var disqus_url = '';

Herbal Acne Regimes with White Willow Bark


by Jeanette Jacknin

White willow bark, or Salix alba, has been used for centuries as an anti-inflammatory agent, recently becoming the mainstay of many herbal acne regimens, replacing synthetically manufactured salicylic acid. The White Willow tree, as its name implies, is a member of the willow family. It is native to central and southern Europe, and western and central Asia. It is a large deciduous tree that can grow to heights of up to 75 feet. This tree has long branches that drape toward the ground and the leaves are long, thin and narrow with silky white hairs on the underside of the leaves, which give rise to its name.1

This brown bark is the original Aspirin; it has the same indications as its synthetic counterpart. However, white willow is milder on the stomach lining than Aspirin and has a reduced anticoagulant action. Just like salicylic acid, it is a first line topical treatment for acne.2 White willow bark extract is a natural product that provides anti-acne properties, sebum control and can be used as an exfoliant. It is most often used in exfoliating creams and oil-control lotions.3 Also known as 2-hydroxybenzoic acid, one of several beta hydroxy acids, salicylic acid is the key additive in many skincare products for the treatment of acne, psoriasis, calluses, corns, keratosis pilaris and warts. It treats acne by causing skin cells to slough off more readily, preventing pores from clogging up,4 and preventing the formation of blackheads, whiteheads, spots and pimples. It is also a natural antiseptic and antifungal agent.5 This effect on skin cells also makes salicylic acid an active ingredient in several shampoos meant to treat dandruff.6          

White willow bark has been used as a medicine for centuries. As far back as 500 B.C., it was used to treat pain and fever in China. The ancient Egyptians used the herb to treat inflammation, and this remedy is also mentioned in texts from ancient Assyria. The Greek physician Hippocrates wrote in the 5th century B.C. about a bitter powder extracted from willow bark that could ease aches and pains, and reduce fevers. American Indians used it for headaches, fever, sore muscles, rheumatism and chills. The Reverend Edward Stone in Oxfordshire England, noted in 1763 the bark of the willow was effective in reducing fever.

The active extract of the bark, called salicin, was isolated to its crystalline form in 1828 by Henri Leroux, a French pharmacist; and Raffaele Piria, an Italian chemist. They then succeeded in separating out the acid in its pure state. Salicin, like Aspirin, is a chemical derivative of salicylic acid. It began to be used to treat pain and fever, and was found to be useful for burning off warts.8 Because extracting salicin from the herb was thought to be too expensive and time-consuming, the German company Bayer developed a synthetic salicylic acid in 1852. Later salicylic acid was modified to acetylsalicylic acid, or Aspirin.

The active compounds in white willow, called salicylate glycosides, work as an effective anti-inflammatory by interfering with pain transmission in the nervous system and by treating the cause of inflammation. Today, white willow bark is used as an astringent for acne, an anti-inflammatory, fever reducer and analgesic. Herbal treatment of rheumatoid and osteoarthritis (OA), arthritis, lower back pain, migraine, headache, fibromyalgia and Crohn’s disease is common with white willow bark.

Because white willow bark extract is an acid, it may irritate when applied topically. Start with small amounts. A slight tingling or burning feeling upon application is common; this should go away after a few minutes. If not, wash it off and use a smaller percentage or amount. Use of straight salicylic solution may cause hyperpigmentation on unpretreated skin for those with darker skin types (Fitzpatrick phototypes IV, V, VI). Always use a broad spectrum sunblock with this topical therapy.11

 White willow bark in skin care products helps stimulate the skin cell growth and has excellent astringent properties. Many topical products already contain white willow bark and more new natural acne regimens can find white willow bark a very effective ingredient as well.

Jeanette Jacknin, M.D., ( and is a board-certified dermatologist. She is a well-respected physician, entrepreneur and author with a passion for nutricosmeceuticals and holistic dermatology. Dr. Jacknin’s is the author of, “Smart Medicine for Your Skin”, published by Penguin Putnam. She is available for consultation. Contact her at [email protected].

For a list of references, e-mail [email protected]


/**/ var loc = window.location.pathname;var nt=String(Math.random()).substr(2,10);document.write ('');
//window.disqus_no_style = true; (function() { var SHORTNAME = 'insidecosmeceuticals'; // Your website's shortname on Disqus var dsq = document.createElement('gascript'); dsq.type = 'text/javagascript'; dsq.async = true; dsq.src = '' + SHORTNAME + '/embed.js'; (document.getElementsByTagName('head')[0] || document.getElementsByTagName('body')[0]).appendChild(dsq); })();
//= 0) { query += 'url' + i + '=' + encodeURIComponent(links[i].href) + '&'; } } document.write(''); })(); //]]> /* var pageTracker = _gat._getTracker("UA-624328-41"); pageTracker._setDomainName("auto"); pageTracker._trackPageview(); /*]]>*/