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Viper room: Is snake venom the cure for wrinkles?
The venomous strike from a Southeast Asian temple viper can kill a mouse in seconds. Now, the seriously lethal poison with the power to paralyze on contact has inspired a new needle-free way to
fight wrinkles. Does this mean bye-bye, Botox?
Four years ago, the scientists at Swiss-based pharmaceutical brand Pentapharm—the keepers of a Brazilian snake farm used for medical testing—discovered a link between
anti-aging and the paralysis-inducing properties of temple-viper venom. If the viper could send its victims into a permanent stupor with its venom, they reasoned, perhaps the same science could be used to tame crow’s feet and forehead furrows. So they developed SYN-AKE, a topical synthetic tripeptide that mimics the protein in venom responsible for inhibiting neuromuscular activity. When applied to the skin, SYN-AKE relaxes the “frowning and grimacing” muscles that lead to deep wrinkles.
Clinical tests with 45 women over 28 days showed that SYN-AKE reduced the depth of crow’s feet by at least eight percent and forehead lines by as much as 52 percent, reports Eric Lippay, senior skin-care marketing manager for DSM, which owns the Pentapharm brand. “Still, it’s synthetic,” he says. “Snake venom was only the inspiration.” Nonetheless, this faux poison is a hit with the Botox-shunning celebrity set. Clients of the Sonya Dakar clinic in Beverly Hills line up for snake-venom facials, while Hollywood gossip sites proclaim Gwyneth Paltrow’s and Fergie’s affection for Dakar’s UltraLuxe-9 Age Control Complex ($190), a SYN-AKE-infused skin cream. And it’s popping up in other skin-care products too. Canada’s own Euoko has already charmed 22 countries worldwide with its signature snake-venom cream— Y-30 Intense Lift Concentrate—which sells for $525 a jar. Meanwhile, Rodial’s Glamoxy Snake Serum ($195) launched waiting lists of more than 100,000 people hoping to get their hands on a bottle before it hit U.K. department stores in February.
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Pentapharm’s temporary wrinkle fix has prompted some skepticism, however, within the medical community. Dr. Fred Weksberg, a Toronto-based cosmetic dermatologist, questions the comparisons to Botox. “It is possible that the topical serum may, to some degree, penetrate the skin, but I am skeptical about its ability to be absorbed in sufficient quantities and in the correct muscles to have benefits similar to Botox,” he says. Both Weksberg and Dr. Lisa Kellett, a Toronto-based cosmetic dermatologist, point to the lack of independent lab research or peer-reviewed journal reports to back the science behind the claims. “By contrast, more than 50 randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials have established the safety and effectiveness of Botox,” says Kellett.
But Liliana Dutka, founder of the Natural Anti-Ageing Clinic in M i s s i s s a u g a , Ont., says that she is sufficiently sold on the SYN-AKE research, enough to offer it at her clinic in a skin serum called Synergy Lift ($192). Dutka, a pharmacist and medical aesthetician, has wooed many injection-phobic clients. “Some of our clients are Botoxwary; others have had bad experiences,” she says. “This is shorter-lasting but provides the look they desire.” Some might say that the snake-oil salesmen are making a killing. Clearly, no one’s complaining.
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