Are nature’s slimiest creatures slithering onto store shelves?
Snails – or more accurately, their guts and slime – have become the latest fad in skin care. Hailed for its active ingredients, snail extract is popping up in beauty lines across South America and skin care mecca South Korea. Both low- and high-end companies have taken to the sticky ingredients, which debuted on the market in the mid ’90s and range from seemingly tame to slightly bizarre (BB Cream features “mucus from red ginseng-fed snails”).
“I spotted it while on holiday in Korea and noticed it was flying off the shelves,” said Paris B, 35, a beauty blogger for Mywomenstuff.com. “Although gross-sounding, the [Tony Moly Intense Repair Live Snail] cream seemed to be beneficial … and it did seem to make my skin feel softer and finer.”
What’s so appetizing about slime? In 2006, Chilean farmers reportedly noticed visibly smoother skin after handling snails they were breeding for the French food market. Packed with glycolic acid and elastin, a snail’s secretion protects its own skin from cuts, bacteria, and powerful UV rays, making mother nature’s gooeyness a prime source for proteins that eliminate dead cells and regenerate skin.
More from TODAY.com
12 simple #StartTODAY tips to get healthy and organized
#StartTODAY's experts Jill Martin, Jean Chatzky, Jenna Wolfe and Joy Bauer answered viewers questions on organizing, dieti...
- 'SNL' tackles Deflate-Gate with press-conference parody
- Donald Trump talks Miss Universe pageant, looking at presidential run
- Jason Mraz ‘pumped’ to be arts ambassador for California school
- Super Bowl advertisements will show tender moments of fatherhood
- 12 simple #StartTODAY tips to get healthy and organized
It’s a treatment that that has been used as far back as ancient Greece: Hippocrates reportedly prescribed a mixture of sour milk and crushed snails for skin inflammations. These days, it’s marketed as an acne treatment, spot and scar remover, and burn healer.
“It’s a 100 percent pure and natural product that allows them to replace the typical chemical skin creams,” said spokesman Christian Plaut of Andes Nature, which sells a popular snail cream in South America. “Consumers must usually buy several creams separately to get the same benefits.”
To produce their coveted slime, snails are exposed to “safe mechanical stress,” in which they’re stimulated repeatedly during a life cycle. The obtained slime is then filtered numerous times until it’s finally packaged for human consumption. Companies such as Labcconte USA use their own snail farms to guarantee secretion purity, and return the slowpokes to their hatcheries after the extraction process.
Not that slime is the only way to ensure a smooth face. “Lots of species, including humans, secrete mucus rich in hyaluronic acids ... but that doesn't mean you'd put phlegm on your face,” said dermatologist Dr. Bobby Buka, who instead recommends non-mollusk products such as First Aid Beauty's 5-in-1 face cream for similar results.
Buka says there are no placebo-controlled trials demonstrating the efficacy of snail slime or mucus in skin rejuvenation, but sees no harm in slathering on some slime. “I generally don't dissuade patients who swear by snail-derivative products, but it's definitely not my first choice if you've got $20 to spend on your skin.”
As for the “ick” factor, snail cream is only the latest addition to a long line of recent gag-inducing beauty ingredients: Chicken bone marrow (moisturizers), bull semen (shampoo), bird feces (spa treatments), beetles (lipstick) and even whale vomit (perfume). Buka has had his share of strange requests: “Someone came into the office last week asking us to purchase a line of pre-packaged human placentas from France.”
Others, however, think that applying chemicals to one’s body is far less appealing. “The consumer is intelligent, and once you provide them the information, they absolutely understand that the only really disgusting factor is to keep feeding the skin with synthetic or chemical products, instead of natural products,” said Plaut.
Andes’ website takes the case further, asking, “Why would we consider snails as OK to eat but not to use as a natural skin care product? The obstacle is that the notion is new to many people.”
Yet some, including TODAY style editor Bobbie Thomas, are still skeptical. “Without any solid data or science behind its cosmetic benefits for the skin, I would caution spending a lot of money or testing if your skin is sensitive,” Thomas said. “If those aren’t factors for you – then this may be just the new bird-poop facial for you.”
In other words, before putting snail slime on your face, you may want to think about it… slowly.
Vote: Would you try snail slime cream?
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints