Snails are being "milked" for their slime, as part of a new beauty craze which is seeing the substance used in cosmetics and moisturising creams.
The potential of snail slime – known as mucin – was first noticed by breeders in Chile in the 1980s, who marvelled at how soft their hands became after handling the animals.
In recent years it has boomed as an ingredient in Korean and American beauty products, with snail creams and serums promising to offset ageing and give the skin a healthy glow .
Mucin contains glycoproteins, hyaluronic acid, and glycolic acid, which theoretically stimulate collagen, slowing the onset of wrinkles and healing acne and reducing scar tissue.
The slime has become so popular that today it is worth more than gold. Snail mucin face masks can cost upwards of $300, and the global industry is worth an estimated $314 million.
In Thailand, there are now more than 80 snail farms dedicated to harvesting and selling the slime.
The process is seen as humane, and involves dripping water over the snails to encourage them to secrete the mucin, which does not harm them.
To keep the quality high, the snails are fed vegetables and grains and are only milked once every three weeks.
Phatinisiri Thangkeaw, a teacher in the Thai province of Nakhon Nayok, has more than 1,000 snails that she milks for their mucin and then sells.
She began her business by buying snails from nearby rice farmers for around $1 a kilogram. The farmers were glad to be rid of them, because they wreak havoc on newly planted crops.
“Farmers used to throw them on the road or in the rivers,” Phatinisiri told The Guardian . “But now they sell them to me to earn extra money.”
In Thailand, the raw mucin is sold to a single cosmetics company, called Aden International. The company sells the slime both as an expensive serum and a dried powder.
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