If youre a fan of Japanese and Korean skincare and beauty products then you have likely come across serums and essences containing snail mucin, but what is snail mucin? And, more to the point, what are the benefits of snail mucin in skincare?
What Is Snail Mucin?
Snail mucin is another name for snail secretion filtrate, or snail slime and is an animal-derived growth factor. Growth factors are high molecular weight peptides that encourage wound healing and tissue repair . The growth factors in snail mucin are highly beneficial to the snail and enable it to self-heal after injuries .
These regenerative effects are due to the complex chemical composition of snail mucin. A chemical analysis revealed that snail mucin contained various different substances, including allantoin, collagen, elastin, glycolic acid, hyaluronic acid, and natural antibacterials .
You probably recognize most of these substances as key ingredients in various anti-aging and moisturizing skin care products which is one of the reasons snail mucin has become such a popular skin care ingredient.
The most biologically active form of snail mucin and the one most commonly used in skin care products is derived from the Cryptomphalus aspersa mollusk, also known as the brown garden snail .
These snails have eight different types of secreting glands that secrete four different types of mucus; protein, calcium, pigments, and lipids. The mucus secreted depends on the way the snail is stimulated. For example, with normal stimulation, the mucin secreted provides lubrication (this type of mucus can be seen in a snail trail). In contrast, when the snail is disturbed or feels threatened, it releases a foamy secretion. It is the latter of these mucins that is used in skincare and contains the beneficial substances mentioned above .
The secretion from the Cryptomphalus aspersa mollusk is a mixture of glandular secretions from the mucinous, albuminous, and salivary glands, with each secretion responsible for different therapeutic effects. The secretion from the mucinous gland has a restorative effect, the secretion from the albuminous gland provides antibiotic effects, and the secretion of the salivary gland has a digestive and penetrative effect that can help exfoliate and deep-clean the skin .
The History of Snail Mucin
The medicinal use of snail mucin dates back to Ancient Greece where Hippocrates (the father of medicine) recommended the use of crushed snails to treat inflammatory skin conditions.
Fast forward a millennium, and a few thousand miles away from Ancient Greece, Chilean snail farmers were experiencing soft and smooth hands after regularly handling snails for the French food market. Not only were their hands smoother and softer, but any wounds or grazes appeared to heal faster with no scarring . This led to the first snail mucin-based skincare brand.
A further healing observation was made by a Spanish oncologist, Dr. Rafael Abad, who was treating snails with radiation therapy and noticed that they were producing a different type of secretion under this stress that helped their wounds to heal. When this secretion was applied to the radiation burns of human subjects, a similar would healing response was observed .
In fact, snail mucin has been successfully used for over 15 years to treat radiation dermatitis . Dr. Abad also recommended, in his 1996 patent, that snail mucin could be successfully used to treat radiation dermatitis, all types of burns (including radiation, chemical, and thermal burns), slow healing wounds and ulcers, and to prevent UV radiation-induced skin cancer . He also suggests that snail mucin would be beneficial in the treatment of wrinkles and stretch marks.
It is no surprise then that snail mucin can be found in a number of cosmetic products nowadays and offers a wide variety of skin benefits. So what are the benefits of snail mucin in skin care? Lets have a look at what scientific studies are available to answer this question.
What Are The Benefits Of Snail Mucin In Skin Care?
As previously mentioned, snail mucin is an animal-derived growth factor and high-molecular-weight peptide . It also contains a number of ingredients that are known to be beneficial to the skin, such as allantoin, glycolic acid, and hyaluronic acid .
As there arent a huge number of research studies that specifically investigate the skin benefits of snail mucin outside of its medical applications, lets first look at why snail mucin should provide skin benefits in theory.
Snail Mucin As A Growth Factor/ HMW Peptide
Growth factors are peptides that act as chemical messengers to regulate various cell processes, including proliferation and formation of the extracellular matrix. This means they are essential in wound healing and tissue repair processes. Topically applied growth factors have demonstrated effectiveness at enhancing wound healing and stimulating the production of collagen .
However, growth factors have a large molecular weight which makes it difficult for them to penetrate the stratum corneum (the outer layer of the skin) barrier. It is hypothesized that topical growth factors enter the dermis by penetrating the hair follicles rather than the stratum corneum. Once they have entered the dermis they can then signal the production of endogenous growth factors .
As mentioned earlier, snail mucin is made up of different secretions. The secretion from the salivary gland has an exfoliating and penetrative effect. This may mean that the growth factors found in snail mucin are more readily absorbed due to this penetration enhancement.
