Right out of the mouths of snakes

The magic ingredient in the $525-a-jar cream sold at Saks and Harrods: viper venom
Right out of the mouths of snakes
Getty; iStock; Photo Illustration by Adam Cholewa

The venom of the temple viper, or Tropidolaemus wagleri, causes a mouse to stop breathing, its muscles paralyzed. It dies within minutes, and it is this phenomenon, or at least the paralytic quality, that made scientists realize its potential as a skin cream.

The Canadian cosmetics company Euoko, which launched the snake venom cream Y-30 Intense Lift Concentrate, claims it works in a similar way to Botox, which paralyzes the muscles that cause facial wrinkles. Unlike Botox, which is injected, Y-30 comes in cream form. Its serpentine qualities are part of what makes it so attractive, explains Alessandra Bordon, a Vancouverite in her mid-30s. She applies the cream nightly, just before she goes to bed. “When I heard they were using snake venom, I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. Now I’ve got to try this.’ ”

Those who share Bordon’s sentiments might first want to consider the price. Costing $525, it works out to $17.50 per millilitre. But that doesn’t seem to have deterred the excitement over the cream. Described on fashion blogs and in the media as “Botox in a bottle,” a “miracle drug” or “better than Botox,” the cream produces serious results, says Daniella Durov, a sales representative at the Toronto upscale retailer Andrews, which carries the cream. “Our clients all come back and they love it. They can’t be without it, not even for a week.”

Since launching in 2005, Y-30 is now sold in 22 countries and stocked in high-end stores such as Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue, Harrods of London, and Printemps of Paris. In Canada, it is carried by Montreal-based La Maison Ogilvy, Toronto’s Andrews and others, and there are Euoko stores in Toronto and Vancouver. Expansion to several new countries including Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United Arab Emirates are ongoing, says Brandon Truaxe, the Toronto-based entrepreneur who started Euoko.

Seeking to replicate the success of products like Crème de la Mer, with its legendary fermented sea kelp broth, or SK-II, with its sake-related Pitera complex, Truaxe travelled the globe until he came across a Brazilian company that farmed the temple viper and used its venom, waglerin-1, for medical purposes. “We started talking about what causes muscle paralysis and all of a sudden snake venom came up,” he says.

Rather than use the toxin straight from the viper’s fangs, Euoko contracted a pharmaceutical company in Switzerland to produce the synthetic equivalent. The company then conducted an efficacy study, mixing the substance with human muscle cells and rat spinal cord tissue and measuring any contractions over several days. The lifting effect starting after two hours and peaked after four to five hours, says Truaxe. With people, though, the Euoko-paid report wasn’t as conclusive. Forty-five female volunteers, aged between 40 to 60, were told to use the cream twice daily for 28 days. Some were given the snake venom cream, others another anti-aging cream, and some a placebo. The product seemed to work well—using a highly sensitive camera, the scientists measured a 73 per cent improvement of forehead wrinkles. But then again, the placebo had almost the same success rate (71 per cent) as did the other anti-aging cream (73 per cent). Even in a lab report, it seems, beauty can be in the eye of the beholder.

Perhaps more importantly, none of the ingredients have been tested in any long-term studies, Truaxe says. We don’t know how, or even if, the substance affects humans, explains professor Joseph McArdle of the department of pharmacology and physiology at New Jersey Medical School, who has done several waglerin-1 studies on mice. What the science tells us, he says, is that mice receptors are especially sensitive to the toxin. Indeed, he says, it’s unlikely to have much effect at all on humans. Moreover, the cream is topical and its effects are short-term.

Those mice studies aren’t likely to slow down Euoko’s ongoing expansion. Bordon recommended the cream to her friend Martine Cunliffe, partner and co-equity owner of Stenner Investment Partners, a Vancouver-based private investment office, who was pleased to be able to support a Canadian company. The reason it appeals, explains Elie Bahrami, 42, a Vancouver-based sales manager, and self-proclaimed “skin care junkie,” is that you notice the difference immediately. “It has a velvety texture and you can feel an instant tightening. It’s expensive, but absolutely worth the cost.”