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slugs, and snails, and ... facials?

Today's Life/Style section in the Herald on Sunday brings us the latest 'beauty trend' to hit our shores: the snail facial.

Yes, you read that correctly. Apparently one can (if one has a sufficiency of funds) already purchase Snail Soap, which contains "snail slime, virgin olive oil, honey and extracts from medicinal plants". The slime component supposedly helps 'beat' wrinkles (what's wrong with a bit of character?) & reduces scarring. We're told that "No one has come back and said it is rubbish or doesn't work," but then, it might be a tad embarassing to have to 'fess up to spending $25/bar on soap that didn't meet one's expectations.

Apparently the next contribution gastropods have to make to our outer beauty is the snail facial: snails crawl about over your face, leaving their silvery mucus trails behind them. This probably does leave your face feeling a bit tighter, when the trails dry. But saying that "snail facials are believed to be very good" may well be an example of wishful thinking, especially in the absence of supporting data.

Snail slime does contain lectins, which are a class of glycoprotein; the amount & type of this substance vary with the species of snail. (Many years ago now, my Significant Other used to go out collecting them on dewy mornings, so that the lectin could be extracted and analysed.) It also contains other proteins such as collagen & elastin, which probably comes in helpful for the slug species that indulge in balletic aerial s*x at the end of a mucous bungee cord. But as far as I can see the claims that smearing one's face with this slimy mix will encourage skin cells to make more of these proteins lack support. And indeed, quite why putting protein molecules (which are highly unlikely to be absorbed through your skin) on the dead outer surface of your skin would encourage the cells beneath to spring into activity, is not immediately clear.

Lectins are 'sticky' molecules produced by plants (& algae), animals, fungi & prokaryotes, and are involved in communication between cells, defence against pathogens, fertiliation, metastasis of tumours, and appear to generate an inflammatory response (something that's picked up on by various 'alt.health' sites such as mercola.com). Those from snail slime may have anti-microbial activity, but in absence of actual infection that would not be a burning reason to use it on one's face. And indeed, I think there's need for caution in their use, as it seems that bacteria such as E.coli can survive for quite some time in snail faeces: I'd certainly want to be sure that the snails had been kept long enough to evacuate their bowels prior to crawling over my skin!

NB It was good to see a skeptical comment from a dermatologist, at the end of the Herald article - but more as an afterthought than an an attempt at investigative journalism :(

PS And 'thank you!' to my friends in the Skeptics for riffing on this in the first place :)

EDIT: one Smut Clyde has since expanded on this very subject. He notes that one can search in vain for the chemical known as "Helix Asperia Muller" - and this is not surprising, as the phrase is actually a typo (?) for the old taxonomic name of the actual garden snail, Helix aspersa (Muller), Muller being the chap who first described it. The species has now apparently been reclassified as Cornu aspersum. I didn't know that.

 
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12 Comments

I DIDN'T SEE THAT!!!

So 18 months ago I had a lot of gastropod themed imagery so I made up a story about snail facial massage to weave them together... and now you are telling me that snail facial massage is a thing.

I blame Sheldrake's morphogenetic field.

Indeed, it is a thing. But you are in good company; apparently Penn & Teller made up a skit about the very same thing, a year or so back.

The species has now apparently been reclassified as Cornu aspersum. I didn't know that.

Neither did I... nor did I know that another outdated binomial is Cryptomphalus aspersus. Under that name, its secretions turn out to feature in yet another snail-based cream ('Tensage'), backed by a proliferation of papers in various junk-science journals.

In fact the same species is also called Cantareus aspersus --
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornu_aspersum#Taxonomy
-- but it seems to have no cosmetic properties when it's using that alias.

I can't help thinking a) that there's one born every minute (& now I'm wondering what the next fad will be) & b) that the Herald really is scraping the bottom of the barrel with some of this stuff. The 'LifeStyle' section might as well be Women's Weekly.

quite why putting protein molecules (which are highly unlikely to be absorbed through your skin) on the dead outer surface of your skin would encourage the cells beneath to spring into activity, is not immediately clear.

Imagine the effort I have invested in not saying something lewd.

For which one is glad - after all, impressionable young persons might be reading this comments thread as we speak type!

I'm glad you were able to set those Riddled guys straight.
~

I love it that Riddled made this stuff up a couple of years ago. Talk about life imitating art!

Further discoveries!
http://eusa-riddled.blogspot.co.nz/2015/04/casting-aspersum.html

You're letting that Thunder commenter past the spam filter? He'll just drag down the tone, you know.

At least he doesn't infest the place with earworms!

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  • Alison Campbell: At least he doesn't infest the place with earworms! read more
  • herr doktor bimler: Further discoveries! http://eusa-riddled.blogspot.co.nz/2015/04/casting-aspersum.html You're letting that Thunder commenter past the read more
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  • Alison Campbell: For which one is glad - after all, impressionable young read more
  • herr doktor bimler: quite why putting protein molecules (which are highly unlikely to read more
  • Alison Campbell: I can't help thinking a) that there's one born every read more
  • herr doktor bimler: The species has now apparently been reclassified as Cornu aspersum. read more
  • Alison Campbell: Indeed, it is a thing. But you are in good read more
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