Can Snail Mucin Really Help Your Skin? What Skin Care Experts Say
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Snail mucin is a buzzy skin care ingredient touted for its ability to moisturize skin. But is there truth to the hype? Here's what the experts say, plus top products to try.
Snail mucin for skin care
When it comes to wacky ingredients, the beauty industry does not disappoint. There’s placenta, bird poop, and even so-called whale vomit (known as ambergris). And now there’s another buzzy (yet gross-sounding) product to add to the list: snail mucin.
“It’s exactly what you think it is—mucin from a snail,” says Anna Guanche, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Bella Skin Institute in Calabasas, California.
The popular ingredient is, indeed, an external bodily secretion from snails. But it’s not a trail of snail slime, per se. It’s a stress-induced secretion—one with moisturizing properties, among other skin care benefits.
Like many top beauty trends, snail mucin rose to pop culture consciousness through Korean beauty and is now found in a slew of creams, lotions, serums, and tonics. It’s often included in 10-step K-beauty regimens.
There are options available at every price point. And despite sounding a bit out there, the ingredient’s easy to find. You’ll come across products containing snail mucin in mainstream beauty emporiums like Sephora and even in Walmart.
So does snail mucin really work, or is it just hype? We spoke with skin care experts to find out.
The use of snail mucin for skin health
Although snail mucin is now frequently associated with Korean beauty, it was reportedly used by the ancient Greeks and has a long history in skin care.
“Snail mucin comes from the brown garden snail and has been used since ancient times for skin-healing benefits,” explains Peterson Pierre, MD, a dermatologist in Westlake Village, California.
In the 1980s, Chilean farmers producing escargot reportedly noticed that handling the snails seemed to lead to softer hands that healed from cuts more quickly. It was the birth of what has become a full-blown trend.
Today you’re less likely to see the scientific name on product labels—Cryptomphalus aspersa—than the term “snail mucin.” Skin care companies also refer to it as “snail essence” or “snail secretion filtrate.”
Where does snail mucin come from?
If you’re anything like us, you might imagine gardeners hunting snails and scooping up their mucin from pavements. The reality is a bit more scientific.
Ted Lain, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and chief medical officer for Sanova Dermatology, says that while snail mucin is excretion, it’s not the trail of snail slime you may remember from childhood summers.
“It is the excretion from the snail,” he says. “It is not what is excreted during movement, but rather it is excreted during times of stress.”
Yes, snails can experience stress, and it produces the coveted mucin that eventually makes its way to skin care manufacturers and onto your beauty shelves.
Benefits of snail mucin
The source may be questionable, but snail mucin is super moisturizing—plus it also offers anti-aging properties.
“It really works,” says Dr. Peterson. “Because it contains allantoin, hyaluronic acid, and glycolic acid—which all have beneficial effects on aging skin—it is a very exciting new addition to the cosmetic space.”
Here are the top reasons snail mucin isn’t just a beauty trend; it’s a skin care staple.
Snail mucin’s moisturizing properties are highly touted. The hyaluronic acid component draws water to the surface of the skin. Think of it like a sponge, which soaks up water and gives skin a plumped effect, says Dr. Peterson. That’s why snail mucin is a great product for anyone dealing with dry skin.
“Its moisturizing ingredients help to repair the barrier function of the skin while sealing in moisture, great for healing and regeneration,” he says.
(Try these face mist sprays to hydrate your skin.)
Suffering from flaky, rough skin? Snail mucin might help with that too. The mucin’s glycolic acid helps exfoliate your face by removing dead skin cells. This also evens pigment and your whole complexion.
And the allantoin in snail mucin has hydrating and anti-irritating effects, according to Dr. Peterson.
Boosts collagen production
“Snail mucin contains growth factors, which stimulate collagen production,” says Dr. Peterson. Why do you care about that? Greater collagen production can lead to glowing skin, better hair, and stronger nails.
Speeds up wound healing
Remember those Chilean farmers from the ’80s who said handling snails made their cuts and scrapes heal faster? Science indicates they were onto something.
A study in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment that investigated the effects of snail mucin on burns found that applying a cream containing snail mucin twice a day for 14 days led to quicker healing.
If your skin is angry and raw, snail mucin may help with that too. “It can also calm and soothe irritated skin because it contains allantoin,” says Dr. Peterson. “It also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.”
More research is needed
Dr. Peterson notes that, although snail mucin has beneficial components, controlled studies are actually few and far between.
He cites one small study, published in Cosmetic Dermatology over a decade ago, where researchers looked at 15 women who applied an 8 percent snail mucin formulation every morning and a 40 percent snail mucin formulation every night for three months.
“The results showed a 40 percent reduction in pigmentation, and depth of wrinkles was reduced by up to 30 percent,” says Dr. Peterson.
Though the study is promising and all participants experienced smoother, more hydrated skin and improved skin elasticity, Dr. Peterson cautions that larger and more controlled studies are still lacking.
Sydney Hastings, a licensed aesthetician at Four Moons Spa in Encinitas, California, is skeptical about its benefits.
“The proverbial jury is still out in terms of its benefits in cosmetic applications,” says Hastings. That’s because scientists don’t know the ideal types of snails, methods of extraction and collection, or concentrations of the snail slime.
