Sep
10
2008

A ragtag band of scientists marches into the future: right past the LHC department, to the venom cream section.
A ragtag band of scientists marches into the future: right past the LHC department, to the venom cream section.Courtesy StevenM_61
This truly is a season to remember. Scientific endeavors are being undertaken that will live on for a hundred generations in human memory.

Snake venom facial cream, for instance, is now for sale in London department stores.

If you were concerned that your face wasn’t feeling quite envenomated enough (and why would I even write “if”?), give your hideous frown lines and forehead creases a much needed rest. Science has synthesized the venom of the Asian temple viper, and put it into cream form. And, Science’s work done, Gwyneth Paltrow reportedly stands by the product.

According to the manufacturers, the product gives temporary, Botox-like results by “stunning” the skin in a way “similar to a snake bite.” Hmm. Interesting. Let’s look beyond my initial reaction to the prospect of getting bit in the face by a snake (which is, to be clear, a resounding “Yes!”)

The temple viper is named so for its high population in the Temple of the Azure cloud in Malaysia. It is a species of pit viper, and so a cousin to American rattlesnakes. The venom of the temple viper is a hemotoxin, and affects blood and muscle tissue (as opposed to the faster acting neurotoxins present in some snake venom, which affect the nervous tissue). Hemotoxins contain enzymes that destroy red blood cells, and cause general havoc in nearby organ and tissues. Prey killed with hemotoxic venom is easier for snakes to digest, because it tends to break down the tissue in the region of the bite. This means that, even if a victim is not killed by a bite, it is possible to lose entire limbs to necrosis from hemotoxins.

But I hear that it is positively delightful when applied to the face. Pots of snake science are now available for $105 at Selfridges department store in London.

Oh, also, the Large Hadron Collider was turned on today. Apparently that’s sort of a big deal in science too. But it doesn’t do anything for crow’s feet.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Liza's picture
Liza says:

While I was on vacation in North Carolina, I stopped in to the Cape Fear Serpentarium in Wilmington.

Boy, howdy, is that a cool museum! It's cases and cases of mostly venomous snakes, each one ranked according to a 1 to 5 skull-and-crossbones ranking system. (How come no labels I write ever have need of such a key?) And the labels make no pretense of saying things like, "The snakes want nothing more than to exist alongside humans, and they bite only if severely provoked..." No, indeed. Instead, the labels often recount stories of the death-defying bites suffered by the Serpentarium's snake wrangler Dean Ripa and explain in excruciating detail exactly how you will die if bitten by the occupant of the cage in front of you.

Wendy Brenner wrote a long piece about the Serpentarium and Dean Ripa ("Love and Death in the Cape Fear Serpentarium: Some Passions Are More Dangerous Than Others") for the Oxford American magazine. Brenner, too, was impressed with the labels:

"I learn that the Egyptian cobra, whose festive yellow and black stripes evoke Charlie Brown’s shirt, is believed to be the asp that killed Cleopatra; in ancient Egypt, the sign reads, these snakes were awarded to royal prisoners as a means of suicide. The Asiatic spitting cobras, meanwhile, which never seem to run out of venom, are like a 'SORT OF ENDLESS POISONOUS SQUIRT GUN.' The bite of the Central American fer-de-lance feels like having your hand slammed in a car door and then seared with a blow torch. As the placard helpfully elaborates, 'THE BITTEN EXTREMITY SWELLS TO MASSIVE PROPORTIONS, THE SKIN BURSTS OPEN, AND YOUR EYES WEEP BLOOD.'"

(capitalization Brenner's, not mine)

Incidentally, Ripa calls himself "the most bushmaster-bitten man alive." ("The bushmaster is very venomous, and 80% of people bitten die. I've been bitten 4 times.") But really, the only way to do the man's place justice is to pay it a visit.

If you want pictures, my five-year-old took about 80. Unfortunately, she didn't get a photo of the label (repeated a few times throughout the place) that shows graphic pictures of snakebites, the results of snakebites, and failed treatments for snakebites. (Oh, someone helpfully posted one on Flickr. VERY GRAPHIC!) Having looked at those, I can tell you with absolute certainty that I will never, ever put snake venom on my face. I will wrinkle up like a raisin first--it can hardly be worse.

The snakes are really pretty, though.

posted on Wed, 09/10/2008 - 4:31pm
John M.'s picture
John M. says:

I've heard cobra venom isn't quite as deadly as the Australian taipan. Apparently, this venomous snake has enough neurotoxins in it to kill several human beings! I'm not American, but I would balk at the fact that they call one of their health plans a COBRA package. It seems odd, given the nature of the deadly reptile it's named after - to say nothing of a face cream made from snake venom!! Thanks for this entry. Interesting science.

Cheers,
J

posted on Mon, 02/16/2009 - 2:07pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Wow that's awsome!
Idid'nt know that a taipan is more venimouse than a cobra.

posted on Mon, 02/16/2009 - 3:11pm

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