Move over, retinol — the latest skincare ingredient for fine lines might be sitting right in front of you at brunch. (Spoiler alert: It's maple leaf extract, but more on that later.)
As surely as the years tick on, they'll leave their mark on your skin, which is why addressing the signs of aging (i.e. wrinkles, dark spots, and sagginess) is such a big focus in the skin-care world. While aging certainly isn't something you need to "fight" in our humble opinion, there's no shortage of high-tech compounds and chemical formulations you can use, if you so choose. However, unlike new classes of retinoids and "Botox in a bottle" formulas the next superstar skin-care ingredient used to reduce the appearance of wrinkles might be plant-based.
This week, researchers at the University of Rhode Island presented the , which found red maple leaf extract may contain fountain of youth-like effects by acting as a protector of elastin — the compound that keeps skin looking bouncy and full — in the skin.
Here's how elastin works: "Wrinkles are caused by loss of elasticity, collagen, and fat in the lower layers of the skin," , a dermatologist unassociated with the study, tells Allure.
"If we can protect the elastin, aka elastic fibers, in the skin, we can maintain a strong healthy skin foundation to prevent the development of wrinkles, or even improve their appearance once they have formed," adds , the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, who was also not involved with the study.
Enter, the red maple leaf extract, which essentially acts as a guardian for your skin's precious elastin as you age, Hang Ma, one of the researchers behind the study, tells Allure. In a lab setting (aka in a test tube), the researchers found that maple leaf extract "could inhibit the activity of elastase, which is the enzyme responsible for breaking down elastin," Ma says.
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The key is a compound found in the maple called "glucitol-core-containing gallotannins," which, as Marchbein explains, seems to inhibit the activity of elastin-destroying elastase, thereby preventing saggy skin. "There also seems to be some evidence based on the research presented that these compounds are anti-inflammatory and can lighten dark spots," she says.
But before you start working maple syrup into your skin-care routine, Marchbein cautions that the research is too preliminary to draw any major conclusions. The next step for the researchers is to take things beyond the test tube and conduct a clinical trial in humans, which is something the team is currently working on, though it could take a year or two to get underway, Ma notes.
The researchers behind the study meanwhile, envision a future where maple leaf-based products become an alternative to Botox. This isn't exactly likely, however, according to both Zeichner and Marchbein: "We treat wrinkles in two ways," Zeichner explains. "First, we try to keep the skin as strong and supple as possible so it can resist wrinkling and second, to treat wrinkles caused by repeated muscle movement, we can relax the underlying muscles using neurotoxins like Botox and Dysport."
A topical solution like maple leaf extract might help skin maintain its elasticity, but it won't address the wrinkles carved into the skin by those repeated expressions. "If it proves to be effective on the skin when formulated into a topical preparation, it will certainly be a welcome addition to the tools we have to treat aging skin," says Zeichner.
The bottom line? The research on maple leaf extract is exciting for the world of plant-based beauty, but don't expect it to totally change the way you approach aging. "The two best things you can do for your skin are to use sun cream and retinoids every day," says Marchbein. "Sun is the ultimate ager and leads to significant loss of collagen and elastin, as well as forming sun spots and hyperpigmentation."
Some tried-and-true advice: load up on SPF to protect your skin, and adopt a retinol regimen to help build collagen and improve skin texture.