Salicylic Acid vs Willow Bark Extract: The True Acne Fighter

Is willow bark an effective natural alternative to salicylic acid? In many natural skincare brands, it is marketed as a natural source of the BHA salicylic acid, but is it as effective at treating acne? Here is the science to explain the answer.

Salicylic acid can be found in topical acne treatments and if you suffer from acne or blackheads you know this ingredient well. It is extremely effective at penetrating into pores and breaking down the protein that holds skin cells together (which gives it its pore exfoliation properties). See the full list of salicylic acids properties at the end of the article.


Although salicylic acid can be obtained from plants, it has mainly been produced by chemical synthesis for more than 150 years. This synthetic process is both simple and cost-effective helping to meet the demand for salicylic acid and its derivative Aspirin. The drawbacks are that at this point it is not a natural or naturally derived ingredient and it requires buffering (which means chemical agents used to stabilize the acidity pH).


Willow bark often turns up as a natural alternative to salicylic acid, because it contains salicin. When orally ingested, salicin is converted into salicylic acid by specialized enzymes in our digestive system. Here is where its effectiveness as an acne treatment fades.

The salicins in willow bark cannot be converted to salicylic acid on the skin, because the skin lacks the enzymes needed to do so. Therefore, willow bark extract does not have the same acne-busting, pore-exfoliating powers salicylic acid does. At best, the salicins in willow bark reduce inflammation and its associated redness and possibly have an antimicrobial effect.


That is why we use naturally derived salicylic acid in our natural acne treatment products. We isolate our salicylic acid using a simple hydrolysis method that requires no buffering (meaning no added chemicals). This allows us to remain committed to our natural skincare promise while still providing products that are truly effective.


Here is a list of the important and clinically proven benefits of salicylic acid for skin:

  • Keratolytic – skin exfoliating effect
  • Facilitates skin penetration of other active ingredients
  • Acidulant – helps to maintain the skin’s important acidic pH of 5.5
  • Anti-fungal
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Analgetic – calms the sense of pain
  • Anti-pruritic – calms itching
  • Anti-aging – increases collagen production


Well-meaning “green beauty” brands use willow bark extract as a natural replacement for salicylic acid, but the science shows that that is just not possible. Salicylic acid is a clinically proven, extremely important skin-clearing ingredient. Look for naturally-derived sources of salicylic acid for natural and organic skincare products that are still effective!


Find naturally derived salicylic acid in our Clear | Facial Cleanser for Acne Treatment, Clarify | Daily Moisturizer for Acne-Prone Skin, Reveal | Clay Facial Mask for Acne Treatment, and Anti-Blemish | Cystic Acne & Pimple Spot Treatment.

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