In the quest for transformational super ingredients that give skin youthful qualities and a celestial glow, researchers seem to have no bounds. Trekking to alpine regions for apples encased in immortal peel, diving to watery depths where seemingly magical algae sleep, extracting venom from poisonous reptiles, culturing lethal toxins, and collecting avian poop are all de rigueur in the name of beauty. Being asked to test out products containing the current wonder essence, snail slime, didn’t make me blink or cringe.
The slime or mucus secreted by these little mollusks that helps protect their exposed bottoms against cuts, bacteria, and UV rays contains a potent combination of elastin, proteins, anti-microbials, copper peptides, hyaluronic acid, and glycolic acid — all known beauty enhancers. Snail mucin is said to do everything from fading dark spots and scars to plumping creases and battling acne. The venom found in ocean-cone snails (as opposed to the garden variety) paralyzes its prey and is thought to relax muscle fibers that play a role in creating wrinkles.
Snails were first prescribed in ancient Greece as a topical treatment to reduce inflammation, and they began to crawl their way into creams and elixirs in South America when farmers handling escargot en route to France noticed their hands looked younger and smoother. Soon the beauty-forward Korean market picked up the trend, and it arrived in the U.S. market about five years ago. Now more mainstream high-end companies like RéVive and Peter Thomas Roth are releasing new products containing the holy snail, and both spas and doctors’ offices are featuring facials that employ it.
Park Avenue plastic surgeon Dr. Matthew Schulman has introduced the Escarglow Facial, a $300 treatment that combines extracts of the slime with micro-needling to increase the product’s penetration. “People originally used live snails in facials, but you can imagine how some people didn’t like that,’’ says Dr. Schulman. “There is anecdotal evidence that proteins in snail slime have anti-aging benefits, and clinical trials have looked at that, as well as reversal of sun damage, and shown improvement. Snail slime is not going to help deep folds, but it will improve skin texture and quality.’’ The actual science behind these products is still somewhat inconclusive. Lab cell cultures had positive findings, and a study published in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment showed an improvement in burn patients who used snail mucin, but there have been no serious controlled clinical trials or long-term studies, so doctors are divided.
Dermatologist Francesca Fusco is a believer. “The hyaluronic acid and peptides in snail mucin have been demonstrated on cell cultures to stimulate the production of elastin and collagen,’’ she says. Another New York dermatologist Dr. Howard Sobel is more skeptical. “I’m not sure if the active ingredients are in high enough concentration or get absorbed deeply enough to have a positive effect on the skin,’’ he remarks.
Plastic surgeon Joel Studin feels that, while snail slime is intriguing, there needs to be better testing. “From a marketing standpoint, the ingredients sound compelling; however, there are no good studies that show it really works for anti-aging,’’ he maintains.
Despite the medical debate, cosmetic companies are embracing the critters. Sharon Garment, a product-development consultant specializing in emerging brands and a former executive at Estée Lauder and Revlon, notes that the efficacy of snail-based products also depends on additional ingredients. “Snail extracts are heavily trending now, and many companies are requesting it in their new formulas,’’ she observes. “While it’s shown to have beneficial properties, its effectiveness is supported by other proven ingredients that contribute to ultimate performance and ability of these products to make the claims they make.’’
Also at issue is the consistency of snail extract. According to Russ Grandis, chemist and chief scientific officer of cosmetics consulting company Architectural Beauty, it’s hard to control potency levels because the creatures themselves vary.
“There’s been a lot of hype about snail filtrate, which contains allantoin, proteins to improve smoothness, acids, and enzymatic properties, but the active components can differ depending upon the source,’’ he says.
Snails come in many varieties: Products boast gastropods that hail from Brittany, regions of Africa, and Korea’s Green Zone. The methods of handling them also vary; in some cases, the venom is simply cultivated in a chemist’s lab. Resulting cosmetics range in price from as low as $25 to a steep $600, and facials run from $80 to $300. We decided to do the face work for you before you enter the world of slime, selecting six products and two facials. In the interest of time, they were judged on immediate, rather than long-term, effects.