You know those really popular snail jelly sheet masks from Korea that are all the rage right now? If you’re into advanced skin care, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Depending on where you are in the world, depends on how easy they are to get your hands on, and that also depends on how much they cost. I was dying to try one, but being a poor student, I didn’t really have a lot of money to spend on them.
I scoured the Internet for a bargain as I am wont to do, it’s part of life as a broke student. It was the early hours of the morning, and I was clutching a cup of lukewarm coffee during a break from one of my behemoth essays due by the end of the day. I was exhausted. Coffee wasn’t really cutting it, and because I was snatching naps of two to three hours at a time but not getting any real decent sleep, guzzling caffeine and surviving on cheap trashy food was my mantra. My body was taking a real hit in terms of being healthy. I looked drained and worn out. I WAS worn out, my skin was grey and scratchy because my diet had gone to shit, and I hadn’t felt fresh air or daylight properly for a couple of weeks.
Lazily browsing one of my usual Internet bargain haunts, an offer flashed up onscreen for a pack of five low cost snail sheet masks. They were the cheapest I’d ever seen, and in my sleep deprived and needy state, I quickly added them to my basket. I checked the horrific state of my bank account, and saw that I had just enough to cover the cost of them, especially since shipping was free on that site. I actually yelped with glee, and yes I know what you’re thinking; a typical girly girl freaking out over a skincare product win, nothing sadder right? Well see, I’m not usually the type. I don’t really care about accessorising or manicures, if my hair is in the current style, and whether my clothes are in fashion. I don’t really have time, and I definitely don’t have the money. However I do know when I need to do something to treat myself, and I was very badly in need of some self care. I felt I was allowed one small victory after the last couple of weeks slogging my way through this mind-numbing essay. I knew the masks would be with me in a couple of days, as they were really fast with their shipping.
Feeling inordinately pleased with my find, I set my coffee cup down, and decided that rather than trying to write a couple more hours into the night, that I’d actually go to bed before 4am for once. I felt hollow inside, a shell of myself floating between uni and my flat with occasional trips to the pound shops for craptastic food bargains. As soon as my face mashed into my pillow, I sank down into a deep, heavy sleep that not even the strongest coffee could have kept me from.
A couple of days later, they were laying there on the floor behind my front door in a dishevelled brown envelope. Again with the excited girly girl squeeing thing – I will admit I did it, but it was so out of character for me. Even in my exhaustion I was way too excited. I’d met my deadline, and decided that I very much deserved an evening of pampering and relaxation. My flatmate was working evening shifts, and so it meant I could hog the bathroom for a while and have a soak until my skin went wrinkly. Running a bath and tossing a home-made bath-bomb into it, I turned a mask packet over to read the directions, after glancing through mostly unrecognisable text to find English:
“Apply at clean face, leave for fifteen / twenty minutes maximum. DO NOT LEAVE LONGER TWENTY MINUTES.”
I figured there was an error in translation, but understood what it was driving at.
That part must be really important, I thought to myself as the bath was filling up and scented steam was swirling around the bathroom. Putting the packet on the corner of the tub, I dipped my toe in to test the temperature, and stepped in, sinking down into the deep purple bath-bomb glittered water. It felt heavenly. I’d been taking super-fast showers every morning for the last few weeks, and had forgotten how wonderful it was to just spend time relaxing in a steamy room in hot water. I went through my usual cleansing routine, and finally unwrapped the mask. Unfolding it was a little fiddly, but I placed it over my newly washed face, pink from the steam of the water. It felt cool and soothing over my parched skin, and I closed my eyes and reclined against the back of the tub for the time it would take for it to take effect. Just being able to relax there in the quiet without having to worry about writing anything, and finally being able to reward myself, made me feel very content.
…which is about the point that I very stupidly fell asleep.
You didn’t see that coming? I’m kind of surprised. Add one exhausted student with suffering skin, to one gloriously deep and hot bath steaming with a combination of sandalwood and lavender scents from a bath-bomb, along with a soothing face-mask she’s been dying to try? Yeah. That’s not going to end well, is it?
