Sunday, February 7, 2016

Snails on my face?! WHERE DO I SIGN UP?!

My brother sent me this picture last night, and at first I chuckled because I thought it was a typo.

Should be "nail repair cream" Hahahaha. Snail repair cream! That would be pretty funny, can you imagine?! Think of all the crushed snails I could put back together with this amazing product! Hahahaha. And then I stopped laughing because the word "snail" was repeated in the byline. Oh they're not joking, I'm really supposed to repair snails with this?

Nope, the snails repair me! Oooooh!

First ingredient is "Snail secretion filtrate" (1). Hmm... Don't get me wrong, it should, perhaps be clear from this blog that I'm 100% fine with snail slime(2). But who says that "secretion" is slime anyway? The USDA should really get a better grip on that. I can think of lots of other things that snails secrete that I have no interest in having on my face. But OK, for the sake of argument, let's take them at their implication that it is slime, or snail mucin, which is a little more precise.

At this point, most of you are probably bored by my completely predictable failure to pay attention to anything that's going on in the world, and this snails-on-your-face thing has been all the buzz for a while. To which my response is an exasperated, tired, Duh. I'm always 3 years late on everything(3) and, thankfully for you, my point here is not "Whaaa? People are crazy!" Because that is 100% obvious and goes without saying. I mean really, it's insulting how little you think of me.

Meta-self-critique aside, I get that people put snails on their faces and it's the best thing they ever did for themselves. And you know what, that's fine. Whatever, you do you, and feel good about it, and that's great.

But the burning question, here, is how do you get the snail mucus in the jar?

Thank God there is a sub-Reddit on that very subject. These contributors were very interested in snail welfare, which is more than most, so good on 'em. Helpfully, there are two videos (in French(4)). Studying marine snails, I haven't really paid much mind to snail farming, Heliculture for us jargon snobs, which is, of course, a thing because escargots. Culinary snails are mostly terrestrial, literally the kind you find in your garden(5). Basically, snail farms do look like my garden - glad I'm doing something right there - complete with little snail shelters, which are boards you flip over and, predictably, are covered with a ton of honkin' snails.

In both of the slime-iculture videos, snail slime is acquired by agitating the snails, poking or shaking them to get them to produce slime. In Chile, a small collective of women gather the slime by hand, first rinsing colanders of snails, then holding them up one at a time while gently prodding them with a stick and allowing the slime to drip into a jar (that jar full of snail goo was admittedly a little difficult to look at). In France, the operation is more mechanized: against a stainless steel backdrop, several hundred snails are suspended in netted mesh bags and gently shaken, either mechanically or by hand, over a tub that collects the elicited slime.

Happy Snail?
One Redditor comments that the shaking method looks "less nice" than the gentle stroking the Chilean women give the snails. I suspect that reaction has more to do with the stainless steel than the snail's actual experience. Because, let's not kid ourselves here, in either case, to the snail, these processes are the equivalent of a hungry bird, repeatedly poking at the snail hiding in its shell, or tossing it around to crack the shell. This is a stress response. A snail does not expend that much energy producing so much mucus because it is "relaxed"(6)

Why would it produce slime in response to a threat? My first thought was that the mucus could be distasteful to predators (think skunk), but according to this source, it is evidently not distasteful to, SCIENCE! Somebody taste tested snail slime. Good job, that person's parents. Maybe birds hate it, even if humans don't, but it probably does at least help them crawl faster - for that iconic, white-knuckled, snail getaway scene, naturally. 

So what's the basis of putting snails on your face? Oh, the things we of the fairer sex do for beauty! Proponents cite the presence of glycolic acid and allantoin, Wikipedia lists hyaluronic acid as well. Glycolic acid you will be familiar with if you, like me, enjoy having a thin layer of your face burned off periodically - for that fresh, chemical-plant-accident look that's all the rage these days. Allantoin has anti-inflammatory properties, and perhaps contributes to the wound-healing properties snail slime is thought to have. Hyaluronic acid is an ingredient in particularly fancy moisturizers.

It's the size of your fist, people. No. Just, no.
I admit that I have no comment on whether this works or is worth it. There is probably some research somewhere, or should be, characterizing the mucus of various species and production methods, to optimize the various goodies contained within. You can even PUT GIANT AFRICAN LAND SNAILS ON YOUR FACE, if you're into that, although not in this country where they are a prohibited species - you know, hugely destructive invasive and whatnot. You probably won't get Angiostrongylus cantonensis as long as you aren't eating raw snails "on a dare". 

References and Miscellany
(1) PLEASE for the love of GOD, someone tell cosmetics companies that the species is not capitalized in binomial names! Every damn bottle of whatever in my cabinet makes this mistake.

(2) And in fact, I have used snail slime in my experiments. Long story short, I was trying to fake snails into thinking they were in a room with a lot of other snails, so I had some Judas snails lay snail trails in a tub before removing them, giving the remaining snails the impression that the room was more crowded than it really was.

(3)  BT-dubs, have you guys heard of this thing called Kombucha!? It's amazing because it's totally alive, just like me!

(4) Thank you Mme. Pollero - I actually can understand more of these than I expected!

(5) Some people do eat marine snail, queen conch. But between the shells and the meat, it's an astoundingly overfished species - not recommended.

(6) Whatever emotions humans conveniently project on these creatures to make ourselves feel better even though 100% of the rest of the time we consider them as good as rocks. And don't get me wrong, I'm not arguing that this handling of snails is cruel, certainly not worse than things we do to the food we eat. I suspect the poking treatment seems "kinder" because it's a small group of women sitting around chatting in a room while handling one snail at a time. The women sure are relaxed, so presumably the snails must be also. But the stainless steel of the shaking treatment makes it look industrial, which I guess it is, but that probably doesn't matter to the individual snails.