Health

Beauty Enhancement at a Snail’s Pace

Unusual treatment for the skin may yield health and healing benefits (as long you keep an open mind)

A new ingredient that’s making its way into high-end skin care products is full of beneficial compounds that moisturize, reduce inflammation, and minimize acne scars.

But you’ll need to keep an open mind if you want the benefits. Helix aspersa muller glycoconjugates is the technical name for the slimy mucus secreted by snails to protect their undersides from cuts, bacteria, and sun damage.

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This protective goo that snails produce is filled with beauty enhancers such as hyaluronic acid, glycoprotein enzymes, glycolic acid, antimicrobial and copper peptides, proteoglycans, and elastin. All of these compounds are known skin enhancers that are already added to beauty products.

Using snail mucus, also called snail cream, is new to the modern beauty industry, but its benefits have been recognized for thousands of years. The use of snails to promote skin healing goes back to ancient Greece and is attributed to Hippocrates. Pliny later recommended applying crushed snails to wounds and burns in order to speed healing. (The snail cream you see in beauty products is harvested from live snails in captivity, not made from crushed snails.) More recently, Chilean farmers who harvested snails for the French escargot market noticed that the skin of their hands looked smoother and younger.

Snail mucus first caught the attention of skin care companies in Korea, a country known for being on the cutting edge of skin care. Its popularity spread to the U.S. several years ago, but some companies didn’t advertise the odd new ingredient. At first, they chose to let it get lost in products’ long ingredients lists, worried that the “ick factor” might scare customers off, but today most manufacturers openly advertise their snail cream products, relying on consumers’ sense of adventure and willingness to try anything that might work.

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There’s limited research to support the ancient idea that snail cream restores the skin. Snail slime seems to boost the production of elastin and collagen in cell cultures, but there haven’t been any long-term trials or research on skin cells that aren’t in petri dishes. And there’s no high-quality research on any specific snail-based beauty products.

But the lack of research doesn’t necessarily mean that snail cream products don’t work. Consumers are drawn to the number of beneficial compounds in snail cream, and it continues to rise in popularity, bolstered by smart marketing and glowing customer reviews.

Related: Teen Acne: How to Lessen a Major Source of Stress

According to anecdotal evidence, snail cream products are particularly effective at minimizing the appearance of dark spots and scars, making the products popular among young adults with acne scars, which are notoriously difficult to treat. Customers also claim that their skin looks plumper and less wrinkled after using snail cream products, but dermatologists warn that these effects may be short-term, offering temporary smoothing without true, long-term anti-aging properties.

If you want to get snail cream straight from the slimy source, you can visit a spa in Thailand or Japan and pay over $200 for a snail facial. This is exactly what it sounds like — letting snails crawl all over your face. If you want to save on airfare, you can check out the many snail-based beauty products that have exploded into the American market.

You can find the ingredient in moisturizers, eye creams, anti-wrinkle creams, cleansers, and soothing gels. But don’t fall prey to deceptive advertising; look for products that advertise the percentage of snail mucus filtrate to make sure that you’re really getting the benefits of snail cream.

Related: Most Surprising (and Delicious) Way to Ward Off Skin Cancer

Whenever trying a new product, apply it to a small, less sensitive patch of skin before using it on your face. Just because a product is naturally derived doesn’t mean it’s necessarily safe for you. It’s more common, in fact, to have allergies to natural ingredients than to synthetic ingredients, and both natural and synthetic ingredients can cause irritation even if no allergy is present. Rashes and irritation have been reported from the use of snail cream products, and it’s not usually recommended for sensitive skin.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel’s senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. This Fox News piece and is used by permission; it also appeared in AskDrManny.com.

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(photo credit, article image: Danielle dk, Wikimedia)

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