skin Skincare

Willow Bark: The Natural Solution to Clear Skin

Acne is a common problem, but most acne medications are full of chemicals and have side effects. Willow bark is a more natural solution to clear skin. In this blog, I'm going to talk about the different ways that you can use willow bark to clear your skin naturally.
  • The polyphenols present in the willow bark can fight any free radicals on the surface of the skin keeping the skin DNA intact.
  • Salicin, one of the primary ingredients of this extract, is known for its anti-inflammatory property. 

19 Mar 2022

5 min read

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Introduction

Willow Bark, commonly known as nature's aspirin, is a potent natural extract used in premium skincare products. When combined with an AHA exfoliant like glycolic acid or lactic acid, it lends a youthful glow to the skin by stimulating collagen production and boosting cell generation. 

History of the Ingredient

Willow Bark Extracts have been used in folk and traditional medicine for various purposes including skincare and pain relief. The first-ever records of this natural ingredient used for medicinal purposes are over 4000 years old. The ancient Sumerians were among the first to discover the potent benefits of these extracts. Even the Greeks and the Chinese have written about Willow Bark Extracts' uses, about 2000 years ago. It is said that willow bark is one of the most well-researched natural medicinal ingredients known to man.

 

In modern medicine, the benefits of willow bark extracts came to the forefront around the mid 18th century. One of the first-ever clinical studies conducted on this natural ingredient can be traced back to this period in London. 

Properties of Willow Bark

Willow Bark extract is rich in ingredients that have profound benefits on the skin. It includes tannins, salicin, polyphenols, flavonoids and other minerals and vitamins. These ingredients are responsible for the various properties of willow bark that have made it popular in skincare products: 

  • Antioxidant: The polyphenols present in the willow bark can fight any free radicals on the surface of the skin. Thereby, the DNA of the skin remains protected from any damage. 
  • Anti-inflammatory: Salicin, one of the primary ingredients of this extract, is known for its anti-inflammatory property. This is because it is processed in the body to produce salicylic acid, which fights inflammation and reduces pain as well. 
  • Analgesic: The pain relief benefits of salicin are the primary reason for applying this natural extract in various traditional medicines and remedies. 
  • Antibacterial: When it comes to acne, willow bark is one of the best ingredients because it fights bacteria and prevents skin from becoming too oily. 
  • Skin barrier regulator: The flavonoids in willow bark extracts prevent any environmental damage by regulating the skin's barrier function. 

Willow bark extracts used in skincare are usually derived from various willow trees called the white willow tree or salix alba. This perennial species of the willow tree is rich in salicin, a precursor to salicylic acid, a common ingredient in many pain killers, including aspirin. The aqueous extract used in skincare products is extracted from the white willow tree's inner bark soon after the harvesting season. In skincare products, extracts of black willow and crack willow may also be used. However, white willow is the richest source of salicin. 

Different Types of This Ingredient

There are over 400 varieties of Willow Bark trees. Three of these varieties are commonly used in traditional and modern remedies for skincare:

  • Black Willow Tree Extract
  •  White Willow Tree Extract
  • Crack Willow Tree Extract 

For commercial purposes, various preparations are used based on their specifications about using dried or fresh material. This includes:

  •  Infusion: Dried or fresh fragments of willow bark are infused in water.
  •  Decoction: Dried or fresh fragments of willow bark are simmered in water.
  • Liquid extract: Powdered bark is extracted in a 25% ethanol solution. 

Differences Between Different Types of These Ingredients

Usually, white willow bark and black willow bark are used interchangeably in most skincare products. Crack willow is less frequently used as it is much smaller in size, making it harder to obtain the bark extracts in comparison to white and black willow trees. The original distribution of these trees is also lower, making it less accessible for commercial use. Additionally, crack willow trees are susceptible to damage caused by harsh weather conditions.

