Goo look lovely: Thai farmers milk snails to cash in on beauty craze

Industry has boomed in Thailand, with more than 80 snail farms in one province alone feeding cosmetics demand

For years, they were the unwelcome slimy plague on the farmers of Thailand. But a global cosmetic demand for snail secretions, thought to offset ageing and give the skin a dewy glow, has led to a growing new business for snail farms, where the molluscs are “milked” for their slime, known as mucin.

Over the past three years, Thai farmers and opportunistic locals have begun keeping the creatures they once desperately tried to rid themselves of, as snail slime has become worth more than gold and the global slime industry has boomed to be worth an estimated $314m.

There are now 85 snail farms in the Thai province of Nakhon Nayok, two hours east of Bangkok, collectively producing as much as 600 litres of mucin per month. The species bred for slime is the Achatina snail, known better as the African giant snail.

Phatinisiri Thangkeaw, a teacher, said she had begun her business by purchasing snails from the nearby rice farmers, who were glad to be rid of the creatures who desecrated their newly planted crops. She pays local farmers around $1 for a kilogram of snails and now has more than 1,000 snails that she milks for their mucin and then sells.

“Farmers used to throw them on the road or in the rivers,” said Phatinisiri. “But now they sell them to me to earn extra money.”

The process of harvesting the slime is seen as humane, involving dripping water over the snails to encourage them to secrete the mucin, which does not kill or harm them. To keep the quality high, in Thailand the snails are fed vegetables and grains and are only milked once every three weeks.

In Thailand, the raw mucin is sold to a single cosmetics company, Aden International, which was established after Kitpong Puttarathuvanun saw a gap in the market. He sells the slime both as an expensive serum and a dried powder.

It was in the 1980s that the potential of snail secretions were noticed by breeders in Chile, who marvelled at how soft their hands became after handling the molluscs. The first cream containing snail mucin was produced in Chile, but in recent years it has boomed as an ingredient in Korean and American beauty products, and snail mucin face masks can cost upwards of $300.

Their mucin contains ingredients like glycoproteins, hyaluronic acid, and glycolic acid, and the snail creams and serums are sold with the promise of stimulating collagen, slowing the onset of wrinkles and healing acne and reducing scar tissue, though dermatologists are divided on the benefits.

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report


Hannah Ellis-Petersen in Bangkok

The GuardianTramp

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