Witch Hazel In Eye Drops

witch-hazel-in-eye-dropsHere is an interesting question from Claire

Hi Colin, I was looking at some eye drops today for tired eyes (optrex- I think it was the refreshing ones) and I noticed that witch hazel and alcohol were listed as ingredients, I though that both of those were astringent and I can’t see how they could make eyes feel better. Could you give me an idea why they might be there? Thanks! Claire

Two ingredients listed, but I think we are only talking about one raw material here. 

Witch hazel is extracted from the twigs and leaves of the witch hazel bush (Hamamelis virginiana – you will see this latin name on ingredient lists).  The extraction technique includes alcohol some of which carries over into the witch hazel and that is I imagine where the alcohol comes from.

Witch hazel is as you say an astringent.  But what do we mean by that?  It is one of those terms that often gets bandied about.  It is usually thought of as a sort of shrinking of the skin.  That is how it feels, but is it really what is going on?  I haven’t found an official definition.  But you don’t need a definition to know what something is.  I don’t suppose many of us could define and elephant, but we know what one is when we see one.

So remembering having had witch hazel applied to bruises when I was a kid, the astringent experience was intense pain, a feeling of tightening of the skin and then a numbing of the pain that kicked in a little later.  I don’t know exactly what was happening, but I imagine it is something to do with the skin being shut down.  Left to itself the skin has an adequate blood supply and networks of nerves.  Attacking it with something that does some limited local damage would have the effect of dulling the pain sensation.

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If I am right then you are definitely right.  It is not a good idea to have witch hazel in eye drops.  But I doubt that there is very much in the formulation.  I expect it is just a nominal amount to make it sound nice.  Most people don’t think these things through too logically.  Witch hazel is associated with healing, so in it goes.  Or that is my opinion anyway.  I did do one project on eye drops once, but I wouldn’t claim to be an expert.

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4 Responses to Witch Hazel In Eye Drops

  1. Witch hazel is a wonder ingredient – and one of the main ingredients in Clinique toner (which is a lot more expensive than just buying some drugstore witch hazel…) But I agree with the above: I’m not sure I would put it in my eyes!

  2. Kathy Devos says:

    Witch hazel has traditionally been used in eye ointments. It has a cooling effect and slight antiseptic properties. Just make sure the one u use is not meant for ur skin!!

  3. Richard says:

    Looking around the internet a bit I was actually surprised some people are concerned about using witch hazel in eye drops. Personally I tried the optrex one while on holidays in new zealand (and not having any options). I was in a small ski town in the south island that basically only had one drug store with one option for eye drops.. haha. Anyways I bought these drops and they are absolutely great. I had lasik done about 8 months ago and had some dry eye issues and these drops did absolute wonders for me. Now that I came back to the states I’m on a mad witch hunt (yes pun intended) looking for eye drops with witch hazel to no avail.

    It’s too bad since I can at least say from experience they are awesome. Wether or not it’s a good idea to put witch hazel in your eyes, long term, is another question, who knows.

  4. G Dev says:

    My mother has put cotton pads soaked in Dickinson’s witch hazel directly on her eyes since I can remember. She swears by it being the absolute only thing that stops itchy eyes from allergies. I was terrified to try it or even to watch her do it, but in my teens I finally did. As she warned, there was an initial burning but it is very quickly replaced with an absolute relief from itching! I’ve never had a single bad side affect of using witch hazel for anything actually.

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