While botanicals have been used in cosmetics for thousands of years (the ancient Egyptians favoured frankincense and almond oil to combat wrinkles), we mostly think of herbs, flowers, fruits, leaves or seeds as the beauty-enhancing components in our lotions and potions.
But there’s a special ingredient boosting the powers of quality skincare products these days, and that’s tree bark extract. Tree barks contain powerful antioxidants, many of which can promote the health of our skin.
Cosmetic scientist Dr Barbara Olioso, managing director of The Green Chemist Consultancy and a Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry, says: ‘Like our skin, tree bark is exposed to sun rays, the elements and even pathogens. Because trees don’t have limbs they have devised protective responses based on clever substances whose production is triggered when needed.’
Of course, not all of these protective substances in tree-skin (so to speak) benefit our skin, too, but there are a number of bark extracts which have scientifically proven benefits, says Dr Olioso. ‘The most famous is salicylic acid, found in willow bark. It has antimicrobial properties and increases skin renewal by removing dead skin cells.’
Dr Olioso, who has worked with many top brands such as Espa International, says: ‘Esculin and fraxin are produced by the ash tree. They make the capillaries’ walls stronger and also help protect the haemoglobin from oxidation or darkening, so they’re good for reducing the appearance of dark circles.
‘And pycnogenol, a blend of procyanidins from French maritime pine tree, is an effective antioxidant, collagen protector and skin repairer.’
Here are six tree-mendous products, all supercharged with beautifying bark extract…
Aspen bark extract is very high in natural salicylate (salicylic acid), which is effective in refining pores and controlling acne.
Salicylic acid is oil-soluble which means that it can penetrate the pores more effectively than a water-soluble ingredient, to unclog them.
It’s anti-inflammatory, and it also softens dead skin cells, so perfect for gentle exfoliation of oily skin.
Ash tree bark extract is our ally against eye bags.
‘Its astringent properties reduce under-eye swelling,’ says Ozohu Adoh, who founded Epara after she was unable to find products for her sensitive uneven complexion.
Her elixir contains ash tree bark extract, rich in fraxin, which has both anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. By reducing inflammation, antioxidants help the skin cells to repair and slow down the ageing process.
‘Cork oak extract is included to lift, firm and smooth fine lines around the eyes,’ she adds. Obtained from the bark’s outer layers, cork oak contains the substance suberin, which stimulates collagen production.
Meanwhile, dark circle concerns are addressed with niacinamide and plankton extract.
This mousse-light moisturiser sinks into the skin. One of its key ingredients is Persian silk tree bark extract, which has antioxidant benefits and helps to reduce signs of fatigue.
Nicolas Travis, founder of Allies of Skin, included Persian silk tree extract ‘because it helps protect and repair the effects of glycation [when an excess of glucose combines with the collagen and elastin fibres in our skin, reducing elasticity and contributing to wrinkles] and helps skin look fresher.’
After a week of lavishly applying, my tired complexion acquires a pleasing glow.
This blood-red facial oil contains pycnogenol, derived from the bark of French maritime pine trees. It contains skin rejuvenating goodies such as bioflavonoids and procyanidins (compounds found in berries, which gives this formula its colouring.)
It binds to collagen and elastin, promoting the skin’s elasticity.
I apply several drops, and my skin instantly feels less arid. Soon, my face is marshmallow soft. For under a tenner, it’s extraordinary.
This ocean-blue gel mask (its arresting hue derives from the essential oil of the blue tansy flower) tackles congestion and calms irritation for a clearer, smoother complexion. It’s partly thanks to its white willow bark extract, which has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties and lifts dead cells that contribute to blackheads and lacklustre skin.
This mask also contains fruit enzymes and aloe, which add to its deep cleansing powers, while the blue tansy essential oil moisturises.
‘Resurfacing’ is a bold claim, but I’m impressed. I wash off the mask after 20 minutes and my skin appears smoother.
This lusciously rich cream contains soothing extracts from the bark of the magnolia tree to reduce fine lines and redness.
It’s gorgeously restorative on my middle-aged complexion.
The powerful compounds in the magnolia bark extract — magnolol and honokiol — boast antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, and have been used in Chinese medicine for centuries.