When I think of snails, the first things that come to mind are garlic herb butter, baguettes, and Chardonnay, and the next is the slime. You know, the stuff the snails leave a trail of in their wake. The same stuff that’s been a K-beauty skin-care staple for several years and has now even made its way to the big-box stores. I’ll put escargots in my face any chance I get, so as a woman of the world, why on earth haven’t I smeared their slime on my face yet?
After all, incorporating snails in skin care is nothing new. Back around 400 B.C. in ancient Greece, Hippocrates reportedly prescribed crushed snail shells in an ointment to treat inflammation, notes a paper published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The idea was reborn in the ’80s, the Associated Press reported, when workers on a Chilean snail farm began observing their hands were softer and plumper hands after handling the gooey creatures. As with the eureka moment described by Chatelaine in 2016 regarding red grapes and anti-aging at French vineyards, the seeds of a beauty trend were planted.
“Historically many societies, especially ancient ones and more recently France, have used live snails as anti-aging 'devices,” says Gregory Bays Brown, MD, a plastic surgeon in New York City and the founder of the RéVive skin-care line.
Today's skin-care companies are hot on the trail. In the early 2000s snail mucin, also known as snail oil, snail serum, snail filtrate, snail slime, or just “the slime,” began popping up in Korean beauty products, and as that market began to expand globally, it started picking up a following in the West. For the uninitiated: Yes, snail mucin is the actual mucus snails secrete to protect themselves from cuts and scrapes as they slither through the world. Apparently, the gross factor hasn’t kept beauty lovers at bay.
K-beauty brands like Cosrx, Missha, and Mizon sell wildly popular sheet masks, creams, and bottles of straight-up slime that tout miraculous benefits, from smoothing fine lines and wrinkles to reducing the appearance of acne scarring and hyperpigmentation to giving you that supple, dewy glow that has become the bar for skin-care influencers, coveted by every beauty fan with a pulse.
Snail farming in Italy has increased 325 percent in the last two decades, largely due to cosmetic demands, the Guardian reported in February 2017. What’s the mix in snail trails that makes it a veritable fountain of youth? “Snail mucin is packed with nutrients such as hyaluronic acid, glycoprotein enzymes, antimicrobial and copper peptides, and proteoglycans,” says the New York City–based aesthetician Charlotte Cho, the cofounder of the K-beauty blog Soko Glam. “The hyaluronic acid helps in the anti-aging process as it hydrates the skin, and antimicrobial peptides have been known to help reduce acne and treat hyperpigmentation,” says Cho, whose New York City brick-and-mortar pop up, Soko House, opened recently to legions of snail slime devotees lining up around the block to snag the stuff in real life.
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Many K-beauty lovers and millennials are doing the same, and why wouldn’t they? The slime itself and the top slime-containing products are fairly cheap (The Super Aqua Cell Renew Hydro-Gel Mask will set you back $9, and Mizon’s All-In-One Snail Repair Cream is about $19).
But even though the wonder goo is accessible to the masses, the Park Avenue elite hasn’t turned up its nose at it. For example, the New York City plastic surgeon Matthew Schulman, MD, has created a buzz and snagged press attention with his $375 “EscarGlow Facial,” which injects snail mucin directly into your pores via microneedling.
And while high-end brands with steep price tags don’t seem to count the slime as a core ingredient, and understandably so, because it’s readily available on the cheap, they haven’t discounted the mollusk altogether. Instead, they’ve opted for a pricier bit of snail juice, cone snail venom, which is a toxin so potent that it disables fishes swimming near it and rivals the anti-aging effects of Botox, according to an article published in November 2018 in StatPearls. (And if you’ve got around $600 to spend on a single product, you can find it in the coveted Intensité Line Erasing Serum by RéVive.)
Plus, because mucin is an animal growth factor that just needs a touch of pasteurization to be application-ready, per a study published in in February 2019 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, it’s clean, sustainable, and supposedly a miracle worker.
Refinery29, a beloved source for millennials looking to stave off wrinkles, hails snail mucin as a cure for acne scarring. While that seems like a stretch, I’d for sure blow $20 on a bottle of slime on the possibility before shelling out a couple grand on lasers, especially with no downtime or side effects to consider. Drew Barrymore and Katie Holmes are fans, notes The Hollywood Reporter.
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And because I’m not a vegan, I really have no excuse to be a couple of years late to this trend. My mucus of choice was, of course, what K-beauty lovers consider the holy grail: the Corsx Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence, which is 96 percent pure mucin. Because it was sold out on Soko Glam (which happens often due to demand), the lovely Cathy in the company’s NYC office sent me over a bottle she had stashed, and I got to work. (For those of you who must have it pronto, you can find it from third-party sellers online.) Here’s how things went down.
What My Skin Was Like Before Snail Mucin
What appealed to me most about the idea of slapping snail mucus all over my face and neck — aside from staying true to my inner beauty warrior, and the fact that I’m getting paid to — was the hydration potential.
Even though I’m a product junkie, I really can’t use too many or my skin freaks out. I have sensitive, temperamental skin that likes to punish me for every misstep.
Eat a pint of ice cream? It’s not my waistline that’s unforgiving. it’s my face (hello, cystic acne breakout). Too lazy to exfoliate? Here come the comedones (small, flesh-colored bumps on the forehead or chin).
In the height of summer, my face can look primed for a skillet, and when I try to balance the sebum with even a slightly alkaline product, it will start flaking and cracking by the next day. (FYI: Sebum is an oil that when overproduced contributes to acne, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.)
