Do Gross Skincare Ingredients Actually Work?


Double dealing discoveries in gross skincare ingredients.

In a world that’s, let’s face it, oversaturated with skincare products, brands are going a little further to get noticed. And one way companies are doing this is through the use of some verrry weird skincare ingredients.

My question is, why? Aside from marketing, is there any real purpose to these unexpected and sometimes gross-sounding “skingredients”? In terms of the animal byproducts, are they really any better than a cruelty-free alternative? And what does snail goo actually feel like anyway? To find answers to all these and more, read on.

They say “pain is beauty,” but what about disgust?


Ingredient 1: Snail Mucin

Snail Mucin skincare

Getty Images

This K-beauty product, texturally more like a serum than an essence (which is more liquidy), is made of 96% snail mucin – the shiny stuff they leave behind in trails. Snail mucin is said to aid in skin repair, hydration, tone and brightness, essentially delivering the “glass skin” of our dreams, although this evidence is predominantly anecdotal. It’s a thin, clear and oddly stretchy goo — both when it comes out of the snail and when it’s in skin care — but when applied it sinks in nicely and wears well under makeup.

Cos RX advanced snail 96 mucin power essence

CosRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence ($24)

The reason snail mucin is deemed superior to conventional skincare staples is the fact is does it all-in-one. It’s suitable for all skin types. It soothes acne, smooths texture, hydrates deeply without feeling oily and brightens without irritating. It’s even been used to heal burns. Put simply: it’s good and it works.

The issue? How it’s extracted. Snails produce mucin in excess only when they’re irritated or frightened. Thus, to produce, you must purposefully induce these feelings in loads and loads of snails. This is generally done by putting them in a vat of water and shaking the tub around, then skimming off the mucin from the top. It’s ethically a bit of a gray area. I’m not here to tell you what to do, but if you can make peace with it, the CosRX essence is a real delight.


Ingredient 2: Bee Venom 

Bee Venom on face

Jed Root

Simply put, bee venom is the substance that comes out of a bee’s stinger when they go on the attack. It’s a potent mix of enzymes, amino acids and peptides, all of which are standard anti-aging skincare ingredients that contribute to faster cell turnover and collagen rejuvenation. Bee venom delivered in a concentrated dose is irritating to the skin (hence, why they use it to attack you), but a small amount acts as a reparative stimulant. It’s supposed to have similar benefits to acne and anti-aging and because it’s naturally derived, it can be better for sensitive skin.


Rodial Bee Venom

Rodial Bee Venom Cleansing Balm ($75)

The Rodial Cleansing Balm combines the bee venom with pore-clearing salicylic acid and a nourishing blend of oils to make a makeup-melting and skin-plumping cleanser. It’s a real treat, particularly because it’s so good at taking off day-old grime. I love the Nip & Fab pads, too, for days when you’re feeling congested and your skin looks dull. Alongside its venom, they include propolis extract, a tree substance collected by honeybees used to seal and varnish their honeycombs, to help heal skin. There’s also pimple-busting ingredients like witch hazel.

Nip + Fab Bee Sting Fix Pads

Nip & Fab Bee Sting Fix Toning Pads ($13)

The jury is still out, however, on whether bee venom can ever be truly cruelty-free. Usually when bees sting, their stingers are ripped out of their butts and they die. To extract the venom for cosmetic purposes, the bees sting a glass pane and the venom is harvested from there. The issue is how they make bees sting a harmless pane of glass. Because bees only sting when they’re feeling threatened, an electrical current has to trick them into wanting to defend themselves. Is it cruel? Do bees understand feelings of fear? Again – I leave it up to you.


Ingredient 3: Sheep Sebum 

Sheep and sheep sebum

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Sheep sebum, also called lanolin or wool wax, is an oily substance secreted by sheep to protect their skin against cold and rain. Sounds a little gross, right? But because of its natural skin-protecting properties, human beings can also benefit from it. It’s particularly popular in thicker body and hand creams and lip balms. It combines the protective properties of a barrier cream like petroleum jelly, making it semi-occlusive, with the penetrative power of a cream hydrator like glycerin, making it semi-permeable. In other words, it both sits on top of and sinks into the skin, which is key for truly moisturized skin.

Lanolips is the biggest name in the lanolin market, producing a huge variety of products based around this wonder hydrator. My favorites are the lip balms. They’re thick and long-lasting, but absorb nicely and come in a wide variety of delightful scents.



Lanolips The Original 101 Ointment ($15)

Lanolin is generally thought of as cruelty-free, in that sheep must be sheared anyway (to access the lanolin) or they’ll become too dirty and hot. But, because it’s an animal product, it remains unsuitable for vegans. For me, if I remove the greasy sheep skin connotations from my mind, lanolin is an absolute staple.


Ingredient 4: Collagen

Fresh salmon for skin

Salt Pepper Skillet

Collagen, a complex protein responsible for firm, smooth skin, is found in the connective tissues of mammals including us humans. For skincare, it’s typically harvested from cows, pigs and fish and extracted when they’re dead. It’s well established that the depletion of collagen is a key factor in skin aging; in fact, we lose about 1% to 2% of our collagen every year after 30.


DHC Astaxanthin Collagen All in One Gel

DHC Astaxanthin Collagen Gel ($49)

The DHC Collagen Gel is a bouncy, peach-toned gel-cream that delivers tons of plumpness and hydration while absorbing quickly and not feeling heavy or oily. The star ingredient is astaxanthin, a powerful algae-derived antioxidant which they claim to be 6,000 times more powerful than vitamin C, but collagen features high up on the ingredients list. The thing is, collagen particles are notoriously too large to penetrate skin and there’s limited proof that it can actually be absorbed.

It’s a truly lovely face cream, particularly under makeup, but provides a slightly tacky base. The collagen aspect still has me unconvinced, though. I eat meat so taking a moral stance on using up bit of dead cow isn’t really something I can do. But I would be interested to see if the gel was any less effective without the bits of connective cow tissue.


Ingredient 5: Bone Marrow

Bone Marrow Broth

Getty Images

Bone marrow, or glucosamine, is oil from inside animal bones – typically fish or chicken. It’s anti-inflammatory and hydrating, and when applied topically it’s supposed to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and even stimulate production of hyaluronic acid (a natural hydrating substance found in skin that makes you look plump). Glucosamine can be derived from a plant source (a fungus called aspergillus niger, to be exact), which appears to be the case for Dermalogica’s vegan cream.


Dermalogica Age Smart Power Rich

Dermalogica Power Rich Treatment ($140)

The name may suggest the cream is thick and occlusive, but the opposite is the case. It’s fairly thin and runny, and absorbs really quickly. Don’t let that fool you though – this is one of the most hydrating creams I’ve tried. I tend to use it to spot treat dry patches or around tired eyes to great effect.

Would I use it if it transpired the glucosamine was from bone marrow? Probably, but it’s likely for the best that it doesn’t need to be sourced from dead things. Call me au rationale, but that’s just how I feel.

Annie Walton Doyle is a freelance writer based in Manchester, UK. Her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Daily Telegraph, Bustle and more. When not writing, she enjoys pubs, knitting, nature and mysteries. Follow her Twitter @annieannieannie or Instagram @anniewaltondoyle.


  1. Thanks for sharing the list of natural skincare ingredients which are really helpful in getting younger and smoother skin.

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