This Witch Hexes Itching!

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"One of my favorite skin remedies is witch hazel. It's great against the irritation of hives."

Arnold Lang, Scranton, PA

Hives--those small red bumps that itch like mad--have countless causes. Foods, medicines, or plants can trigger them.

When you're exposed to a trigger, certain immune cells course through your blood vessels, releasing an inflammatory substance called histamine. Histamine makes blood vessels leak, forming the red, itchy bumps that you see and feel as hives.

As an astringent, witch hazel helps reduce these bumps, says Amy Newburger, MD, an associate in clinical dermatology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City. "Witch hazel also soothes the itch immediately by acting as a counterirritant; it's cooling and causes a slight tingling of the skin." You can find witch hazel in any pharmacy; you probably already have some in a bathroom medicine cabinet.

Dr. Newburger suggests applying witch hazel with a cotton ball as needed to relieve hives (but no more than five times a day). Do not apply anywhere near your eyes.

WHEN TO SEE THE DOCTOR
Hives are usually a temporary annoyance, lasting less than 24 hours. If they last longer or recur often, see your doctor. Go to the emergency room immediately if hives appear around your eyes or on your mouth, or if you're having difficulty breathing.

QUICK TIP: Use witch hazel for mosquito bites too. Chill it in the refrigerator for extra itch relief.

PHOTO (COLOR): This takes the itch out.

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By Laura Goldstein

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