The Ancient Remedy Willow Bark is a Skincare All-Star

Willow bark is utilized to treat lower back pain, osteoarthritis, headaches, bursitis and tendinitis, among other conditions.

[Image: Getty Images][Image: Getty Images]Willow bark is often called a “modern miracle” because the salicin it contains was used to develop acetylsalicylic acid, a key ingredient in aspirin. However, Sumerians talked about using willow bark for pain relief 4,000 years ago, and Chinese and Greek civilizations used it medicinally more than 2,000 years ago. It’s still utilized today to treat lower back pain, osteoarthritis, headaches, bursitis and tendinitis, among other conditions. There are about 400 species of willows in both shrub and tree varieties, and their naturally occurring flavonoids—antioxidant plant metabolites—power the pain relief they provide.

But spa pros are likely more familiar with willow bark’s skincare benefits, of which there are many. Indeed, willow bark extract boasts a potent combination of calming and cleansing properties that estheticians can use in a wide variety of treatments.

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Why it’s a skincare all star:

Willow bark has keratolytic properties, meaning it breaks down dead skin cells and gently exfoliates by dissolving pore-clogging impurities. Brian Goodwin, international trainer for Éminence, says the ingredient can also soothe and treat painful acne lesions. “The salicin in willow bark is a lipophilic beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that can penetrate skin oil and dissolve blackheads, control future oil production and inhibit bacteria,” he explains. “It has a beautiful pore minimizing effect as well.”

Delia McLinden, vice president of sales & business development at FarmHouse Fresh, points out that willow bark is a powerful astringent, anti-inflammatory and soothing ingredient, and is ideal for use on “troubled skin.”

Maryline Desjardins, senior director of marketing at Gene Juarez Salons & Spas, with 10 locations in Washington, adds that willow bark works on acneic complexions without pesky side eects like dryness or irritation. “It balances and improves texture, and purifies and detoxifies the skin,” she says. In addition, many products combine willow bark extract with an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) exfoliant—say, glycolic or lactic acid—to reveal the newer, younger-looking cells underneath thicker, more sun-damaged skin. That combination also stimulates collagen and elastin production to minimize fine lines and wrinkles.

In the treatment room:

Karen Terranova, general manager at New York City’s Great Jones Spa, often reaches for Jurlique’s Purity Specialist Treatment Mask, which contains willow bark extract, for clients with oily, acneic or combination skin in her customizable Signature Facial (60 min./$135) or Deep Cleansing Facial (60 min./$160, 90 min./$215). “It’s gentle enough to slough o dead cells and help prep congested skin prior to extractions,” she says. Sometimes she uses it under steam, sometimes as a finishing mask for a radiant glow. “Willow bark is a gentle alternative to some of the harsher exfoliants on the market,” she comments, “due to its wonderful anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties.”

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The Elements Spa & Salon at Crystal Springs Resort in Hamburg, New Jersey, incorporates the FarmHouse Fresh Sand Your Ground mask in its Detoxifying Desert Silk treatment (50 min./$125). “The dual scrub and mask means less time o the treatment table for showering,” says director of spas Jason Schar, adding that thanks to the medium-grain formulation and willow bark, the product is able to exfoliate without irritating sensitive skin. At The Woodhouse Day Spa Nolan Creek in Belton, Texas, owner Kayla Potts reports: “We love using the mask in treatments as the willow bark extract helps exfoliate while minimizing breakouts and pores. The guest’s skin looks smooth, radiant and refreshed.”

Estheticians at Gene Juarez employ Éminence’s Clear Skin Willow Bark Booster- Serum, alone or added to a mask or moisturizer, in the spa’s European Facial (30 min./ $65, 90 min./$170), as well as its GJ Signature Facial (60 min./$150, 90 min./$185) for clients with acne. It works wonders for breakouts and congestion regardless of skin type, Desjardins notes.

Willow Bark Products
  • dermalogica-oil-control
    Dermalogica Oil Control Lotion

Quick Facts!

    • A Weeping willows thrive in very wet soil, and are typically found near bodies of water.
    • A Some willow trees can grow as much as 10 feet in a year.
    • A Chewing white willow bark works more slowly than taking aspirin, but the resulting pain relief can last longer.
    • White willow bark is harvested in the early spring— when its color ranges from yellow to flaming red—for inclusion in herbal medicines.
    • Willow trees originated in China; today, the bark sold in the U.S. and Europe usually includes a mix of white, purple and crack willow extracts.
    • Ancient Chinese civilizations used willow shoots to treat rheumatic fever, colds, hemorrhages and goiter.

–by Russell A. Jackson

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