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Monique Keiran: Spas hope snail slime is fountain of youth

Years ago, when commiserating about my squeamishness over slugs, Nature Boy speculated that these terrestrial mollusks might yet surprise us.

Years ago, when commiserating about my squeamishness over slugs, Nature Boy speculated that these terrestrial mollusks might yet surprise us.

“Perhaps scientists will discover remarkable youth-preserving compounds in the slime, and we’ll start eagerly smearing slugs on our faces.”

You have no idea how sorry I am to report it has come to pass. Spas in Japan and the U.K. recently started offering snail facials. Clients pay handsomely for the privilege of having snails slither youth-enhancing slime all over their faces.

Its coiled shell distinguishes the snail from its naked cousin, the slug. Both slime-meisters belong to the mollusk group known as gastropods — so-called because they appear to use their stomachs (gastro) as feet (pod).

Their slime apparently contains natural antibiotics, elastin, collagen, glycolic acid, hyaluronic acid and many compounds known to heal cuts, soften scar tissue, fight infections, repair sun damage, regenerate skin cells and make skin look younger, tighter and brighter.

And younger.

Did I mention younger?

In fact, so great are the purported benefits of mollusk mucus to human skin, major cosmetic companies now use snail slime in their products.

And one farmer in France — of course it would be a snail farmer from the land of escargots — is launching the first industrial-scale snail-mucus extraction enterprise.

Louis-Marie Guédon, of Champagnolles, France, has contracts to provide cosmetic companies with three tonnes of gastropod goo in 2013. He hopes for 15 tonnes of it in 2014.

He refuses to divulge his mollusk-milking methods.

Let us consider the opportunities. Here on B.C.’s coast, we exist amidst prime Pacific banana-slug real estate. Our local species is heftier than the garden-variety escargot Guédon works with.

Of course, to develop the industry here, we’d have to overcome numerous obstacles. Separating Guédon’s secret from Guédon might be rather more difficult than prying snails from their shells. It would require industrial espionage of an especially embarrassing nature.

We’d also have to wean our slugs off their natural diet of rotten vegetation and dog poo. Instead, we’d feed them ... well, escargot farmers use oatmeal, but one U.K. spa owner feeds her snails unlimited quantities of organic fruit and veggies. For the truly health-conscious, only organic slime will do. Fortunately, our abundant organic farms would ensure the best, freshest of B.C. produce for our own critters.

We’d have to convince North American cosmetic companies to take up our product. And we’d have to sell North American consumers on the idea of slug facials.

On further consideration, that last might not be a problem. We’ve already seen foot-nibbling fish here on the Island. Celebrity spa-goers like actor Demi Moore swear by treatments such as leech therapy and snake massage, so of course those treatments must be fabulous. And then there are the pigeon-poo facials that supposedly heal and brighten skin, and the nightingale-dropping creams that do the same and might make you warble in the dead of night.

Compared to those, a lettuce-fed slug or two or three trailing goo over your face seems pedestrian — even to those who walk with their stomachs.

Sanitized slugs likely also carry less risk of adverse effects than, say, injecting one of the world’s deadliest nerve toxins into your forehead, vacuuming fat, nerves and blood vessels from your hips, using acid to peel your face like a grape or even injecting fat from one part of your body into other. (Exactly which cheeks are we looking at when we face ourselves in the mirror after that procedure?)

We could market slug facials as a natural, “holistic” — West Coast — alternative to the usual fare featured in the pursuit of perpetual youth. After all, if social pressure to appear forever young can drive people to overcome their natural, healthy preservation instincts in order to undergo lifts, fillers, nips, tucks, sucks, bleaches and acid baths, surely it would help them overcome mere squeamishness about slugs.