By Maneka Sanjay Gandhi
How weird human beings are. Ask a normal person to touch a snail and they recoil in horror. The body of the snail is long, moist and slimy. The slime that snails secrete is seen as disgusting. In the Christian religious texts, Psalms 58:8 uses snail slime as a metaphorical punishment. And yet… Snails are defined by children as beings who carry their houses on their backs. This does not just apply to the small horned beast on land with a large coiled shell on its back that it can retract into. It is used for sea snails, freshwater snails and slugs as well. Snails that lack a shell are called slugs. Both can’t hear but they have eyes on tentacles on their heads and a sharp sense of smell. They are most active at night. They are hermaphrodites- each snail has the reproductive organs of both sexes and produces sperm and eggs. They have a top speed of about one centimetre an hour! The snail retreats into its shell and seals the entrance with slime in dry weather to protect its body from drying up.
During very cold weather or winter, it hibernates in the ground. It lays about 80 eggs several times a year in holes in the soil concealed with a mixture of soil, mucus and excrement.Snails eat living and decaying plants. They control algae in ponds, recycle organic matter. They are food for beetles, earthworms, lizards, snakes, toads, turtles, and birds. Many birds rely on snails for the extra calcium they provide. During egg-laying season, female birds eat 40 % more snails than normal. If there are no snails, you won’t have a large number of bird species
Humans have these attitudes towards snails:
-They are slimy and repulsive pests and toxic pesticides and salt are used to kill them.
-They are gourmet food for the French.
-For those who find the eating of snails too awful to even contemplate, I suggest you look at your cosmetics.
The snail moves by creeping on a flat “foot” underneath the body. The band of muscles in the foot contracts and expands and this creates a rippling movement that pushes the snail forward. The “foot” has a special gland that produces slimy mucus to make a slippery track. The slime hardens when it comes into contact with air allowing the snail to move on pointed needles and vines without being injured. The slime trail that the snail leaves behind is often visible as a silvery track on surfaces such as stone or concrete. Mucus is used by a snail to adhere passively to surfaces such as rock, lubrication, repulsing predators and to cover its eggs when they are buried in the earth.It is this slime that is now being used in medicines and cosmetics.
About 20 years ago, the potential of snail slime was noted by Chilean snail farmers who found that skin lesions healed quickly, with no scars, when they handled snails for the French food market. This observation resulted in the production of ‘Elicina’, a Chilean snail slime-based product. In 2010 ‘Missha’ then launched Super ‘Aqua Cell Renew Snail Cream’, claiming that its 70% snail extract ‘soothes regenerates and heals skin’. Now, snail slime based products are claimed to be the new miracle face-fixer where they are used to treat acne, reduce pigmentation and scarring, and combat wrinkle.
In Italy, slug mucus has been used for many years to treat warts and dermatitis, inflammations, calluses, and acne, and to promote wound healing. In the UK a 1898 exhibit, in the natural history museum, is a slug impaled on a thorn which says ‘Go out alone and find a large black slug. Secretly rub the underside on the warts and impale the slug on the thorn. As the slug dies the warts will go’. Warts are growths caused by an infection caused by human papilloma virus. Does slug slime have antiviral abilities?
It would not be surprising if such properties existed, for slugs and snails have a moist skin and live an in environment heavily contaminated with potential pathogenic agents, and thus might be considered to be at particular risk of developing infections. Mucus(or snot), present in our noses for example, functions as a physical barrier between us and the stuff in the air we breathe in. Slugs produce two types of mucus; pedal mucus, which is relatively thin and contains about 96-97% water, and a thick and sticky glue which is produced over the entire body. Mucus consists of a complex mix of proteoglycans, glycosaminoglycans, glycoprotein enzymes, hyaluronic acid, copper peptides, antimicrobial peptides, and metal ions. The glue contains zinc, iron, copper and manganese, which may have particular relevance for wound healing. Studies have also shown that mucus contains peptides, such as mucin, which possess antibacterial activity against both Gram positive and Gram negative bacteria.
These antimicrobial peptides not only act as natural antibiotics, but also stimulate many elements of the immune system, including barrier repair and inflammatory cell recruitment. Slug slime is also said to contain a local anaesthetic, and for this reason there are anecdotal accounts of live slugs being used to treat toothache. In the US a patent has been filed for the use of slug slime in the treatment of burns. Scientists have found that the common garden snail, helix aspersa, contains antioxidants which are substances that protect cells from the damage caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals. The authors also reported that the snail slime stimulated cellular regeneration, so could be useful in repair of wounded tissues. In the last few years, covering your face in snail slime has become a major skincare trend and shows no signs of slowing down. There are thousands of products available that contain snail slime that claim to improve your skin, prevent ageing and wrinkles and plump up the skin. There are a number of specialized farms throughout the world that specialize in obtaining snail slime. The slime is then sent to special laboratories where it is turned into SSF, the cosmetic ingredient. Serums and creams on the market have approximately 10 to 15 percent SSF. Anna Cerutti, from Northern Italy, runs a natural cosmetics company, La NaturaSiamoNoi. She says “Snail creams are our best-selling products”.
In Russia, beauty salons do slime massages of the Giant African land snail to speed up the regeneration of the skin and eliminate scars. In France, Louis-Marie Guedon from Champagnolles has developed a secret technique to harvest the slime and has started industrial-scale snail mucus extraction operation with a target to harvest 15 tonnes every year. He has contracts with cosmetic labs that mix cosmetics for some of the biggest names in consumer beauty products. Spas in Tokyo offer facials using live snails that crawl across the face leaving their fresh slime on the reclining client. Snail face creams, serums and masks have surged in popularity in Japan and South Korea. Companies such as Biocutis, Misshaus, Alternative Secrets, Réelle Skincare and Peachandlily.com are some companies providing snail gel products. Just as lipstick contains fish scales, and baby placenta, and bird droppings are in spa facials, cosmetics manufacturers are now including snail slime as the latest ingredients.
The use of slugs and snail is not without risk, however, as their slime can carry ecoli and other dangerous bacteria and rat lungworm. Lungworms are dangerous because once ingested they head to the brain where they can cause meningitis type symptoms, with damage to brain tissue and swelling of the brain. What will the human not do in pursuit of beauty?