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What Is It: Aspen Bark Extract

Aspen Bark Extract
May 5, 2009 Reviewed by Copley 5 Comments
As I was inspecting the ingredients labels on some of John Masters Organics new skincare products, it occurred to me that the usual suspects were absent. Clearly, a line with "organics" in the name wouldn't dare touch a paraben with a ten-foot pole, but usually this results in phenoxyethanol or disodium EDTA at the very least. What I discovered instead was populous tremuloides, otherwise known as aspen bark extract.

Aspen bark extract is derived from the quaking aspen tree common to northern and western North America. For centuries, Native American Indians have used Aspen tree bark for various medicinal purposes, from treating burns to reducing fevers to relieving eczema. The bark is rich in salycin, an aspirin-like substance, which is considered to be analgesic, anti-inflammatory, calming, and healing. For treating lower back pain, the recommended dose is 1-3 grams of aspen bark, which contains 60-240 mg of salicylates.

Though they are traditionally used as analgesics, these salicylates can be easily extracted without harm to the tree, then isolated and applied to cosmetic products as natural preservative systems. The same compounds that function as the plant's natural defense mechanism from invading parasites, such as mold and yeast, demonstrate preservative properties in cosmetic formulations. Aspen bark extract has shown to effectively inhibit the growth of mold, yeast, e coli, S aureus, subtilis, and P aeruginosa. And it has the added benefit of imparting a silky and smooth feeling to skin.

Aspen bark extract appears to be an excellent alternative to traditional preservatives that are now under suspicion, such as formaldehyde donors, isothiazolones, and parabens. Natural preservative systems are limited in that their efficacy is formulation-dependent. The Tinosan SDC silver-based preservative, for instance, cannot be used in highly cationic systems. Other causes for concern in natural preservatives are consistency, color, and odor.

Aspen bark does not seem to suffer from these shortcomings, especially if used in formulas that are not water-based. All of the John Masters Organics products that I've been testing smell wonderful and lend a nice texture. The first ingredient listed on each product is aloe vera leaf juice, not water. Although aspen bark extract probably won't ward off microorganisms in watery lotions and creams, it shows enormous promise for the future of natural preservative systems.
  • July 19, 2014

    by Cherisse

    Willow is high in salicylates, Populus tremuloides AMERICAN quaking aspen (not to be confused with European aspen) has a quinine substitute.

  • January 24, 2011

    by Cosmetic Chemist

    The person who wrote this article has no idea what they're talking about. For example she wrote, "Aspen bark does not seem to suffer from these shortcomings, especially if used in formulas that are not water-based" this information is incorrect as Aspen Bark Extract is water soluble it can only be used in water based formulations. Additionally, if the formulation was not water based you wouldn't need an antimicrobial preservative like Aspen Bark Extract, as there would be no water to support microbial growth in the product.

    She also wrote, "The first ingredient listed on each (John Masters Organics) product is aloe vera leaf juice, not water.", Aloe Vera juice is 96% water which is why they're using Aspen Bark Extract as a preservative.

    Please do more research before making articles about topics you know little about.

  • November 1, 2009

    by Ricardo

    Hello Copley,

    A relative mentioned baby aspirin is good for lowering chlesterol? I wondered if this is true on how to get the best natural extract from the Aspen trees in America. Thanks for the tip on the two types of trees. So I have two questions to you. Is there in truth or value in the claim it lowers cholesterol? If so which extract from which tree does the best in lowering cholesterol?

    I have been consuming Tetohuxtle for several years not and it did an excellent job of lowering my cholesterol levels when I first started but they have crept back up. Tetohuxtle is the bark from Chiapas, Mexico and is considered the best remedy for lowering blood sugar amoung diabetics.

    I thank you in advance for your reply.

    Sincerely,

    Ricardo

  • May 20, 2009

    by copley

    Hi Sanjay-
    White Willow bark comes from the Salix species, whereas Aspen bark belongs to the Populus species. Both Willow bark and Aspen bark contain medicinally useful amounts of salicylates and are known to be effective analgesics. In terms of their use in cosmetics, the main difference is that Aspen bark functions primarily as a natural preservative. White willow bark extract, on the other hand, is often used as a natural (though weaker) alternative to salicylic acid, because it controls sebum production and provides anti-acne properties.

  • May 20, 2009

    by Sanjay Goodtara

    What is the difference between Aspen Bark and White Willow Bark? Any significant differences?

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