Benefits of Snail Mucin and Its Complex Chemical Composition
Snail mucin contains a number of complex chemicals that are widely known to be beneficial in skin care products. Out of the ingredients with the most cited benefits appear to be allantoin, glycolic acid, and hyaluronic acid. In addition, snail mucin contains natural antibacterials which provide a wide range of benefits for the skin.
Allantoin is used in cosmetics as a skin conditioning agent and is approved for use as a skin protectant by the FDA . It is reported to have keratolytic, hydrating, epithelializing, and anti-irritant activities  and has been used for more than 60 years to treat, prevent, and reduce scars and keloids with a number of scientific studies to back up allantoins scar reducing ability .
In one study, a gel containing allantoin was applied to injured skin within 3 weeks of the injury taking place. After 2-3 months of treatment with allantoin gel, scars showed statistically significant improvements with less redness, more pliability, less pain, and reduced height and width . This study had a particularly large sample size but was purely observational and had no control group, so it is hard to determine whether the scars may have improved significantly within this time frame without the application of allantoin gel.
However, other randomized controlled studies have found improved wound healing and reduced scarring with the application of gels containing allantoin compared to control gels .
Glycolic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid derived from sugar cane that acts as a chemical exfoliant to remove dead skin cells and loosen the top layer of skin .
One of the most widely reported beneficial effects of glycolic acid for skin is its ability to reduce premature aging. This is largely due to its ability to increase collagen, improve the quality of elastic fibers, and shrink pores for a smoother complexion .
Furthermore, topical glycolic acid can increase epidermal thickness and epidermal and dermal hyaluronic acid levels. Thus glycolic acid can improve skin appearance, texture, and function by increasing skin hydration .
Other studies have demonstrated that the skin benefits of glycolic acid go beyond its ability to reduce premature aging. For example, 10% topical glycolic acid can significantly improve the appearance of acne after 45 days of use .
Glycolic acid can also reduce skin pigmentation. This is due to its exfoliant effect which speeds up the rate of skin cell turnover so that pigment can be lost more quickly .
Hyaluronic acid is a glycosaminoglycan that can bind up to 1000 times its weight in water . This means that the hyaluronic acid content of the epidermis and dermis helps to regulate skin hydration levels and the stratum corneum barrier function .
When applied to the skin, hyaluronic acid forms a film that can reduce transepidermal water loss (TEWL) and protects the stratum corneum. It also acts as a humectant to draw water into the skin and increase the water content of the epidermis .
Hyaluronic acid can instantly improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and improve skin hydration after only 15 minutes of application and after 8 weeks of use, these improvements become more significant and long-lasting .
According to some research, hyaluronic acid also plays a part in the wound healing process by creating an early provisional matrix or scaffold, along with fibrin, to allow the migration of cells to the wound site. This allows for the creation of a more stable and permanent matrix that is mainly composed of collagen .
An antibacterial is basically anything that can destroy or prevent the growth or multiplication of bacteria. One skin condition that particularly benefits from topical antibacterials is acne. This is due to the fact that one of the main causes of acne is an overgrowth of the p-acnes bacteria.
In addition, antibacterials can aid in the wound healing process by preventing infection.
The Benefits of Snail Mucin In Theory
The fact that snail mucin is a growth factor that contains allantoin, glycolic acid, hyaluronic acid, and antibacterial agents means that it may possess a number of skin benefits in theory.
Based on this research, some of the ways in which snail mucin may benefit the skin include:
- Improving wound healing
- Preventing scarring
- Reducing existing scarring
- Reducing premature aging due to UV exposure (photoaging)
- Improving collagen production
- Improving skin hydration
- Increasing skin cell turnover
- Reducing pigmentation
- Preventing the growth of bacteria
- Improving skin texture
This means that snail mucin may be an effective treatment for
- Poorly healing wounds
- Unsightly scars
- Fine lines and wrinkles
- Dehydrated and dry skin
- Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and melasma
- Post-inflammatory erythema
- Enlarged pores
However, the actual research regarding snail mucin is a lot more limited. In fact, one recent study even suggests that the levels of allantoin and glycolic acid found in snail mucin are a lot lower than previously thought .
The Benefits of Snail Mucin In Practice
The majority of scientific studies that support the skin benefits of snail mucin focus on its wound healing ability. This is unsurprising as pharmaceutical products require much more rigorous evidence than cosmetic products.
The Medical & Wound-Healing Benefits of Snail Mucin
In a study investigating the effects of snail mucin on partial-thickness facial burns, twice daily application of a cream containing 80% snail mucin for 14 days demonstrated accelerated healing. Specifically, the snail mucin cream accelerated the removal of debris and dead skin as well as increased the rate of wound epithelialization .