Hastings also points to the fact that snail mucin’s effectiveness, when exposed to heat, cold, saline, and perfumes, is unknown. There may be issues, for instance, with how the extracted mucin is prepared before mixing with other skin care ingredients.
Other concerns include the fact that consumers can’t vet the quality of the slime itself.
“Not enough research has been found to compare organically deposited slime with harvesting slime from snails and slugs in a laboratory setting,” says Hastings.
How is snail mucin collected?
If you’re worried about the snails, you’re not alone. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) questions the ethics of harming, agitating, and bullying snails to extract the slime, and it claims that a mix of slime and feces may be released.
An investigation aggregating articles on the topic from The Outline, a publication by journalists and storytellers, noted that snail mucin breeders tend to be quite secretive about the process, making it difficult to assess the claims.
At least one snail operation in Italy claims to be a “spa for snails,” subjecting them to a steam bath, according to the UK newspaper The Telegraph.
It seems like a decent bet that the stress-induced secretion is likely not an enjoyable process for the snails. However, some snail mucin brands, such as Korean beauty company COSRX, claim to be cruelty-free.
Whatever the details, it’s known that mucin is collected from lab-bred snails and then processed into the skin care product itself.
Risks and side effects
Although snail mucin is generally seen as a benign and non-irritating ingredient, Dr. Peterson says that allergies might be possible. Without more data from research, there’s no way to know how prevalent they are.
“There aren’t a plethora of large, controlled trials with snail mucin, but it appears to be a well-tolerated ingredient,” Dr. Peterson says. “That being said, as with any active ingredient, it is possible to have personal allergies.”
Dr. Guanche agrees and recommends patch testing. “Before applying to the face, you can always do a test spot and apply to the forearm and observe for any potential reaction,” she says.
People who are allergic to snail mucin might develop redness, hives, and itchiness, among other reactions.
Provided you’re not allergic, your skin will probably tolerate it well, no matter your skin type, says Dr. Lain.
(This is how to tell if your skin care products are bad for you.)
How to use snail mucin
Wondering how to apply what is essentially snail goo to your skin? Fret not: the beauty industry has done all the heavy lifting for you.
Snail mucin is available in a wide variety of serums and creams—more on the best ones in a second—making the application look and feel exactly like your garden-variety skin care product.
While some skin care ingredients don’t mix well together (think retinol and vitamin C), that’s not the case for snail mucin. Irritation is unlikely when combined with other ingredients, meaning you can generally use it with ease and don’t have to wait, say, half an hour before layering on other products.
“Snail mucin is a gentle but active ingredient,” Dr. Peterson says. “It mixes well with others, like SPF, vitamin C, and retinol, so feel free to add to your skin care regimen with confidence.”
To get the biggest bang for your buck, Dr. Guanche layers products that contain snail mucin on top of holy-grain skin-care ingredients like alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and retinol.
“It is best applied over actives such as tretinoin and glycolic to seal them in and support the skin barrier,” she says.
(Check out these 10 anti-aging myths dermatologists want you to stop believing.)
5 snail mucin products
If you’re not put off by the source or potential concerns surrounding snail mucin, you can check out these options.
COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence
Arguably the most popular snail mucin product, this essence from COSRX is made with 96.3 percent snail secretion filtrate and claims to repair dryness and reduce dullness. The company says the product is cruelty-free.
(These are the vegan skin care products dermatologists like.)
Peach & Lily Snail Rescue Intensive Wash-Off Mask
This 15-minute K-beauty mask from Peach & Lily contains snail mucin, moisturizing hyaluronic acid, healing and soothing cica, and strawberry extract, which is a natural source of antioxidant vitamin C and beta-hydroxy acid (BHA). The company says the product is cruelty-free.
SMD Saromae Snail Serum Concentrate
Recommended by Dr. Guanche, this SMD snail serum can be used both day and night on all skin types and features more than 50 active ingredients. These include hibiscus extract (a gentle exfoliator) and licorice root (a skin brightener).
Mizon All in One Snail Repair Cream
With a 92 percent concentration of snail mucin, this popular cream from Mizon—another Korean beauty superstar—claims to even skin tone, promote elasticity and skin regeneration, and treat acne scars.
Seoul Ceuticals Multi-Function All-in-One Anti-Aging Snail Repair Cream
Boasting a 97.5 percent concentration of snail mucin, this antioxidant-laden cream from Seoul Ceuticals claims to ethically harvest from snails and bills itself as noncomedogenic for even the most sensitive and acne-prone skin.
Next, here are the dangerous beauty trends to avoid.
- Anna Guanche, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Bella Skin Institute in Calabasas, California
- Peterson Pierre, MD, a dermatologist in Westlake Village, California
- Ted Lain, MD, board-certified dermatologist and chief medical officer at Sanova Dermatology
- Journal of Dermatological Treatment: "The efficacy of Helix aspersa Müller extract in the healing of partial thickness burns: a novel treatment for open burn management protocols"
- Cosmetic Dermatology: "Clinical and Histological Efficacy of a Secretion of the Mollusk Cryptomphalus aspersa in the Treatment of Cutaneous Photoaging"
- The Outline: "The Ethics of Mucin"
- The Telegraph: "Italy's Snail Farmers Having the Slime of Their Lives as Niche Beauty Product Craze Sees Rise in Demand"
- Sydney Hastings, a licensed aesthetician at Four Moons Spa in Encinitas, California