Here is a detailed comparison of these three varieties of Willow Bark extracts:

White Willow Tree

  • Scientific name: Salix alba
  • Description - This is a slender and tall tree that can grow up to 30m in length. The bark of this willow tree is greyish brown, with visible fissures. In the first year, these trees' saplings develop silky, hair-like branches that eventually become olive or brown that ascend sharply to form "turrets".
  • Salicin content (after hydrolysis): 0.5% - 1%

Black Willow Tree

  • Scientific Name: Salix nigra
  • Description: The black willow tree is a taller variety of willow trees, often growing up to 30m in length. The bark has a blackish or dark-brownish appearance, giving this species its name. The shoots of the tree are very slender and may vary in colours. They are usually green, brown, purplish or yellow in colour.
  • Salicin content (After hydrolysis): 0.5%- 1%

Crack Willow Tree

  • Scientific name: Salix fragilis
  • Description:  This is a medium-sized deciduous tree which is shrubby in appearance. The tree is multi-trunked and has a leaning crown. The bark of crack willow tree is grey-brown in colour, with coarse fissures on its surface. They have bright green flowers that appear as fine hair-like growths initially but are shed off in the second year.
  • Salicin content (After hydrolysis): 1% - 2%

The preparation of the extracts derived from the trees mentioned above also varies in their properties as follows:

  •  Infusion: An infusion is usually prepared when the focus is on the vitamins and nutrients. Infusions are lower in their mineral content but provide the primary benefits of willow bark, including antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Decoction: Decoctions help extract a higher content of the mineral composition. When it comes to barks, decoctions are the easier option to derive the necessary extracts from.
  •  Liquid extract: Most commercial products use liquid extract because of its rich composition of vital nutrients, minerals, and vitamins. However, the chances of contamination due to leaves, twigs and the outer bark are higher in liquid extracts because a powdered form of the bark is used. 

Benefits of Willow Bark - What Concerns Does it Solve

Willow Bark is used for cosmetic purposes because of the following benefits: 

Exfoliates the skin to make it more radiant 

  • Reduces excess acne and oiliness 
  • Smoothes wrinkles and reduces skin ageing 
  • Refines and reduces the size of pores on the surface of the skin 
  • Protects skin from UV damage 
  • Keeps the skin hydrated 
  • Alleviates severe skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis and rosacea

How Willow Bark Functions For Each Skincare Benefit

The active plant compounds in Willow Bark serve various functions that provide the benefits mentioned above: 

  • Exfoliates the skin to make it more radiant: Salicin which is the primary component of Willow Bark is one of the best known natural exfoliants. Most skin care products make use of salicylic acid, which is a derivative or metabolised salicin. This component removes dead skin cells and removes any debris from the skin's pores to give it a clear and radiant complexion. 
  • Reduces excess acne and oiliness: Willow Bark is rich in tannins that are responsible for regulating the oil production in the skin. Therefore, products containing willow bark are highly recommended for individuals who suffer from excessive oiliness of the skin. Polyphenols, flavonoids and salicin in willow bark extracts are antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, reducing severe acne-related issues. 
  • Smoothens wrinkles and reduces skin ageing: The tannins in willow bark extracts are potent astringents. This means that they constrict or shrink the tissue in the skin. As a result, pores are tightened, making them smaller in size and less visible. The skin also gets a youthful and firm look. Additionally, the flavonoids have high antioxidant properties which help reduce any damage caused by free radicals, reducing fine lines and wrinkles with frequent use. 
  • Refines and reduces the pore size: As mentioned above, the pores are tightened by tannins in willow bark extracts. Thus, willow bark is commonly used as an ingredient in toners and other types of skincare products directed towards pore reduction. 
  • Protects skin from UV damage: Polyphenols and flavonoids are potent constituents that keep the skin protected from any photo-damage caused by extended sun exposure. Flavonoids keep the skin barrier protected from harmful UV exposure, reducing damage at the DNA level. 
  • Keeps the skin hydrated: To keep skin supple and soft, the polyphenols in willow bark retain moisture for an extended time. Additionally, it prevents the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles as the skin remains free from dryness. 
  • Alleviates severe skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis and rosacea: Willow bark is known for three primary qualities. It is an analgesic, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory ingredient that makes it highly beneficial to provide quick relief from severe skin conditions like psoriasis, rosacea and eczema. 

What Skin Type is Willow Bark Extract Used for and Why?

Willow Bark extracts have several benefits for all skin types. Because it is a gentle and natural exfoliant with soothing analgesic and hydrating properties, it can also be used on sensitive skin. However, willow bark extracts are mostly recommended for oily skin for the following reasons:

  • Tannins in willow bark reduce the production of oil in the skin.
  • Salicylic acid helps exfoliate any oil deposits or dirt from the pore gently, without causing any irritation.
  • The antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of willow bark help control common oily skin issues like acne and pimples.
  • Since it is antibacterial, it can alleviate any existing pimples and make the skin look even and clear. 

 

What time of the day should this be used? 

