Snake Skin

Reviewed on 6/11/2021
Other Name(s):

Shed Snake Skin, Snake Slough.


The use of snake skin, both on the skin and taken by mouth, comes from ancient Chinese medicine. The skin that is shed by snakes is used in experiments when testing drugs from humans.

People take snake skin by mouth for skin disorders, convulsions, gallbladder disorders, and high blood pressure.

People apply snake skin to the skin for skin disorders, including sores, abscesses, boils, itching, scaly and itchy skin (psoriasis), and scabies, as well as eye infections, cloudy spots in the eye, sore throat, and hemorrhoids. Snake skin is also used in ointments and creams to reduce pain and stiffness.

How does it work?

Snake skin contains cholesterol and other fats. It is often used as a model for human skin in drug research due to its thickness and fat content.


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Uses & Effectiveness

Insufficient Evidence to Rate Effectiveness for...

  • Cloudiness in the eye (corneal opacity). Taking a combination of snake skin and six other Chinese herbs by mouth, in addition to standard sodium iodide injections, seems to improve cloudiness in the eye faster than standard care alone. But the effect of snake skin by itself is not clear.
  • Sores.
  • Abscesses.
  • Boils.
  • Itching.
  • Scaly, itchy skin (psoriasis).
  • Scabies.
  • Eye infections.
  • Sore throat.
  • Hemorrhoids.
  • Pain and stiffness.
  • Convulsions.
  • Gallbladder disorders.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate snake skin for these uses.

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate (detailed description of each of the ratings).

Side Effects

There isn't enough reliable information available about snake skin to know if it is safe or what the side effects might be.


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Special Precautions & Warnings

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: There is not enough reliable information about the safety of taking snake skin if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.


The appropriate dose of snake skin depends on several factors such as the user's age, health, and several other conditions. At this time there is not enough scientific information to determine an appropriate range of doses for snake skin (in children/in adults). Keep in mind that natural products are not always necessarily safe and dosages can be important. Be sure to follow relevant directions on product labels and consult your pharmacist or physician or other healthcare professional before using.

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Report Problems to the Food and Drug Administration

You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit the FDA MedWatch website or call 1-800-FDA-1088.

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Burken, R. R., Wertz, P. W., and Downing, D. T. A survey of polar and nonpolar lipids extracted from snake skin. Comp Biochem Physiol B 1985;81(2):315-8. View abstract.

Burken, R. R., Wertz, P. W., and Downing, D. T. The effect of lipids on transepidermal water permeation in snakes. Comp Biochem Physiol A Comp Physiol 1985;81(2):213-6. View abstract.

Craane-van Hinsberg, W. H., Verhoef, J. C., Bax, L. J., Junginger, H. E., and Bodde, H. E. Role of appendages in skin resistance and iontophoretic peptide flux: human versus snake skin. Pharm Res 1995;12(10):1506-12. View abstract.

Harada, K., Murakami, T., Kawasaki, E., et al. In-vitro permeability to salicylic acid of human, rodent, and shed snake skin. J Pharm Pharmacol 1993;45(5):414-8. View abstract.

Harada, K., Murakami, T., Yata, N., and Yamamoto, S. Role of intercellular lipids in stratum corneum in the percutaneous permeation of drugs. J Invest Dermatol 1992;99(3):278-282. View abstract.

Itoh, T., Magavi, R., Casady, R. L., Nishihata, T., and Rytting, J. H. A method to predict the percutaneous permeability of various compounds: shed snake skin as a model membrane. Pharm Res 1990;7(12):1302-6. View abstract.

Itoh, T., Xia, J., Magavi, R., Nishihata, T., and Rytting, J. H. Use of shed snake skin as a model membrane for in vitro percutaneous penetration studies: comparison with human skin. Pharm Res 1990;7(10):1042-1047. View abstract.

Jones, D. E. and Holladay, S. D. Excretion of three heavy metals in the shed skin of exposed corn snakes (Elaphe guttata). Ecotoxicol Environ.Saf 2006;64(2):221-5. View abstract.

Kuramoto, M., Tanaka, T., Makita, H., Nakamura, Y., and Yata, N. Characteristics of shed snake skin permeability to indomethacin and fatty alcohols. J Pharm Pharmacol 1996;48(7):680-4. View abstract.

Ngawhirunpat, T., Panomsuk, S., Opanasopit, P., Rojanarata, T., and Hatanaka, T. Comparison of the percutaneous absorption of hydrophilic and lipophilic compounds in shed snake skin and human skin. Pharmazie 2006;61(4):331-5. View abstract.

Zhang, R. J., Zhao, Y. W., Tang, F. U., Sheng, S. S., and Zhou, Y. Y. Clinical effect of traditional Chinese herbs combined with sodium iodide in treating corneal opacity. Int J Ophthalmol 2007;7(1):217-9.

Zhou Z, Jiang Z. Identifying snake species threatened by economic exploitation and international trade in China. Biodiversity Conserv 2005;14:3525-3536.