By Kaleigh Fasanella, she/her
While salicylic acid is a highly effective skincare ingredient that chemists will undoubtedly always use in formulating skincare products, there are also some amazing alternatives to the time-tested beta-hydroxy acid (BHA). Salicin, for instance, is a natural form of salicylic acid that offers similar benefits for congested pores and acne, but with stronger anti-inflammatory properties.
“Salicin is the active ingredient in red willow bark that makes it useful in treating oily and acne-prone skin,” says Dee Leung, Youth To The People’s Regional Sales + Education Executive. “Even though its name sounds similar to salicylic acid, it is structurally different and has different effects on the skin for acne. Salicin is an anti-inflammatory combination of bioactives from fermented red willow and lactic acid, making it useful in calming angry pimples. Salicylic acid, on the other hand, removes excess oil and dead cells to dry out the pimple and keep the pores clear.”
Like salicylic acid, salicin also aids in sloughing away excess dead skin cells which can lead to brighter and smoother skin.
“Salicin provides gentle yet effective exfoliation, dissolving pore-clogging impurities,” says Leung. “It helps to refine pores, firm the skin, and soothe irritation.” Speaking of which: though it does have similar exfoliating properties to that of SA, it’s known to be gentler and non-irritating, making it ideal for all skin types—even ultra-sensitive.
Now, what’s the difference between salicin and red willow bark? Well, as Joshua Zeichner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City explains, “Salicin is made from red willow bark and therefore has the same beneficial properties. Both can be used as alternatives to salicylic acid since they both help to reduce inflammation and balance oil production without irritation.”
Salicin is actually present in the sap of the willow bark tree and is known to have pain-relieving qualities comparable to aspirin. In addition, red willow bark features other properties that make it suitable for skincare.
“Willow bark is rich in polyphenols, tannins, and flavonoids,” says Leung. “Polyphenols provide anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that soothe skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea, and psoriasis; tannins help to tighten pores, resulting in a minimized appearance; and flavonoids fight off free radical damage, a contributor to premature aging.”
While willow bark and salicin both offer a wide range of skincare benefits, Leung says that “acne-prone skin has the most to gain from this ingredient.” Knowing this, YTTP added the red willow bark derivative to the brand-new Superclay Clay Purify + Clear Power Mask, which works to reduce excess oil, clear congested pores, and soothe breakouts, all the while improving skin tone and preventing future blemishes from sprouting up, too.
On top of several types of clay, it contains red willow bark extract—aka salicin—as well as texture-smoothing niacinamide, probiotic-rich kombucha, and calming agents like allantoin, aloe vera, and safflower oil. As if that wasn’t enough, it’s also made with wheatgrass, which is packed with essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C, and E.
Written by Kaleigh Fasanella for Youth To The People