In his patent application, Dr. Abad describes a number of experimental studies using both animals and humans. The below are examples of research findings presented as supporting evidence in his patent application:
- A snail mucin formulation healed radiodermatitis in 98% of rats after 8 weeks of daily use.
- In humans, the application of a snail mucin formulation helped prevent radiodermatitis by increasing the skins tolerability of radiation exposure by 10-25%.
- In humans, a snail mucin formula increased the rate of healing of radiation burns and radiodermatitis at various different bodily sites, except for areas where there had been previous infection.
- One application of a snail mucin anti-wrinkle formulation reduced the appearance of wrinkles, with effects lasting for approximately one week after each application.
Of course, with this, we have to take into consideration the fact that this research was presented in order to support the patent application of a snail mucin formulation created by Dr. Abad, so positive effects may be emphasized and negative effects downplayed. In addition, this research may not have been published or peer-reviewed and there are limited details about the studies so it is hard to rule out bias or evaluate the experimental techniques used .
Note: Radiodermatitis or radiation dermatitis is a skin condition experienced after exposure to radiation (e.g. after radiotherapy for cancer treatment) that is characterized by skin redness, dryness, peeling, and irritation.
In vitro studies have demonstrated that the healing benefits of snail mucin may be down to its ability to promote fibroblast proliferation, protect cells from apoptosis (programmed cell death), and promote cell migration and wound repair . Basically meaning that it increases new skin cell production, prevents skin cells from dying, and helps enable the movement of cells to the wound site.
Another in vitro study highlighted the potential role of snail mucin as a treatment for melanoma skin cancers by reducing melanin production in three melanoma cell lines. It is thought that this effect is due to the inhibition of tyrosinase, a key enzyme for melanin production. This means that snail mucin could be a beneficial treatment for irregular pigmentation as well as melanoma . In fact, one study in vivo found that snail mucin could decrease irregular pigmentation by 40% .
The Cosmetic & Anti-Aging Benefits of Snail Mucin
One study recruited 15 women who were required to apply an 8% snail mucin formulation every morning and a 40% snail mucin formulation every night for 3 months. In addition to the significant 40% reduction in pigmentation, the depth of wrinkles was reduced by up to 30%. All participants experienced smoother and more hydrated skin, with the majority also experiencing improved skin elasticity .
In another study investigating the cosmetic applications of snail mucin, 12 subjects applied a facial cream containing snail mucin and donkey milk serum every day for 40 days. Evaluations were performed 2 hours after the first application as well as at the end of the 40-day period. The results demonstrated that skin elasticity, skin hydration, and wrinkle height were significantly improved both in the short-term (2hrs) and long-term (40days) .
While both of these studies suggest that snail mucin has anti-aging benefits, they are limited by their small sample size which means that they may not be particularly representative of how snail mucin would work for most people.
However, another study recruited 40 participants into a 12-week study of a snail mucin formulation on various signs of aging. In this study, skin elasticity was improved by 39%, skin roughness was improved by 53%, skin brightness was improved by 26%, and irregular pigmentation was reduced by 12% .
In another study, 120 women applied various formulations of snail mucin (depending on their skin type either serum or cream) with added peptides and antioxidants twice daily for 12 weeks. Skin evaluations took place at 45 and 90 days and assessed skin hydration, softness, firmness, elasticity, lining, expression lines, nasolabial grooves, and fine lines. All parameters assessed were significantly improved after 40 days, with progressive improvement after 90 days. Of note is the improvement in skin hydration by 91% after the 90-day treatment .
The addition of other peptides and antioxidants into the formulations in this study make it hard to identify whether the cause of the skin improvements was from snail mucin, peptides, antioxidants, or the combination of all three. Although, research suggests that snail mucin itself has antioxidant effects .
However, in a 14-week study, where 25 patients with moderate to severe facial photodamage applied an emulsion containing 8% snail mucin and a liquid serum containing 40% snail mucin to one side of their face and a control cream to the other, there was a significant improvement in crows feet wrinkles and skin texture. In addition, the patients reported a significant visual improvement in their fine lines after 8-weeks of use .
How Snail Mucin is Extracted
A common concern regarding snail mucin is how it is extracted. Frequently asked questions include how is snail slime harvested? and is snail secretion filtrate cruelty-free?. It is clear that a number of people worry about whether their cosmetics are ethically sourced, which is a very legitimate and important concern.
First of all, no snails have to die in order for snail mucin to be extracted unlike in Ancient Greece where they were crushed and applied to the skin. However, just because they are not killed for their mucin does not mean snail mucin is cruelty-free.
