London - It may sound barking mad - but tree bark is shaping up to be the latest weapon in the fight against ageing.

Extracts from the French maritime pine tree could help reduce wrinkles and smooth lines, a study has found.

Researchers claim Pycnogenol treatment, which is available as a cream or a tablet, improves skin elasticity and boosts the production of collagen.

In tests on 20 women aged between 55 and 68, they also found it increased the hydration of dry skin by eight percent.

After the participants had been given 75mg of the bark extract every day for 12 weeks, biopsies showed some of the women had smoother skin and fewer wrinkles.

In addition, tests showed increased activity of the genes associated with collagen. This keeps skin taut, but less and less of it is produced as we get older.

The scientists also found elasticity improved by 25 percent and there was a 44 percent increase in production of hyaluronic acid, which occurs naturally in all the body’s tissues. It hydrates and lubricates skin, but production of it drops off as we reach middle age, causing wrinkles to form.

Dr Jean Krutmann, co-author of the study, carried out by the Leibniz Institute for Environmental Medicine in Dusseldorf, Germany, said: “To date, Pycnogenol is the only natural supplement that stimulates hyaluronic acid production in human skin.

“And we are encouraged by the molecular evidence confirmed in this study that shows nutritional supplementation with the product benefits human skin.”

Wrinkles were reduced by three percent and skin smoothness increased by six percent over the 12 weeks, said the researchers. It is not known if results would continue to improve with use over a longer period.

The study is published in scientific journal Skin Physiology and Pharmacology and is sponsored by Pycnogenol’s manufacturers, Horphag Research.

The product has been sold in France for years but is little known in Britain. - Daily Mail