For centuries, discerning women of the world have applied all sorts of concoctions on their skin in the name of beauty, ranging from the typical, such as your basic fruit and plant extracts or mud masks, to the not-so-typical, like animal byproducts such as snake venom, bee pollen, bird excrement and the focus of today’s post, snail slime.
Yes, that clear, gooey substance left on the sidewalk behind a snail as it inches past you is touted by some as having benefits such as reducing pigmentation, inflammation and redness, stimulating skin regeneration, and improving skin texture and tone. The scientific name for snail slime (also called mucin) is helix aspersa muller glycoconjugates, and it consists of peptides and glycolic acid, elements often found in beauty products, as well as hyaluronic acid, proteoglycans, and elastin, all of which are natural components of our skin and provide structure, volume, elasticity, and luster.
You may be wondering how snail mucin was actually discovered to be of any benefit for the skin. Legend has it that ancient Greeks used snail slime as a panacea for cuts and burns. Modern day discovery occurred by chance, when Chilean farmers harvesting snails to be sent to France for escargot noted their hands to be silky smooth after being inadvertently slimed during snail handling. Enterprising cosmetic companies then decided to incorporate the substance into beauty products where it has enjoyed a niche following ever since, particularly in Asia and South America.
Snails produce their coveted slime when they are stressed or agitated. While no snails are killed during slime harvesting, animal rights proponents may raise an eyebrow at certain slime procurement techniques that include probing the snail with a stick or dehydrating the snail with sodium chloride. After being excreted, the mucin is then collected, filtered and purified numerous times until it is incorporated into masks, creams, and serums.
Although some may swear by the benefits of products containing snail mucin, it is quite difficult to establish how effective these products actually are. Cosmetic companies will do their own internal studies evaluating snail slime, however all of this testing is done in vitro, meaning they are performed on cell cultures in a laboratory. Doing studies like this can only attest to the content of snail mucin itself, not how it works when applied to the skin. To date, no substantial clinical studies have been done to actually evaluate the effects of snail slime on human skin, or to compare these products to other beauty products on the market.
So what does this all mean? While it appears that products containing snail mucin could potentially be beneficial, there isn’t enough evidence or studies to support the claimed attributes. At this point, there doesn’t appear to be any harmful side effects from using snail slime products, so it may be a no-brainer for the more adventurous, “I-need-to-try-everything-new” beauty enthusiast to give it a shot. However, for the more cautious beauty aficionado, holding out on these slimy potions until more concrete evidence is available may be the best option.
Dr. Tracy Leong is a board-certified dermatologist and southern California native. Dr. Leong’s areas of special interest within the field of dermatology include skin cancer detection and prevention, issues pertaining to ethnic skin, and the use of cosmeceuticals and noninvasive cosmetic procedures such as neurotoxins, injectable fillers and laser treatments to achieve and maintain a youthful and vibrant aesthetic in her patients. She is an advocate of living a balanced, healthy lifestyle and is a strong believer that whole person wellness can and should involve the health of one’s skin.