Is there a place for witch hazel at the barn?
Perhaps! It’s great for a lot of things, and not so great for others. Many of us have some at the house and the barn for lots of different uses. A little bit of research turned up a few interesting things about witch hazel, which made me think about when NOT to use it.
Witch hazel is an astringent. This means that it’s job is to dry and tighten/constrict. Derived from the bark and leaves of the Hamamelis shrub, modern witch hazel compounds that you can find at the store are 86% witch hazel and 14% alcohol. It’s great for drying up oily skin. It’s also great at causing irritations due to the drying effects.
Witch hazel also has teenie tiny amounts of safrole, a known carcinogen. It’s present in such a small amount it poses no real danger. Generally speaking, you should not be using witch hazel internally at all. There are warnings on the label about not ingesting witch hazel.
When it comes to using witch hazel on your horse, there are lots of suggested uses out there, some of which are fine, other you need to avoid like the plague, and some require some experimenting.
- DO use witch hazel as a liniment if you like. It can be used to soothe sore muscles and also as a brace under leg wraps for the horse that may stock up.
- DO try it as an itch reliever for bug bites, on you and your horse. However, there’s no scientific evidence that this is a long term relief. Witch hazel, like alcohol, cools as it evaporates so there’s a bit of relief there. Long term itch relief can be found from your Veterinarian in the form of topical hydrocortisone creams and/or internal meds.
- DO try witch hazel as a stain remover. Full disclosure - I’ve never tried this, but a few folks on the internet say that it works. BUT - because it’s a drying agent, it’s going to remove your horse’s natural stain repelling oils, creating dry skin and possibly irritated skin. Seems counterintuitive when there are loads of other ways to remove stains without drying. Experiment here, for sure.
- DO USE witch hazel to treat bruises. Again, not a lot of science to support this, but for some people it seems to help.
- DO NOT use witch hazel internally.
- DO NOT use witch hazel to treat wounds. Like alcohol and hydrogen peroxide, these compounds can make wounds worse. There are much better and safer alternatives, like chlorhexiderm and betadine. More on those solutions here.
Do you use witch hazel at the barn?