Whether you’re a resident of New York City or not, chances are that you’ve heard about the Bronx Zoo’s escaped Egyptian cobra. That’s right – a member of the extremely venomous species of snake that Cleopatra supposedly used to commit suicide is slithering around Manhattan. At least, according to the rebellious snake’s Twitter page it is. Apparently, it has toured the city, slithering its way from Wall Street to Union Square to the Museum of Natural History, and it enjoys making hilarious commentary about Charlie Sheen, Donald Trump and Rebecca Black.
While I totally appreciate the comedian’s snake spoof, I wish the zoo would find the creepy amphibian already. I get the chills just thinking about the possibility of coming across that thing while I’m out and about, however unlikely that may be. Though I should probably keep in mind that snakes aren’t poisonous; it’s their venom that can be a problem, but they only tend to attack when provoked. In fact, snake venom may actually have some benefits and it has certainly found its way into cosmetics.
While most research points to the severe problems that can occur when humans mix with snake venom (everything from rashes to slow, painful deaths), there are some interesting studies that point to the positives. One in particular notes that snake venom can be used as a therapeutic cancer treatment. Yet another study found that the toxic substance could aid doctors and scientists in their battle against heart disease.
And while “snake venom” is a popular tag used in the names of various cosmetic products (think DuWop’s Lip Venom, which contains no snake venom at all) and the descriptions of even more, there is little to no science backing up the substance’s usage. Or the hefty price tag that often accompanies its usage.
Snake venom may indeed cause muscles to relax and initiate paralysis in its unlucky recipients. Still, there doesn’t seem to be enough evidence to link this negative effect with the positive effects of botulinum toxin, or Botox, which paralyzes facial muscles. But that is exactly what manufacturers are doing, except they are marketing their miracle product as Syn-ake, which has been dubbed the “cheaper” version of Botox. Syn-ake is a synthetic version of snake venom. It is composed of a peptide complex that mimics the neuromuscular blocking compound found in the Temple Viper snake’s venom, and can be found in several expensive cosmetics.
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Apparently, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cheryl Cole, Kate Moss and Victoria Beckham have all used synthetic snake venom products. Paltrow was seen with UltraLuxe-9 products, which are produced by Sonya Dakar (a Hollywood skincare specialist) and contain the coveted Syn-ake. Dakar also owns a spa in Beverly Hills that offers a snake venom facial. At $385 dollars a pop, the facial is popular with celebrities; Dakar estimates that 80% of her clients visit the spa for this particular treatment. The most expensive product in her UltraLuxe-9 line is the Age Control Complex ($185), which contains Acetyl Hexapeptide-3, an anti-wrinkle ingredient that inhibits muscles in the face (though there are rumors that it may cause sagging skin in the long run) in addition to the peptides in the Syn-ake complex. But with four parabens and phenoxyethanol included in the Age Control Complex, I don’t judge it to be a standout product.
My problem with Syn-ake is that, first of all, it’s synthetic; it really can’t be compared to real snake venom, which is both a good and bad thing. Good because death by venomous cosmetic doesn’t sound particularly enticing, and bad because the very qualities that make snake venom unique may not be able to be replicated accurately enough to deem a synthetic helpful for skincare. Also, Pentapharm, the creator of Syn-ake, has not published any peer-reviewed studies supporting their claims. If Syn-ake is as similar to Botox as the company claims, then common sense would tell us that the former would have to be injected, just like the latter in order to work effectively. Botox is injected in the first place so that it is delivered straight to the targeted muscle. It would be quite shocking if Syn-ake could penetrate the skin deep enough to actually inhibit muscles.
At least for now, the Bronx Zoo’s snake belongs back in its cage and not as the star of a cosmetic product.