If you're looking for a super useful, not-crazy-expensive cure-all to stock your bathroom cabinet with, buy soap. But if you've got some extra room in there, witch hazel should be your next purchase, especially if you suffer from hemorrhoids, postpartum tears, or yeast infections. Most women know witch hazel makes a great facial toner, but you might not know about its many other benefits, including how witch hazel helps your vagina.
What Is Witch Hazel?
"Hammamelis virginiana, commonly known as witch hazel, is a plant native to North America," Dr. Kate Klein, a licensed naturopathic doctor in Ajax, Ontario, Canada, tells Romper. "Its primary constituents are tannins, which are known to tighten superficial cells — meaning it can help to control superficial bleeding, as well as reduce inflammation and edema (swelling), both internally and externally." Klein goes on to explain that it can be used internally to stop uterine hemorrhaging postpartum or after surgery. You can also apply witch hazel to hemorrhoids. "The best part about witch hazel is that it's very safe," notes Klein. "It has no known side effects or drug interactions."
Exactly what makes witch hazel so, well, witchy? Dr. Jamil Abdur-Rahman, a board-certified OB-GYN, explains that witch hazel is an astringent, which means it dries, shrinks, and tightens tissue by pulling water out of it. Additionally, witch hazel is acidic — and so are healthy vaginas.
Using Witch Hazel Postpartum
An acidic astringent like witch hazel can really help you out postpartum, according to Abdur-Rahman. "Witch hazel is a fantastic thing that new moms can safely apply to the vagina to not only lessen postpartum bleeding and postpartum pain, but also to lessen the risk of developing postpartum vaginal infections."
Most postpartum vaginal discomfort is the result of swelling, Abdur-Rahman explains, and witch hazel can reduce inflammation and pain by leeching excess fluids from the vulva and vagina. It also compresses blood vessels, resulting in reduced blood flow — which is good when you've just given birth and everything is bleeding all the time.
Used internally, witch hazel can also help treat and prevent vaginal infections after you give birth, thanks to its acidic nature. Abdur-Rahman says that a healthy, normal vagina is pretty acidic (with a pH between 3.8 and 4.5, for those into biochemistry). "However, after childbirth, the normal vaginal acid gets 'washed out'" by amniotic fluid and blood. Witch hazel applied internally and externally to the vagina — with your doctor's OK, of course — may just restore your vagina to happiness and joy.
Witch Hazel & Yeast Infections
One thing witch hazel absolutely does not do, according to Abdur-Rahman, is fight or prevent a yeast infection. In fact, witch hazel can make a yeast infection worse — and no one wants that. As Abdur-Rahman explains:
"Candida, the fungus that causes the majority of vaginal yeast infections, prefers to grow in either a neutral or a slightly acidic vaginal environment. So witch hazel acidifying the vagina can actually make vaginal yeast infections worse. There is a caveat to that though. Most suspected yeast infections are not actually yeast infections. They are bacterial vaginosis, and witch hazel can effectively treat bacterial vaginosis."
The Cleveland Clinic Health Library confirms that most yeast infections aren't yeast infections, and my mind is blown. In fact, up to 75% of all vaginal infections have more to do with bacteria than yeast. So if you're dealing with uncomfortable symptoms, your best bet is to head to the doctor before trying to treat yourself.
Witch Hazel & Vaginal Dryness
Finally, Abdur-Rahman notes that witch hazel can in fact tighten your vagina. Unfortunately, the effect doesn't last, and witch hazel might also cause vaginal dryness. Dryness, in turn, may lead to itching and dyspareunia (i.e., vaginal pain during intercourse). Which, again, no one wants. "If women use witch hazel to promote vaginal tightening, they should also simultaneously use a vaginal lubricant to maintain proper moisture," suggests Abdur-Rahman.
So let's count the ways witch hazel can help your vagina: one, its astringent qualities can reduce pain and swelling postpartum. Two, witch hazel's acidic temperament can help restore the vaginal environment after you give birth. Three, it's useful for hemorrhoids, which are, of course, the bane of all existence. Four, it may help treat the bacterial vaginosis you thought was a yeast infection, and five, it can tighten your vagina. Just remember to use a lubricant.
Dr. Kate Klein, a licensed naturopathic doctor in Ajax, Ontario, Canada.
Dr. Jamil Abdur-Rahman, board-certified OB-GYN and one half of Twin Doctors TV.
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