I came round a couple of hours later, in a bath full of cold water by waking myself up snoring. My only saving grace was the fact that the tub wasn’t very long, so I couldn’t actually sink underwater and drown. I was freezing cold, and so any relaxing effect of the bath was now long gone, and my skin? My skin was not only wrinkled to allfuck, but it felt prickly and oversensitive because of the cold. Swearing to myself harshly, my hands flew up to my face, and I peeled the mask off my skin carefully. How long had I been asleep? I’d kept it on for waaaaay longer than was directed, but I didn’t think it would be THAT big a deal, right? Ohgod was I ever wrong..
The only part of me that actually felt good, was the skin on my face. It certainly wasn’t dry anymore, and though I was shuffling around the flat looking for layers of clothes to wear to get warm, I kind of saw it as a partial success. Sure, I might have been a weapons grade pillock and fallen asleep, but I did get to try the mask I’d been wanting to try for a while, and I DID deserve it.
Thirty minutes later, bundled up in two jumpers, a set of leggings, some thick striped socks and armed with a mug of hot chocolate, I was tucked into bed laughing at myself, and flicking through social media mindlessly before drifting back off to sleep. I was worried that I might have wrecked my sleeping pattern, but I was so exhausted that all it took to send me off again, was a belly filled with warmth. I didn’t stir until the following morning when my alarm shrieked viciously at me to wake up. I knew the moment I felt it rip through me that something was very wrong.
My head was absolutely killing me. I figured it was a side effect of falling asleep in the bath, and waking up cold and tense as fuck. Scrabbling around in my bedside drawer for some painkillers, I blearily crammed them into my mouth, and swallowed them with the remnants of the hot chocolate that was now stone cold. Nice breakfast there, champ.
I lay there for another hour, feeling quite dizzy and hoping the painkillers would have at least started to take the edge off, but no. I slowly pulled myself up, and felt profoundly nauseous to the point where I gagged, but nothing came up. Reaching up to my face to feel my forehead, my skin felt slightly clammy and weird. My temperature was way up, but my skin felt like quite the opposite. I moved very carefully to the bathroom, and peered painfully into the mirror without switching the light on. Light was too painful for my aching head.
My skin looked…textured in a way that wasn’t normal. It was still the same colour, but it was peeling a little bit, in the way that the soles of your feet do if you’ve been wearing trainers on a hot day with no socks. I winced at the pain in my head, and figured that this was just a side effect of leaving the mask on for far too long, and that I was just tense from coldness of the bath which was likely what was causing my headache, and subsequent nausea. I relegated myself back to bed, and moaned into my pillow, grateful for the fact that I didn’t actually have anywhere to be that day.
Several hours later, my headache hadn’t disappeared, in fact it had gotten considerably worse. Clutching my head and fumbling around for my phone, I decided to text my mother, because I was feeling utterly rotten. Texting was interesting, because my eyesight was blurred, but thank fuck for auto-correct, right? Somehow, I mashed the right combination of letters in to ask for help, and waited in bed like I was expecting to die of a headache.
Half an hour later, and she was rattling at the front door with her keys, and clomping up the stairs in her shoes. The skin on my face felt weird. It was cold and sticky, but I just assumed it was residual from leaving the mask on to long, and also because I was getting sick. Neither my mother or I were prepared for what we were about to see. She pushed the door to my room open with the creak it makes, and quietly approached my bed, leaning in to get a closer look.
“What the…OH MY GOD Francesca, what the fuck is that?!”
It’s worth pointing out that my mother never swears. She just doesn’t. If she does, it means something is terribly, hideously wrong. She lost grip of her handbag and something else she was carrying, and dropped to her knees on the floor. She fought for her phone from her bag, and immediately called for an ambulance. I was quite delirious at that point, and had no idea what she was shrieking about. Her horrified protestations and tears were ripping through my head and causing me more pain than I’ve ever felt in my life.
