As we age, an enzyme in our skin known as elastase breaks down the elasticity-maintaining protein elastin, causing wrinkles to form. Now, however, scientists have developed a natural product that may keep this from happening – and it utilizes maple leaves.

Based on findings from a previous study on maple sap and syrup, a team from the University of Rhode Island recently set out to determine if leaf extracts from red maple trees could block elastase activity. More specifically, they were looking at compounds called glucitol-core-containing gallotannins (GCGs).

In both test tube experiments and computer models, it was found that GCGs containing multiple galloyl groups (which are a type of phenolic group) were particularly effective at doing so – much more so than ones containing a single galloyl group. As a side benefit, these same compounds may also be able to protect skin against inflammation, and lighten unwanted dark spots.

The scientists have developed a patented formulation based on their research, incorporating GCGs obtained from summer and fall maple leaves and maple sap. Named Maplifa ("mape-LEAF-uh"), it has been licensed to Indiana-based botanical extracts supplier Verdure Sciences, with an aim to incorporating it into cosmetics or perhaps dietary supplements.

If effective on human skin, not only would it be a natural alternative to wrinkle creams based on artificial ingredients, but it would also provide maple farmers with an added source of income.

"You could imagine that these extracts might tighten up human skin like a plant-based Botox, though they would be a topical application, not an injected toxin," says study leader, Dr. Navindra P. Seeram.

The research is being presented this week at the 256th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society.