The snail facial all started in a Tokyo spa. During the procedure, an esthetician places live snails on the face of the client, whereby they distribute their mucus to remove dead skin cells and, somehow, improve the skin’s ability to hydrate.
"Claims that snail slime will repair and soften skin seem tenuous, but not out of the question," says Marta Wohrle, creator of Truth in Aging. "The science is a bit vague, but fairly supportive. There is one study — seemingly independent — that looked at the mollusk secretions, cryptomphalus aspersa (SCA). The study found that it contained antioxidants and stimulated fibroblast proliferation and rearrangement of the actin cytoskeleton."
Dr. Jessica Krant, M.D., M.P.H., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Art of Dermatology says the benefits of this new treatment might have been exaggerated: "The snail slime skinny is that much like the exciting, titillating 'piranha pedicure' that hit the news for a short period, it's mainly a great marketing ploy for spas, coming out of Japan."
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The experts seem to agree there is no real research proof that snail slime does anything special for the face beyond what enriched moisturizers do. The way these facials are performed thus far is by combining the application of the snails with a nice facial massage and also electrical micro-current stimulation, which theoretically temporarily opens cell pathways to allow larger molecules in so they can penetrate the surface.
"The hyaluronan molecule that is the basis of the slime (cousin of hyaluronic acid that we already use in dermal fillers and topical moisturizers) is too large to fit through these openings anyway, and serves as a surface humectant, which absorbs and captures moisture from the air and sits on top of the skin to plump up outer dry cells and make fine lines less visible," explains Krant.
There are also antioxidants in the mix but it's unknown what their true effects are. It may be the massage and moisturizing that is doing the bulk of the work, but hey, who doesn't want a few snails on her face once in a while?
"Supposedly, the specific breed of African snails used is not plucked straight from the dirt but is kept in a clean environment and fed only organic vegetables to keep them fresh and healthy. Apparently, there is a Japanese myth about snails, too, in which snails turn into women when they have survived living in a shell for 30 years, as a reward for suffering so long. Perhaps this new beauty treatment is just a way of communing with old buddies?" muses Krant.
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