Like its shrub-derived cousin witch hazel, willow bark is one of those natural beauty ingredients that has a whiff of 'old school' about it, synonymous with apothecary-style staples such as tea tree oil spot wands.
But what makes the time-honoured beauty staple, willow bark, so good for our complexions? Rich in salicylic acid – a beta hydroxyl acid that exfoliates the skin – willow bark is a soothing anti-inflammatory and astringent. Centuries ago, it was used to alleviate headaches or as a topical antiseptic for wounds. As an exfoliant, it is gentle yet powerful, sloughing dead skin cells to reveal a brighter, rejuvenated complexion.
Willow bark’s deep-cleansing properties and ability to stimulate new cell formulation make it a central ingredient in many acne treatments, but it’s a hero component of many everyday skincare saviours too. Read on for Living It’s pick of the best willow bark-based beauty buys.
Skyn Iceland Glacial Face Wash, £25
This foaming cleanser from vegan, cruelty-free skincare brand Skyn Iceland, is as refreshing as it sounds, combining the purest Icelandic glacial waters with powerful botanicals to purify and restore the skin’s balance, without stripping it of its natural healthy oils. Lather a coin-sized amount over the skin with water – expect a subtle cooling sensation – before rinsing and applying moisturiser.
Ren Ready Steady Glow Toner , £25
Specialists in natural plant and mineral-derived beauty REN target dry and rough skin with this gentle daily-use toner. The willow bark and lactic acid formula is a true multitasker – exfoliating, reducing pore size and smoothing the appearance of fine lines to brighten and tone. Plus, it’s vegan friendly. Apply to the complexion using outward circular motions using ImseVimse’s reusable cleansing pads (£9.95).
Green People Day Solution Moisturiser, £19.50
Ultra-light and fast-absorbing, with anti-blemish properties, this day cream by Green People is crammed with organic prebiotics to help restore the skin’s natural balance. Willow bark sooths redness and irritation, while pineapple extract unclogs pores to smooth and purify. Totally free of harsh forming agents and irritating emulsifiers, this formula is a winner for sensitive skin types prone to eczema and psoriasis, and thanks to rose geranium, it smells divine too.
Tata Harper Resurfacing Mask, £54
This bestselling Ecocert Greenlife-certified mask by 100% natural beauty pioneers Tata Harper contains white willow bark and pomegranate enzymes to brighten and refine the complexion, banishing dead skin cells. Slather the peach-hued jelly all over your face, neck and chest before rinsing with warm water. For a truly spa-fresh glow, try using the mask every day for 2-3 days, then reducing application to 1-2 times a week for a restorative boost.
Peach and Willow Bark Deep Pore Scrub, £9.95
Willow bark, finely ground peach stone, ginger and revitalising sea algae form the basis of this hero scrub by earth-friendly beauty giant Burt’s Bees. Apply a small amount after cleansing using one of The Future Kept’s Bamboo Face Cloths (£10) – and let the tiny peach stone granules work their magic, removing excess oil and dirt gently and effectively. Skin feels nourished, softened and squeaky clean. Follow with moisturiser.
Andalou Willow Bark Pure Pore Serum, £6.99
Founders of Andalou Naturals Stacey Kelly Egide and Mark Egide have worked in organic and cruelty-free beauty for 30 years. The fruit stem cell and willow bark formula of certified organic Pure Pore Serum is suitable for oily and overactive skin types, with added aloe vera to calm, quench and restore. Gentle enough to be used morning and evening after cleansing – apply a few drops to the face, neck and cheeks before moisturising.
Words: Mary-Jane Wiltsher