Most of the research refers to the stimulation of snails in order to extract their mucin. Considering that the mucin of interest is that which is secreted when the snail experiences a threat or stress, the stimulation has to create a threatening or stressful experience for the snail.
So, no matter how gentle the stimulation is, it still has to create some level of perceived threat for the snail.
For example, in one recent study, snail mucin was extracted by regular poking of the animal with a small stick . Other methods noted include placing the snail in a centrifuge (spinning the snails to extract mucin by centrifugal force), or subjecting the snail to sound vibrations, oxygen-less conditions, or temperature extremes (e.g. snail spa) .
One patented extraction method even recommends that snails are fasted for 1 to 5 days before stimulation in order to eliminate the risk of toxins within the extracted mucin .
Whether the extraction of snail secretion filtrate is cruelty-free or not is probably more of a philosophical question and dependent on individual morals and beliefs. For example, somebody who considers snails to be sentient creatures capable of feeling pain and fear will likely consider these extraction methods cruel.
A Quick Summary Of The Benefits Of Snail Mucin
Snail mucin has been used since ancient times for its skin healing benefits. A number of research studies have demonstrated that snail mucin can significantly increase the rate of wound healing.
This healing effect appears to be due to the complex chemical composition of snail mucin and its ability to increase the production of new skin cells, prevent the death of existing skin cells, and enable the movement of skin cells to the wound site.
More recent research has highlighted the antioxidant, antimicrobial, and antitumoral effects of snail mucin which suggests that it has a broader range of benefits for the skin.
Considering that a number of anti-aging treatments, such as laser treatments and microneedling, exert their anti-aging effects by creating a wound healing response, it is highly likely that snail mucin can have anti-aging benefits. However, there is less research regarding the cosmetic benefits of snail mucin and the majority of studies are weakened by their small sample sizes and the addition of other known anti-aging ingredients in their experimental formulations.
However, based on the chemical composition of snail mucin and the existing research, snail mucin may provide a wide-range of cosmetic skin benefits, including:
- Reducing fine lines and wrinkles
- Reducing pigmentation
- Reducing post inflammatory erythema
- Increasing skin hydration and stratum corneum barrier function
- Reducing enlarged pores
In addition, the antimicrobial properties and anti-redness effects highlight snail mucin as a potential acne treatment.
There are, however, some ethical and animal-welfare concerns regarding the extraction techniques used to collect snail mucin for skincare products.
Overall, snail mucin is highly likely to have a beneficial cosmetic effect, although this benefit may be no more significant than other skin care ingredients that have more scientific backing and less ethical concerns.
Related Reading: The 5 Best Snail Slime Serums.
Snail Mucin Products In Order Of Snail Secretion Filtrate Concentration
Here’s a list of some of the more common snail mucin products in order of the amount of snail secretion filtrate they contain:
- Seoul Ceuticals Snail Repair Cream – 97.5%
- COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence – 96.3%
- COSRX Advanced Snail 92 All In One Cream – 92%
- 2B Beautiful Snail Repair Cream – 92%
- Mizon All In One Snail Repair Cream – 92%
- Mizon Black Snail All In One Cream – 90%
- Benton Snail Bee High Content Essence – 90%
- Mizon Snail Repair Intensive Ampoule – 80%
- LadyKin Affinitic Snail Cream – 80%
- Elensilia Escargot Original Repair Cream With Snail Extracts – 80%
- TONYMOLY Timeless Ferment Snail Cream – 70%
- MISSHA Super Aqua Cell Renew Snail Cream – 70%
- Nature Republic Snail Solution Essence – 68%
- MISSHA Super Aqua Cell Renew Sleeping Mask – 15%
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- Gonzalez, M., Egana, M. & Munoz, N. (2004). Crema de caracol para tratamiento coayudante de cicatrices de quemaduras e injertos, Revisita Chilena de Terapia Ocupacional, 4, 5 -10.
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- Wu, D. & Goldman, M. (2017). A prospective, randomized, double-blind, split-face clinical trial comparing the efficacy of two topical human growth factors for the rejuvenation of the aging face, J Clim Aesthet Dermatol., 10(5), 31-35.
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- Abels, C., Kaszuba, A., Michalak, I. et al. (2011). A 10% glycolic acid containing oil-in-water emulsion improves mild acne: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial, J Cosmet Dermatol., 10(3), 202-209.
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Laura is a skincare addict and sunscreen enthusiast with more than 10 years of experience working in healthcare and over 5 years of experience working as a nurse. She has experience in plastic and reconstructive surgery, dermatology, and aesthetics and has received training in laser treatments. Laura is currently working in healthcare education and writes for ScienceBecomesHer in her spare time. Read More.