Witch hazel is something you may have seen in your mother’s medicine chest, but she probably didn’t tell you why she was using it. Consequently you may not have discovered the extract’s many magical properties.
Witch hazel is very good for treating a urushiol rash. Urushiol is an oily compound found on poison oak and poison ivy that quickly binds to the proteins in the skin. A rash develops when your body interprets these urushiol-modified skin cells as foreign agents and tries to kill them off. This bonding happens quickly, 10 to 30 minutes after exposure. The rash can take two or three days to appear and might last up to two weeks, untreated.
My trail buddies tell me that a good scrub with Tecnu Extreme Medicated Poison Ivy Scrub will prevent poison oak as long as you do it immediately after exposure. My problem is that I don’t always know when I’ve been exposed – a person can get a rash from oil on clothing, on a hiking stick, backpack or a friendly four legged creature. I’ve never found topical treatments such as calamine or cortisone cream to be effective or helpful. Witch hazel, applied twice daily, is nothing short of miraculous. Instead of a 7 to 14 day spell of tragic itching my most recent poison oak rash cleared up in three days.
I’m guessing that the astringent properties of the witch hazel quickly dry up the blisters, which in turn reduces skin damage and relieves itching. Or it may be the placebo effect. Who cares? As long as it works.
If you’d like to volunteer for further field-testing and research, have a testimonial about the amazing properties of witch hazel, or if you have a poison oak experience that bears retelling, by all means feel free to leave a comment.