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Touted as a natural Botox, snake venom is quite often found in skincare products – but does it work? Dr Zara Kassam PhD finds out.

The world of beauty is a competitive one and brands are constantly looking for ways to push boundaries to attract new customers with new claims and novel ingredients – and what could be more enticing than a cream that acts like Botox to smooth out fine lines and wrinkles? And the source of this natural smoother? Snake venom.

There’s a certain logic to it as snake’s venom acts as a neurotoxin so it can paralyse its prey, but does it really work when it’s applied to skin and is it safe?

Well, despite the hype about these products, research is scant. The venom used is not actually real snake venom – which is a good thing. The original developers, Pentapharm, took a protein from the Temple Viper’s venom called tri-peptide Waglerin 1 and then synthetically reproduced it and called it Syn-Ake. Then they’ve added it to a cream with the aim of reducing the strength of the muscle contractions that produce the expression lines on our faces that eventually form wrinkles.

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So, like Botox, the theory is that the snake venom serum will inhibit the movement and ultimately fade lines and wrinkles over time.
The science

The synthetic form of Waglerin1 blocks the receptors on cells in the muscle and stops them from taking up the salts they need to help them contract. The result if that the muscles are temporarily relaxed.

But does it work? Pentapharm carried out a 28-day trial on 45 volunteers and those in the group that used it claimed that wrinkle size was reduced by up to 52% after applying the cream twice daily.

Sounds promising – but the downside is that it’s a small study done by the manufacturer.

Another study that combined it with peptides and antioxidants to build collagen as well as hyaluronic acid, a molecule that’s naturally found in skin that serves as a moisturiser and hydrator, found good results to in terms of wrinkle reduction around the eyes, but because of the way the trial was designed – with the products mixed together and no control to compare it to, it’s impossible to say which ingredient it was that actually worked.

Better than Botox?

Botox’s requires frequent injections to maintain results. Snake venom, on the other hand, is painless and relatively hassle-free, making it an easy step to add into your skin care regimen.

It’s claimed that after about three weeks of consistent application, users should notice a dramatic difference in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. This new skin care phenomenon may have slithered its way onto the faces of Hollywood’s hottest celebrities, however to date, there is very little scientific research to back its miraculous claims.

One problem it potentially faces in terms of making it effective is that snakes bite – that means that their venom goes into the blood stream and then affects the muscles – but will a synthetic version applied to the skin be effective in locally paralysing muscles? It has to make it across the skin barrier and then through the layers of the skin to the muscles below, which means it has to be a small molecule and there has to be a method to transport it much deeper into the body than most skin creams go.

And then there’s the question of safety; if the serum can penetrate through the skin and paralyse the muscles where it’s applied, then it means it may also be able to travel through the body via the blood supply that delivers nutrients to the muscles and then go on to cause muscle weakness in other areas of the body – and you don’t want that around your heart.

So far there is no evidence than anyone has suffered a heart attack from snake venom creams but that side-effect may not be applicable with the low dosage in the products. It does however raise the question: does it has any effect at all? AN dif it does have an effect – what are the long term consequences of that? The Dermreview says it’s important to note that as snake venom serums target neuron transmissions in your tissues, overuse, incorrect or prolonged use of a cream that mimics it could cause problems for your facial muscles.

Those with sensitive skin have found that using snake venom serums caused swelling, redness of the skin, itching, and stinging. However not all users will experience negative side effects.

The upshot: some people may swear by it, but perhaps it’s the other ingredients in the product that are providing the benefit.
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