Witch Hazel In Eye Drops

witch hazel - not that kind of witch
Er, not that kind of witch

Here is an interesting question from Claire

Hi Colin, I was looking at some eye drops today fortired 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 on the list 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, and most of us have a sort of intuitive feel about what the word astringent means.

witch-hazel-in-eye-dropsSo 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 pain receptors in the skin being shut down, probably as a result of being stimulated by something in the witch hazel.   Once they have been triggered they will be depleted for a period and so you won’t feel so much pain and irritation.  This might well also have the effect of provoking an inflammatory reaction.

If I am right then I would have to agree with Claire.  It is not in principle a good idea to have witch hazel in eye drops.  But I doubt that there is very much in the formulation. I can’t see it being enough to provoke much or indeed any reaction. I expect it is just a nominal amount to make it sound nice.  Most people don’t think these things through too logically so the marketing team might well have just wanted to include an ingredient to help them to make a story.  Witch hazel is associated with healing – so in it goes!  Or that is my opinion anyway.  Optrex will have made sure that the product was safe enough to use before they released it.


10 thoughts on “Witch Hazel In Eye Drops”

  1. Rachel Taylor

    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!

    1. Optrex eye drops are only witch hazel, but it is 13%……so diluted with distilled water down to 13%. I do a lot of knitting and out drops in once a day and it has helped my eyes greatly from getting so sore and tired.

  2. 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. 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. 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.

    1. It’s because it’s diluted with distilled water down to 13%. I use it every morning as I knit a lot and it is great,stops my eyes being so tired. Optrex drops.

  5. I have had a couple of indirect comments from people saying that they have put witch hazel in their eyes and found it beneficial apart from the ones above. If it is listed in a formulated product I repeat, just because it is on the label doesn’t necessarily mean there is a significant amount of it. I would not put the neat stuff in my own eyes and I don’t advise anyone else doing so. I have never had any direct experience of the process as a witness, so my caution is not based on any evidence. We are all different, so it might well be good for some and harmful for others. If you don’t mind taking that risk, well they are your eyes.

    1. Do not put straight witch hazel in eyes. The Optrex drops are diluted to 13%. It is fantastic used as drops, helps my eyes so much….I knit a lot so a lot of concentrating.

  6. Community Pharmacist

    An astringent is a superficial tissue constrictor. Witch Hazel contains a lot of tannins, which have a vasoconstrictor effect.
    Some Optrext eye drops contain as much as 13% of witch hazel extract. It is not a nominal or ‘claim’ ingredient. Over the years they’ve had so many versions it’s difficult to track the concentrations but I’m familiar with the 5-13% range.

    The constrictor effect mildly reduces the so called red eyes (irritation and vasodilation in the eye).

    Another place where Witch hazel plays it’s part are post-shave products for the same reason as in the eye drops as you can easily imagine.

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