It’s a well kept secret that nobody loves maple syrup more than Canadians…except for tourists. In addition to being the classier topping for pancakes, it’s being looked into by the skincare industry. As a trend, the skincare industry is showing renewed interest in natural ingredients, and now scientists are eyeing the maple leaf as a possible source for a skincare ingredient. We review the study showcased in the Science Daily and covered by Refinery29 and Business Insider.
The idea of using maple leaves derives from traditional Native American medicine. Botanical ingredients have long been respected in Native, Chinese, Indian, and Mediterranean culture, but in the West, it has always been regarded with some level of skepticism. The chemical properties of the sap and syrup of maples have been investigated before – partly as there is more commercial interest deriving from maple syrup. Now scientists have looked into the leaves, as did the Native Americans, for potential therapeutic properties.
One of the early findings of the research is that the maple leaves may contain compounds that can inhibit the breakdown of elastin – an essential protein that allows the skin to return to its original shape and position after being stretched. It is thought that the breakdown of elastin by the enzyme elastase is in part responsible for causing wrinkling as part of the aging process.1
The leaf extracts block the activity of elastase, the compound that breaks down the elastin. In the study, the leaves’ phenolic compounds (called GCGs glucitol-core-containing-gallotannins) were analyzed for their ability to inhibit elastase activity in a test tube. The scientists also conducted computational studies to examine how the GCGs interacted with elastase to block its activity. The GCGs also have other protective properties as well – showing in separate studies, their ability to protect the skin from inflammation and lighten dark spots as well.2
Is it just the Latest Gimmick?
Commercialization was clearly in mind when the research was conducted. The researchers have developed a proprietary formulation that contains GCGs from maple leaves and maple sap, which they have named Maplifa™. The patents are pending. Verdure Sciences, a supplier of botanical extracts, currently holds the license. Like any new ingredient, it could just pass as a fad – after all, there are so many compounds and combinations that are interesting. Still, it may end up causing an impact in the skincare market, or perhaps even in supplements and nutrition.
“Seeram and Ma plan to do further testing. “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,” And the fact that the extracts are derived from trees would be appreciated by consumers who are looking for natural, plant-based ingredients in their skincare products.4
This is where a dose or two of marketing is injected into science. Although no claims of specific efficacy are being made, it’s being implied that this could be the natural version of Botox that’s applied topically instead of injected. There are good reasons to take this comparison with a few grains of salt:
- Botulinum toxin (Botox), used in cosmetic procedures, has had a long record of efficacy and safety spanning over two decades in the market and has numerous applications, and has thousands of studies to back its claims. The literature on Maplifa™ and the evidence supporting its efficacy, especially for specific effects, is much thinner.
- Botulinum toxin is a drug – Maplifa™ as a compound could go in many directions but is likely to be a cosmetic ingredient. These are two fundamentally different things.
While the skincare industry is notorious for stretching claims, other studies focus on other potential benefits of gallotannins, such as used in cancer research6, so this will be interesting to follow.
The list of possible ingredients that can help skin is expanding rapidly, as more research is revealing new possibilities. Researchers are becoming more open-minded about non-traditional treatments or ingredients as new evidence comes in. At the same time, we need to guard against hyperbolic claims and adjust our enthusiasm by the actual level of evidence that’s available. Like many skincare trends, maple leaf extract will be interesting to follow as the evidence comes in but don’t expect it to replace Botox just yet.