A month (or so) ago, a reader friend wrote me on Instagram and asked, “Do you think one could add white willow bark to your charcoal clay mask to get an effective dose of salicylic acid?” The question intrigued me and sent my mind wandering in all sorts of do-it-yourself directions.
I replied, “I believe so. That’s a great idea. I’m not sure how much. I wonder if Mountain Rose Herbs might be a good source for information. Let me look at their website.”
That night, I searched online for more information.
The next morning, I called a local health food store in our area to inquire about the herb, “Do you sell white willow bark in the bulk herb/spice section?” The man on the phone knew exactly what I was talking about and responded, “Yes! We have a ton. Come on down.” I immediately drove to the store after dropping the kids off at school.
Since the white willow bark, sold in the store, was only in bark form (not the powder form my reader friend wanted to use in the mask), I had to figure out how to use it. I decided to try steeping the bark to make a tea (a practice I had read about the night before).
After steeping the bark, I thought about skincare applications for the final product.
Herbal teas make great facial toners (like this chamomile toner), so a willow bark toner was the first thing that came to mind. Just like with the chamomile toner, I combined basic toner ingredients in a bottle: apple cider vinegar, the tea, and a bit of essential oil and glycerin–to help disperse the essential oil in the water-based ingredients and hydrate the skin.
I really enjoyed the toner, so after finishing off my first bottle I decided to make another bottle, and then another. And now, here we are today…
White willow bark naturally contains salicin, which is an anti-inflammatory that’s present (sometimes in a synthetic form) in some acne products (salicylic acid). The herb is also highly regarded for its pain-relieving abilities. Ever wonder about the origins of aspirin? Hello, white willow bark! The use of white willow bark has been traced back as far as 5 B.C.
In order to truly understand why this reader friend’s question intrigued me so much, let me take a minute to share my skin story…
Shortly after my daughter, Londyn, was born, my skin decided to throw a major fit. I had dealt with the occasional breakout here and there over the years (from my period or new products), but never like this.
It’s taken me years of “getting to know my body” to understand that what was happening on my face was a reflection of what was happening inside my body.
After back-to-back babies, too many sleepless months/years, too much self-inflicted stress, and putting myself last (it’s what so many of us moms do when we have very young kiddos), my hormones needed help.
After a blood test with a naturopathic doctor revealed what I already knew about my hormone imbalance, I decided to finally start taking care of myself (beyond just eating good food).
It’s taken me years of learning to care for myself–sleeping, exercising, reducing stress, eating breakfast and other nourishing meals throughout the day, including good fat in my diet, juicing, taking a couple of healing herbs, and switching over to cleaner beauty products–to finally see a breakthrough with my skin. In fact, I’m incredibly happy with my skin these days. That’s something I didn’t think I’d ever say again.
I’m still working through the healing process of what acne (and imbalanced hormones) did to my skin, and so a natural herb like white willow bark intrigues me.
For me, a huge part of healing my acne has been balancing my hormones, but another important factor has been learning to naturally care for my skin using simple ingredients. It’s amazing what a bottle of apple cider vinegar, clay, honey, aloe, shea butter, herbs, nourishing oil, and switching over to cleaner makeup products has done to help heal my skin. I’m excited to now add white willow bark to this healing journey. Thank you, sweet reader friend, for asking about it.
White Willow and Apple Cider Acne Facial Toner
- 1 TB white willow bark (4g)*
- 1/3 cup hot water
- 1 tsp vegetable glycerin
- 4-6 drops geranium essential oil alternatives: lavender, jasmine, or tea tree
- 2 TB apple cider vinegar
- small bowl
- cotton pads
- Combine the hot water and white willow bark in a small bowl. Let the mixture rest for 30 minutes. (I've let my mixture rest overnight before, too.)
- Use a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth to strain the white willow bark from the infused tea.
- Add the glycerin and essential oil to a bottle with a lid (I use an amber glass bottle with a spray nozzle). Place the lid on the bottle and give it a good shake. Add the the apple cider vinegar and infused tea. Place the lid back on the bottle, and shake to combine the ingredients.
- After washing the face with a cleanser, apply a small amount of toner to a cotton pad/ball and wipe the face. I personally like to spray the toner on my face and let it rest before applying a moisturizer. Store the toner in a cool, dark place (like a medicine cabinet) in between uses. I use toner at night before bed, and simply wash my face with water in the morning (just a personal preference).
I was so happy to find this recipe!! I’ve moved away from a skincare routine that includes products with multiple unnecessary ingredients, so naturally I DIY most of it (except my goat milk soap, cannot do that on my own yet).
I made some alterations: for an 8 Oz bottle I used ~0.5 cup hot water with 5 g white willow bark (steeped for ~6 hours), 4 Tbsp each of ACV, and Thayer’s Rose Witch Hazel, ~10 drops tea tree oil. I didn’t use glycerin (did not have any on hand), and I just shake the bottle before I spray.
It feels *amazing* on my skin, and I see an immediate difference. I look younger and fresher now than I did ten years ago. What an excellent recipe!
Thats great, Rosemary! Thank you for sharing.
Can I substitute the glycerin for another oil such as almond or olive oil?
Just wondering if you were using willow bark powder how much you would use?
I would use half TB.
I have found willow back capsules at my local Whole Foods. Can I use that, and how much of the powder should I use?
I finally found white willow bark and have been using this toner for a week. I used witch hazel, instead of vinegar. I ABSOLUTELY LOVE this. So easy and much better than what I was buying at the store with similar ingredients. Thank you!
would this toner help eliminate large/clogged pores ?
Absolutely, ACV is excellent for unclogging pores.
Love this recipe! However, my skin is sensitive to apple cider vinegar – is there anything I can substitute for acne and acne scarring? Thanks!
Hey Su, You could try an alcohol-free witch hazel or even rose water.
Hello! I was wondering if I could substitute or eliminate the white willow bark for something else.
Hey Jet, You could make an apple cider toner: https://livesimply.me/2014/04/22/homemade-facial-astringent/
I was initially drawn to this post because of the White Willow Bark, but I am very interested in your use of vegetable glycerin with the essential oils to assist in the mixing of essential oils with the water. I have been making an astringent consisting of just witch hazel, distilled water, and tea tree oil. It has been working for me, but I can see small beading of the tea tree oil on top of the mixture. Would glycerin help with that, and if so, how much glycerin would you suggest adding? My astringent is a 1:1 ratio of distilled water and witch hazel (I’m currently doing about 25 mL of each). Thank you!
Hey Adele, It should help. I would add the same amount in this recipe for starters. It won’t hurt to increase the amount in the future, if you need more.
Hey, what’s a life span of this product?
Hey Mariusz, I’ve kept mine for about a month, using distilled water.
Great post, Kristen! I’ve recently switched to using natural shampoos and body wash and have noticed a big difference in my hair and skin. I’ve been evaluating a different skin care regimen so your post comes at just the right time! I look forward to trying this toner and some of the other natural products you mentioned in the email! Thanks!
After my last baby I have been dealing with terrible acne on my chin and it has now taken the form of cystic acne. I have used only homemade products and have been working with a doctor on herbs to balance my hormones. It has not gotten better, just out of curiosity what herbs are they using to help you (chaste tree, etc)?
Thank you, I look forward to reading your blog. I have learned so much.
I’m currently taking ashwagandha and then a supplement called Liver Detox Support from Perfect Supplements (milk thistle, turmeric, chlorella, and a few other things). I also add spirulina to my morning smoothie.
Ahhh Kristen what a great post! Thank you for everything!! ❤️
Thank you, Brandi :)!