Pine bark extract is a recent, and increasingly ubiquitous, cosmetic ingredient. Specifically, it is the bark of the French maritime pine (pinus pinaster). Sometimes it will appear as Pycnogenol®, the patented trade name for an extract using water.

Pine bark has been linked to a mind-boggling and implausible amount of cures. It is supposed to treat everything from erectile dysfunction to sunburn. Its fabled potency is due to the presence of proanthocyanidins. These are the flavenoids that are also found in red wine and that some people believe are responsible for promoting good health and longevity, rather than resveratrol.

Pine bark's proanthocyanidins, or pycnogenols, are turning up in skincare formulations because they are supposed to achieve three things: strengthen capillaries, repair collagen and help the body's defenses against the sun's rays.

There are some claims that pine bark has 20 times the antioxidant power of vitamin C or E. According to one research paper that I found, its antioxidant power is only "several' times higher than vitamin C and E. However, it added that the pycnogenols are amazing multi-taskers that actually recycle vitamin C, regenerate vitamin E, activate antioxidant enzymes and protect against UV radiation.

Despite all this, the American Cancer Society says that there isn't enough evidence to recommend it as a cancer treatment. Certainly, the evidence is contradictory. A Spanish study, published in 2005, described its ability to limit cell proliferation as weak and the prevention of lipid peroxidation as non-existent. An earlier study, published in 1999, was more positive saying that it has strong free-radical scavenging capabilities. One of the most convincing pieces of research was conducted in 2002 on 25 humans. Blood tests revealed that pine bark extract supplements (taken for six weeks) increased ORAC (oxygen radical absorption capacity) levels and decreased cholesterol.

Interestingly, pine bark's antioxidant prowess has been compared to green tea, which it beat, and ginkgo biloba, to which it lost. All in all, it is worth checking out. For starters, you could take a look at the Derma-e range, of which it is a staple.