I can vaguely recall being lifted downstairs on what I thought was a stretcher, and loaded into an ambulance, but that was it until I came around in what I assumed was a hospital unit. It was not. My mother was sitting in a chair in the corner, her hands wringing, with an expression of horror and tired red eyes that told me she’d not slept and had been crying heavily.
“Whereami..?” I tried to mumble but my voice cracked and broke.
My mother didn’t answer, but sniffed tearfully and pressed the button to summon a nurse. She stood over me, wanting to touch me, but being afraid to. I tried to open my eyes, but when I did, everything looked slightly milky like I was trying to see through fine wet muslin or something. I tried to lick my lips but they felt weird, and my face still felt sticky and cold when I went to touch it. A nurse quietly came into the room with an interpreter.
“Where am I?” I tried to say again, it not quite sounding right.
A woman’s voice spoke up, clear and sincere. I could hear another language that I didn’t recognise and flinched when I realised what the translator was for. I’d been sedated for the last week, after being flown out to Seoul, South Korea. I could hear my mother sobbing in the background whilst the interpreter explained the situation to me. The masks I’d purchased were cheap for a reason. They were not genuine Korean snail sheet masks, and were in fact some dodgy knock offs made in RUSSIA. FUCKING RUSSIA.
I remained silent as I listened to the explanation that the masks had some seriously unpleasant side effects if left on for longer than twenty minutes. They…do something to the skin, making it slick and produce mucous that resembles that of a mollusc. I hadn’t cause sight of myself since the day I blacked out in my own flat, so I had no idea what they were talking about. Everything muted around me, my head was filled with white noise and panic.
“Mirror..” I mumbled, or tried to.
Nobody moved. Absolute silence.
“MIRROR!!!” I squealed, with something sounding more squelchy than I’d like.
My mother hurried over with a small compact mirror she always carried with her, and slowly opened it, handing it to me. She told me not to scream, that it was going to be okay, and that they were treating me and things would go back to normal soon.
I didn’t hear any of that of course, because as soon as I caught sight of myself in the mirror, milky sighted or otherwise, I screeched in a way that wasn’t human, and it certainly wasn’t me. The nurse mashed the button above my head until two larger nurses came in to help ‘calm’ me down. My skin was…a dirty greenish brown colour that felt squishy and slimy to the touch. I was hyperventilating, and felt myself going lightheaded, involuntarily wetting myself with the stress of it all. The noises coming out of what I am guessing were my mouth were not human. What do snails sound like when they scream? Has anyone ever heard that? Are they even capable?
I felt a needle enter a point on my neck, and moments later I was sinking into unconsciousness. In hindsight, that was probably for the best given my situation, I mean it’s not every day you find out your face resembled the texture of a snail.
I was not the only one. Clueless westerners were buying these cheap fake Russian-pretending-to-be-Korean snail masks, and every so often one of us would have an accident and leave them on too long. It makes sense that the people who can fix it are none other than the brilliant people of Korea, of whom manufacture genuine high quality masks that give our skin a treat. I was fortunate that my mother could afford to fly me out to their clinic, because there are some people who haven’t been that lucky and now have to live out their existence looking very peculiar indeed. I might be a poor student, but my family is not. I was the one who wanted to stand on my own two feet and not be a spoiled middle class white bratty kid who’s life was paid for by wealthy parents.
I’m told I’ll be fine in around six months. The treatment? I am sedated whilst dozens of snails ooze around my face, eating away the tissue that feels familiar to them. Once they eat through that, my own skin has to granulate and return to its normal state. This is a gradual process, the snails needing around ten sittings to do their miracle work. I am almost constantly sedated, because you really don’t want to be fully conscious whilst snails eat your face off, nor do you want to be awake whilst it grows back.
Please don’t ever buy cheap snail masks, no matter how good a deal they might look at the time, and if you do? Please make sure you take them off on time. I’m not quite the same. I can’t have any salt in my diet, it burns my skin. I have to keep my face moisturised with specially propagated mollusc slime to prevent skin desiccation, which isn’t helpful because now I’m absolutely fucking terrified of snails.