There’s no question that nature’s active ingredients can offer quite a lot for skin, be it squalane or glacial clay. And willow bark is no exception among them. Commonly referred to as “nature’s aspirin,” black willow bark extract is one of the best-known plant sources of salicylic acid. And, as may be expected with that family connection, black willow bark can be a powerful ingredient in treating breakouts and fine lines and wrinkles alike. Found in products like Clear Toner, Clear Cleanser, and Clear Serum, it’s no wonder why black willow bark is one of our favorite ingredients to formulate with for blemish-prone skin.
What Is Black Willow Bark?
Black willow bark comes from, not surprisingly, the willow tree, which is native to eastern North America. “Willow bark contains the active ingredient salicin, which is a similar active to salicylic acid,” says Mona Gohara, MD, a dermatologist in New Haven, CT. “It is not salicylic acid but a relative of it.” When ingested, the salicin is converted into salicylic acid via the digestive process — which, incidentally, is the primary ingredient in aspirin. For that reason, practitioners of native and folk medicine have long sought it out to treat pain and inflammation.
How Black Willow Bark Benefits Skin
It Clears Pores
While the salicin present in black willow bark is not the same molecule as salicylic acid, they do share common properties. Both can exfoliate dead, dry skin cells from the surface layer of skin; ridding skin of that build-up — which could potentially clog pores, leading to blackheads and breakouts — therefore keeps skin clear.
That gives it unique status among formulas that promise to address pores. “Most products blur or mattify and are not true pore-shrinkers,” Dr. Gohara says. “Willow bark can do that.” Few things are better for blackhead removal (though it may come with requisite, though temporary, skin purging).
It Addresses Acne
In addition to decongesting skin, “salicin and salicylic acid have similar anti-inflammatory activity and may be used for conditions such as acne, but salicin is a gentler version.” says Dr. Gohara. “Gentler” is the operative word here, as that’s what makes black willow bark such an appealing alternative to synthetic forms of salicylic acid.
“People may need gentler versions of salicylic acid because it can be irritating,” says Dr. Gohara. Even in a low concentrations, salicylic acid can be accompanied by redness, dryness, and flaking. In fact, evidence shows that conventional acne treatments like salicylic acid may actually make breakouts worse, not better.
It Minimizes Lines and Wrinkles
Last but certainly not least, black willow bark can simultaneously address signs of aging. A study in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology found that regular topical use of salicin led to improvements across a number of measures, including wrinkles, pore size, skin texture, and radiance. That’s especially compelling with adult acne on the rise — which necessitates ingredients that can address aging and acne in equal measure.
While it sounds too good to be true — there should be some drawback, right? — that’s just not the case with black willow bark. If you’ve been searching for clear, radiant skin, it’s a good place to start.