Shiseido has a new line called Benefiance Wrinkle Resist 24 and it says that “the entire line contains a revolutionary breakthrough ingredient, Mukurossi Extract, which directly inhibits the activity of a wrinkle-triggering enzyme.”

Now this is the kind of sentence that I just want to pick apart. Leaving aside the vaguely tautological “revolutionary breakthrough”, I was very curious about the idea of a “wrinkle triggering enzyme”. And what is mukurossi extract?

Actually, there is an enzyme that might just qualify as wrinkle triggering. It is called heparanase and has the charming occupation of being mostly involved in the spread of cancer cells. A recent Japanese study found that heparanase activation induced wrinkles.

So, will mukurossi extract inhibit heparanase? As far as I can see, only according to patents held by Shiseido.

A search on mukurossi throws up sapindus mukurossi (also spelled mukorossi).  This plant is also called the soap nut tree and it is a rich source of saponins. Used for centuries to make a natural soap, saponins are found in many land and marine plants.

Sapindus mukurossi seems to be especially soapy and there is plenty of research into the performance of its saponins in things like dishwash detergent. Apparently, if you were to get hold of some soap nuts (not especially easy as this tree is indigenous to the Himalayas) you can throw a few directly into your washing machine. This sounded like a nice green kind of approach to laundry until I discovered that most saponins are easily dissolved in water and poisonous to fish (I even learned two new words: piscicide and moluscicidal).

However, saponins are being increasingly researched to see whether there is any basis for their historical use as a bit of a cure all - soap nuts have been used as an expectorant, emetic, contraceptive, and for treatment of excessive salivation, epilepsy, psoriasis, head lice and migraines. OK, but what about wrinkles?

I already knew that there is a saponin called escin that comes up fairly frequently in beauty products. It is supposed to strengthen veins and capillaries by blocking an enzyme called hyaluronidase. But I could find nothing else. Even a 2007 book called Cosmetology, which lists all manner of ingredients and their roles, only refers to sapindus mukurossi in the context of its soapy saponins. Eventually, I turned up a Taiwanese study that it has anti-tyrosinase (a cause of hyperpigmentation), antioxidant, antimicroorganism and anticancer proliferation properties.

Mukurossi does seem to be a potent antimicrobial, according to research. So at least Shiseido could consider it as an alternative to some of those harsher chemical preservatives.

The most frustrating thing about my research into Shiseido’s wrinkle enzyme, is that the Japanese study on heparanase found that use of a synthetic inhibitor “significantly suppressed wrinkle formation”. This is it, the Holy Grail, I thought! What was this inhibitor? Synthetic or otherwise, I want some!

Well, it is 1-[4-(1H-benzoimidazol-2-yl)phenyl]-3-[4-(1H-benzoimidazol-2-yl)phenyl]urea. And I have absolutely no idea what that is.