If you have resolved to take better care of your skin this year, consider for inspiration this viral 36-second-long clip of an otter washing its face. The video was first posted by the account @NatureVid on November 3, 2018 to Twitter; it has since been viewed over 16.8 million times. It’s a soothing close-up of an otter’s bathing routine, complete with an adorable nose squish or two for emphasis. Nearly two months later, @acute_tweetment expanded on the otter’s technique: “Fact: Wild otters clean, scrub & exfoliate their skin daily…It feels good & gives them a healthy glow,” she joked.
The Cut was curious about the science behind an otter’s glow. Does saltwater help? Are they pro-chemical or physical exfoliant? So we asked the Monterey Bay Aquarium — yes, the people behind the “thicc” otter tweet — for answers.
Do otters really “clean, scrub, & exfoliate their skin daily”?
As it turns out, sea otters need to work for their dewiness. “Sea otters groom the fur on their faces by rubbing their faces with their paws,” Michelle Staedler, Sea Otter program manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, told the Cut. She likened the pads on an otter’s paws to those of a dog or cat’s, and added, “In the process of rubbing the fur, they are ‘fluffing’ it up which adds air to it and aids in spreading natural oils secreted by the skin” — like moisturizing. She added that they don’t exfoliate the way we do, given that their fur is so thick that it’s hard to even reach the skin at all.
The otter’s technique is also important to note, especially because the circular motions resemble the way so many people apply their own skincare. Staedler notes that otters might cleanse their fur more vigorously after a meal to rid their fur of any leftover juices. (They primarily eat fish, but also snack on shellfish, frogs, rodents, and invertebrates if those are easier to find.)
Why do they clean their fur?
Keeping their fur clean is, to an otter, a matter of life or death. “Otters do not have the layer of insulating blubber that other marine mammals have, and need to keep their fur groomed at all times to maintain insulating qualities and avoid getting water down to the skin,” Staedler explained. They run the risk of hypothermia otherwise; especially for those otters who live in cold-water habitats.
While Staedler added that adult otters are capable of grooming themselves, she notes that pups often need help. “The mother licks the pup with her tongue and rubs the pup’s fur with her paws in the same way they groom themselves,” she explained. At the Monterey Bay Aquarium, human caregivers also groom pups in a rehabilitation program with towels and brushes to keep their fur from matting, before they are later introduced to a surrogate otter-mom.
So otters don’t exfoliate. What can we learn and apply to our own routines? A saltwater rinse, perhaps?
The Cut also asked if saltwater contained any special exfoliation properties; we were met with a very simple “no.” At least for the rest of us there are plenty of options to choose from.