If you’ve seen the TikTok videos, or the many other social media posts, proclaiming the benefits of snail mucin and wondered, “what the heck is that?” you’re certainly not alone.
“Snail mucin is exactly what it sounds like. It’s mucin, a stress-induced secretion, from a snail,” says Rachel Roff, a licensed aesthetician and founder and CEO of Urban Skin Rx, an award-winning brand of clinical skin care products for diverse skin tones and conditions based in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Mucin is a type of protein that forms the bulk of the molecular material found in mucus — yes, that’s the sticky secretion you probably know best from when you have a head or chest cold. Mucins tend to form gels easily, hence mucus’ gluey properties, and the lubricating quality of such secretions helps keep snails healthy, well hydrated and able to slide along whatever surface they’re traversing.
[Read: Ways to Prevent Skin Cancer.]
Snail Mucin Products
In addition to being a key element for the gastropod’s well-being, snail mucin also has some applications for human health and beauty.
Many products now contain snail mucin essence, including:
— Creams and lotions.
— Serums and tonics.
— Moisturizers and masks.
If you see products labeled with the terms “black snail” or “Chilean earth snail,” they likely contain snail mucin.
Benefits of Snail Mucin
Dr. Richard L. Torbeck, assistant professor of dermatology and director of cancer surgery with the Blavatnik Family Chelsea Medical Center and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, says that “snail mucin is a not-well-studied alternative treatment that can be applied to the skin.” He says it can promote the regrowth of collagen, a naturally occurring protein in the body that gives skin its youthful, dewy look.
Snail mucin “is recognized for its exceptional hydrating properties on any skin type,” Roff notes, and has become very popular as a beauty product in Korea, and now in the United States.
While snail mucin may seem all the rage, it’s actually an old idea made new again. This is thanks to social media and a company called COSRX, and its super popular product COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence. That product claims to provide light moisture that brings a natural, youthful glow to the skin without residue.
“Although the use of snail mucin is a recent trend for beauty consumers, the use of snails and their slime date far back to ancient Greece, where they used the mucus to help reduce inflammation and help prevent skin aging,” says Dr. Anna Chacon, a board-certified dermatologist and writer with MyPsoriasisTeam the social network for those living with psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis. These properties are the snail mucin’s “antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, wound healing and hydrating properties,” she says.
If you’re thinking, wow, that’s kind of gross to use snail slime on your face — don’t worry; if you’re using a beauty product that contains snail mucin, it’s not quite the same thing as rubbing a slug or snail on your skin, Chacon explains. “Beauty products that include mucin use snail secretion filtrate, a processed and sanitized version of snail mucin for a more practical use.”
That filtrate is often combined with the following other skin care ingredients to boost its effects:
— Antioxidants. Antioxidants help combat inflammation, and they can support the skin’s ability to repair and renew itself.
— Retinol. Retinol boosts collagen production and helps reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
— Vitamin C. Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, helps slow signs of skin aging including lightening dark spots and sun damage, improving acne and reduces the appearance of wrinkles and lines.
— Glycolic acid. Glycolic acid helps remove the dead outer layer of skin cells, revealing more youthful skin cells underneath.
Does Snail Mucin Work?
Torbeck notes that snail mucin is typically “used to hydrate the skin from daily wear and tear and skin-applied products. It tends to be mixed with other products like antioxidants and other products that are not regulated.” In other words, it’s difficult to point to any hard scientific data that these products work or are worth the money — though celebrities like Emily Ratajkowski, Katie Holmes and Drew Barrymore may swear by the K-beauty trend of snail mucus.
“Snail mucin is usually well tolerated by most skin types due to its gentle properties and can be used alongside other active ingredients, like retinols. However, like any active skin ingredient, allergies are possible, so it’s always best to patch-test new products before applying all over,” Chacon says.
To do a patch test, apply a small amount of the product to the inside of your arm and let it sit for 24 hours, before using it all over. Particularly if you have a history of eczema or allergies, or your skin is very sensitive and prone to itching, it’s best to clear the use of any new product by your doctor before use.
Because the mucin itself, in addition to some common other ingredients in such products, may not be regulated or have research data to back them, Torbeck cautions that using snail mucin for the skin may cause a local reaction including redness, irritation or itching. “I would be cautious in use and recommend running it by a board-certified dermatologist before use,” he says.
It’s also worth pointing out that because snail mucin contains an animal product, it’s not considered vegan. Some companies, like COSRX, claim that no harm comes to the snails they harvest the raw materials from, noting that they’re placed over a mesh screen in a dark and quiet room where they’re free to roam and leave a mucin trail as far as they’d like. In such situations, there’s no forcing of the production of mucin.
Roff notes that “while snail mucin is safe and beneficial for aiding in skin healing, regeneration and collagen production, those focused on conscious skin care should look for cruelty-free products that use ‘snail spas’ to extract the mucin compared to traditional methods.”
Those traditional methods often involved dunking the snail in vats of water with vinegar, salt or other chemicals to force the excretion of mucin.
If you’d rather not smear their slime on your skin, you might consider eating snails instead. Cooked snails, such as those found in the French delicacy escargot, contain lots of protein, copper, selenium, zinc, potassium and vitamin E. All of those nutrients are good for supporting wellness and overall health.
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Update 07/18/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.