Centipedes: The New Cosmetic Ingredient?

Korea’s Rural Development Administration (RDA) filed a patent in 2013 for broader application. Scolopendrasin I, which is purported to improve blood circulation, as well as having antimicrobial properties. Its use could be wide-reaching, but it’s first being looked at for potential use in cosmetic products.

Why are there so many exotic ingredients in cosmetics? Is it a marketing gimmick?

It’s certainly true that marketing is a thing in cosmetics, and there are many odd sounding compounds and molecules that can sound bewildering--the classic is urea, often found in the ingredient lists of moisturizers. If it were all about first impressions though, the fast food industry will almost certainly one-up cosmetics for gross-sounding ingredients. At the ingredient level, there is a lot of science, and the technical details are often more clinical. Urea used in cosmetics has almost nothing to do with urine. Urea is in sweat and urine in small quantities as a byproduct of the liver, but is substantially different from a synthetically produced urea, popular in cosmetics. Commercial urea is used in many cosmetic formulations for its moisture attracting qualities, particularly for treating dry skin, or conditions related to dry skin.

Centipedes though? Is this Chinese Medicine?

It’s not Chinese medicine, but centipedes have been used in traditional Korean medicine for a very long time for various indications from the common cold to cancer. The ingredient in question is not the centipede itself, but a byproduct of it, scolopendrasin I, which is the secreted venom by a large centipede, Scolopendra subspinipes mutilans. It’s important to know that this specific compound has been isolated for study, and it’s misleading to think that it is the centipede that is used as a skincare product.

Is there any science backing this?

Yes. Trials using lab rats have been conducted, and the use of scolopendrasin I has shown a reduction in swelling. Centipede venoms contain important and unique peptides and proteins that have been studied very little thus far.1 By the study’s own admission, there are still many components left unstudied, as it is still a very new ingredient. On the other hand, there are many compounds that were isolated out, that have potential for further analysis and potential for further pharmacological advances.

Will this be hitting cosmetic products soon, and what can we expect in the future?

There will likely be experimental uses of this compound once safety is confirmed. If further studies show benefits and cost effectiveness, we may see it used in more formulations.

Science is constantly finding new compounds like this to the test. Perhaps more interesting is that the tools and technology that are used to analyze new compounds is undergoing a revolution. We’re entering the era where very specific components can be isolated and exploited for use. A new, or in this case, old ingredient can be a potential cosmetic or even pharmacological breakthrough.