natural ways to soothe hemorrhoids:
- MDs Reveal the Home Cures That Soothe Hemorrhoid Itch & Discomfort In Minutes
- 3 Natural Ways To Ease Hemorrhoid Discomfort
For more genius uses for witch hazel:
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
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