Snails used to be the bane of Thai farmers’ livelihoods, but now they’re milking them for all they’re worth.
The anti-aging and moisturizing properties of snail slime, known as mucin, have become a hot commodity in the global beauty world, so much so that the cosmetic secret is now worth an estimated $411 million, The Guardian reports.
At least 80 snail farms in the Nakhon Nayok province have sprung up over the past three years in response to the growing trend. And the discovery is not just benefiting the agriculturally inclined.
Phatinsiri Thangkeaw, a local teacher, purchases snails from rice farmers whose crops are at the mercy of the snails who ruin them.
“Farmers used to throw them on the road or in the rivers,” she explained to the publication. “But now they sell them to me to earn extra money.”
Thankeaw pays local farmers $1.30 for a kilogram of snails and has amassed more than 1,000 of the mollusks. She sells their secretions after milking them, a relatively humane (albeit seemingly tedious) process.
Only milked every three weeks to maintain the highest quality, slime harvesters drip water over the snails, which are fed a rich diet of vegetables and grains, encouraging them to secrete the liquid.
The raw mucin is then sold to Aden International, a Thai cosmetics company founded by Kitpong Puttarathuvanum, who then distributes it internationally as a serum or dried powder.
But this golden ticket to ageless, dewy skin actually isn’t new to the beauty world.
The use of snail secretions first emerged in the 1980s when Chilean breeders noticed how soft their hands were after handling their prized possessions. This discovery lead to the production of the first snail cream, followed by its wide usage in Korean and American skincare products.
Snail slime’s hypoallergenic nature, researchers said, makes it more appealing than most products containing laboratory-made chemicals.
“It prevents dryness and makes the skin look dewy, with fewer allergenic ingredients than our current anti-aging armamentarium,” Victoria Fu and Gloria Lu, the chemist duo behind Chemist Confessions, told New York Magazine’s The Strategist last year. “I actually recommend it over actives such as glycolic acid or retinoids.”
Elements in the slime — like glycoproteins, hyaluronic acid and glycolic acid — make for a natural product that slows signs of aging, heals acne and reduces scar tissue.