My skin doesn’t let me get away with much, and because of that, I shamefully admit that I don’t double-cleanse or let any oil touch my face. Even oil-free moisturizer in the summer can be too greasy, but without something, my face is dehydrated yet also greasy.
A light hyaluronic acid serum is usually my best bet. But the good ones can be pricey and a crapshoot, too, because heftier HA molecules are often too large to penetrate the skin.
Cho says the naturally occurring hyaluronic acid in the slime has a small molecular weight, making it absorbable, and along with the other smorgasbord of good-for-your-skin stuff, it’s supposed to make your skin feel soft and supple, sealing in moisture safely and being suitable for all skin types, including acne-prone skin that congests easily. I’m sold.
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Me and Snail Mucin: Our First Meeting
Cho, who enjoys mini-celebrity from her K-beauty expertise, says you should apply mucin wherever you would use an essence, a type of product common in K-beauty and increasingly popular in the West, as fans of the Japanese skin-care line SK-II will attest.
So after cleansing and toning and applying my vitamin C serum, I was armed and ready. Inside the bottle, the snail mucin looks like a slightly goopy, clear serum and seems that way when you first pump a nickel-size portion into your hand. But as soon as you dab your fingers in to apply, there’s no mistaking it: This is an animal’s mucus, folks.
The consistency is liquid enough to drip off my fingers but viscous enough to take its time landing. Think thinned-out egg whites or chia seed sludge. There’s nothing luxurious going on here, which was a bit of a setback for me.
I imagined it would harden on my face or leave some sort of chalky film, but after working it in for a few seconds longer than your average serum, to my surprise the slime soaked in quite nicely. Not that I’d have time to do this moving forward, but the first time, I waited around a bit before the next step in my routine, which would be moisturizer, and behold: Ten minutes later, my face felt so soft, that I skipped the moisturizer altogether and went right to sunscreen instead. Things were off to a great start.
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Me and Snail Mucin: A Match That Doesn’t Get Boring
I’m not going to lie, in the next week or so, I felt like I’d struck liquid gold. With no side effects whatsoever besides instant softness, I was slathering the stuff all over my hands, chest, and neck. And I started skipping my moisturizer a lot more regularly and feeling okay about it.
That said, because I have oily, sensitive skin that doesn’t like being over- or under-handled, I typically skip moisturizer a lot in the summer, especially under makeup. All those layers in the heat seem to hasten the formation of an oil slick on my face. But skipping moisturizer can also add up to dehydrated yet shiny skin, and that’s even worse.
The slime was serving double duty for me, and what's better than a skin-care multitasker? I also started using it at night after my Retin-A Micro, which I amp up to a .06 percent in summer months for rapid-fire sloughing, while carefully treading the line between overly sebaceous and parched and cracking. (The things we do for cell turnover.)
But I started noticing fewer side effects, less dryness and flaking, less tautness below the corners of my mouth, allowing me to handle the Retin-A Micro every night instead of every other, as recommended by dermatologists. I considered buying stock in an Italian snail farm. Was this my cheap and cheerful secret to dewy skin?
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Me and Snail Mucin: How Serious Is Serious?
I was coming up on a month of sheer bliss — waking up to softer, smoother skin, fewer breakouts, less summer sebum production, a streamlined morning routine (aka more sleep), and a ton of savings on considerably pricier moisturizer — and things seemed too good to be true. I mean, seriously. There has to be a catch, I thought. I did some digging to make sure no snails were harmed in the process, and all accounts seemed to confirm that.
PETA disapproves of using snail mucin on the grounds that keeping the snails in captivity is cruel. Yet most reports, such as one from Reuters, say these snails are fed only delicious, organic food and pampered as if they’re at a five-star resort — because stress-free snails produce higher-quality mucus.
I decided it was time for a deeper background check and looked for the research. But studies are limited. According to a small study published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, 25 women who used a serum containing 40 percent snail mucin for 12 weeks noticed fewer fine lines and wrinkles, even two weeks after they stopped using the product. But according to a March 2018 article in The Ringer, that study was funded by a French pharmaceutical company called Biopelle, which also happens to sell slime-laden products. Back to the drawing board.
According Joshua Zeichner, MD, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City — who has lectured on this topic before at the American Academy of Dermatology — there’s no downside, but we need more data before we know whether the ingredient is better than a good ol’ jar of Olay. “Snail slime has been shown to have antioxidant properties, as well as the ability to stimulate collagen production and enhance wound healing,” says Dr. Zeichner.
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There are some caveats, though: The consistency is far from cosmetically appealing, but with all the benefits, I could get past that.
Then I had a rude awakening.
I went away for a week, and the first thing I packed was my slime, of course. Several days later, I started breaking out, and that wasn’t all — my skin was looking greasier and muddier.
Was it the change of water, altitude, hormones? I racked my brain until it hit me. I was too attached to my snail mucin to leave it at home, but what I had forgotten was my Retin-A Micro. Exfoliation is the skeleton key to great skin, after all.
Plus, as a skin-care lover in the United States, it’s hard not to know that if there’s one thing doctors and most aestheticians agree on, it’s that topical retinoids and retinols are the closest thing to a skin-care miracle worker out there, from keeping acne at bay to reversing fine lines to building collagen and truly transforming skin.
Was it the slime making my skin gorgeous this last month? Or was the secret to my glow part and parcel of my unfaltering commitment to the slime, which increased regular hydration and in turn allowed me to increase my Retin-A usage for maximum benefits?
The jury is still out, but either way, I’m not breaking up with my snail mucin just yet. At least not until something better comes along.