Willow bark extracts can be used as part of the daytime and nighttime skin routine. Using it as part of the daytime skincare routine helps remove any dead skin cells to leave one feeling fresh and rejuvenated. As a nighttime product, it can remove makeup, dirt or any other deposits in the skin pores effectively, leaving the skin cleansed and free from toxins. 

 

What quantity is suitable to use to show results?

Apply 3-4 drops of willow bark extract and massage it onto the face regularly for visible results.

 

Duration of usage for results

Studies show that applying willow bark extract twice each day significantly affects pore size, skin texture and radiance within one week. To improve skin tightness and reduce wrinkles visibly, it is recommended to use the product regularly for 12 weeks. 

 

What skin types are this ingredient not suitable for and why? 

For the most part, willow bark extract does not have any adverse effects on any skin type. However, some individuals experience salicylate sensitivity which triggers allergic reactions when one comes in contact with salicylic acid, salicylate, or similar compound like salicin, which is found in willow bark extract. They should avoid using products containing this ingredient. 

 

Using willow bark extract products with humectants like hyaluronic acid is important for those with chronic skin dryness. Salicin may alleviate skin dryness in some individuals. 

Combinations and Conflicts

What other Ingredients can White Willow Extract Be Used With?

White willow extracts are most commonly used with AHAs like lactic acid or glycolic acid, which are also powerful exfoliants. This is highly beneficial for individuals with extremely oily skin and recurring acne. There are other ingredients that willow bark is used with. Choose the combinations based on the skin type for best results: 

  • Willow bark and other anti-inflammatories: For acne-prone skin, the anti-inflammatory properties of willow bark are enhanced with ingredients like allantoin and witch hazel. This soothes the acne and reduces redness and pain. 
  • Willow bark and antibacterials: This combination is also used for acne-prone skin. Natural antibacterial agents like tea tree oil, when combined with willow bark reduce infections on the skin's surface. 
  • Willow bark with other skin soothers: Glycerin, aloe vera, calendula extract and other similar soothing ingredients are ideal with willow bark when used for sensitive skin. When combined with the cooling effects of these ingredients, the anti-inflammatory property of willow bark prevents skin irritation, which is quite common with sensitive skin. 
  • Willow bark and kaolin clay: Kaolin clay is a well known mattifying agent. For oily skin, the combination of exfoliation provided by willow bark and kaolin clay's mattifying effect helps reduce oiliness, clogging of pores and acne. 
  • Willow bark with hyaluronic acid and glycerin: For dry skin, willow bark extract alone may aggravate the condition. Salicylic acid in willow bark can cause skin dryness. Therefore, it is best to choose a product with skin-hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid and glycerin. This combination also makes the skin look supple and youthful. 

What ingredients should not be used in combinations/succession with Willow Bark Extract

Willow bark usually has conflicting reactions with the following combinations that must be avoided:

  • Willow bark extract and retinol: Retinol is one of the most popular anti-ageing ingredients. For mature skin prone to acne, retinol may be advised to control fine lines and wrinkles. Willow bark, which is rich in salicin, may be used to fight acne. However, both the ingredients cause skin dryness. When used together, overdrying occurs. To combat this, the skin amps up the production of oil, which leads to a vicious cycle of acne and dry skin. It is best to use a product with retinol in the night and one with salicin in the morning. 
  • Willow bark extract and Vitamin C: Salicin in willow bark extract is metabolised to form salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid. When combined with vitamin C, it becomes unstable as they are both acidic in nature. The result is that the skin's pH balance becomes destabilised, and the ingredients become entirely useless in improving skin-related issues. 
  • Willow bark extract and niacinamide: Niacinamide, a type of vitamin B has a higher pH. When combined with willow bark extract, the acid component of these extracts also increases. As a result, the magic component, salicylic acid, is rendered ineffective and is not absorbed by the skin. Additionally, this combination may lead to skin flushing and redness. 

Conclusion

Willow Bark Extract is a gentle ingredient, overall. Its useful exfoliant properties and beneficial compounds are used in a range of skincare products, including spot treatments, serums, face masks, moisturizers, and toners. 

 

Ensure that you choose the right product and combinations based on your skin type and allergies if any. 

- 6 Sources

Biocule has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ptr.5377


https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0926669020305744


https://academicjournals.org/journal/AJPP/article-full-text-pdf/2A33E6136231


https://dl.uswr.ac.ir/bitstream/Hannan/90076/1/2019%20PlantaMedica%20Volume%2085%20Issue%207%20May%20%288%29.pdf


https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/481690


https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0891584912018473


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