Babies’ foreskins used to make cosmetics. Is this ethical?

The question of whether or not to circumcise their newborn baby boy is often the first of many life-altering decisions parents makes on behalf of their baby. Whether you find yourself for or against circumcision is not the subject of this article (though it could be a subset of it). The issue in question is whether or not it’s ethical to use babies’ foreskins in the making of cosmetics.

What happens to a baby boy’s foreskin after it’s removed in the hospital? Naturally, you might think that it is disposed of with other “medical waste,” but as I recently learned, that’s not always the case. There is, in fact, big money to be made in the foreskin business, not just the money gained from the removal, but from what becomes of the foreskin after the fact. Laura Hopper, a midwife who blogs at Alternative Birth Services recently wrote that wrinkle treatments are being made using American babies’ foreskins. Hopper quotes two articles, both detailing the use of baby foreskin in the cosmetic industry. From Acroposthion:

The most disturbing and alarming [controversy] is in the unethical trafficking of neonate foreskins. Not only do parents of North American baby boys have to pay between $200 to $300 to obstetricians to circumcise their boys that no sooner are the circumcised foreskins cut off that they are sold on to bio-engineering and cosmetics companies by the hospitals.

The resale value of neonate foreskins is astronomically dizzying in that from one boy’s foreskin can be grown bio-engineered skin in a lab to the size of a football field. That’s 4 acres of new skin or around 200,000 units of manufactured skin, which is enough skin to cover about 250 people and sells at $3,000 a square foot. Considering that there are 1.25 million neonate foreskins circumcised each year in the U.S alone this translates to one of the most lucrative trades, if not THE most lucrative trade in human body parts ever in the history of humanity.

Hopper ends her post saying, “Wake up people, your children are being exploited for profit.”

I have to believe that many parents wouldn’t stand for such a thing if they knew it was going on. Although I chose to leave my son’s penis intact, I would never think to ask my doctor, “What is going to happen with my son’s foreskin after it’s removed?” But surely parents have to consent to this sort of thing, don’t they? Is it listed in the fine print somewhere on the parental surgical consent form? If it’s not, is this ethical?

Jennifer Lance at Eco Child’s Play seemed shocked herself at the news when she wrote WTF? Baby Boys’ Circumcised Foreskins Used for Wrinkle Treatments and said, “Glad my son’s foreskin is still where it belongs on his penis and not injected into some old woman’s face looking for the fountain of youth.”

According to Summer Minor who blogs at Wired for Noise, the use of baby foreskin to make cosmetics isn’t anything new. Back in 2007, she wrote Human Foreskins are Big Business for Cosmetics.

Foreskin fibroblasts are used to grow and cultivate new cells that are then used for a variety of purposes. From the fibroblasts new skin for burn victims can be grown, skin to cover diabetic ulcers, and controversially it is also used to make cosmetic creams and collagens. One foreskin can be used for decades to grow $100,000 worth of fibroblasts.

Minor reports that back in 2007 concern was growing over the ethics behind using human foreskin for cosmetic purposes. “One such cosmetic company, SkinMedica is raising a stir over their use of the growth hormone left over from growing artificial skin from foreskin fibroblasts.”

SkinMedica, which sells for over $100 for a 63-oz. bottle, was made famous by Oprah Winfrey and Barbara Walters. Winfrey in fact has promoted SkinMedica several times on her show and website. Discussions about the ethics of using human foreskins for vanity have been circulating on the web but there has not been a response from Winfrey on this debate.

According to an article by Amanda Euringer on The Tyee, “in a discussion on Mothering.com, one querent asked, ‘If the cream was made from the bi-product of baby afro-American clitoral skin, would Oprah still be promoting it?’ There’s no answer to that question on Mothering or Winfrey’s site, and Winfrey declined The Tyee’s request for an interview.” Go figure.

There are uses for removed foreskin that may seem slightly less controversial like using it to create bio-engineered skin for burns, persistent leg ulcers, bed sores, reconstructive surgery and other skin problems. The Foreskin Mafia writes, “Now, circumcision really does have health benefits, only it’s not the baby boys who are losing parts of their penises who benefit.”

In case you are wondering if your cosmetics were made from foreskins, it’s not as easy as looking for the word “foreskin” in the ingredients. After all the foreskin is not actually an ingredient, but is used as a culture to grow other cells which are then used in the cosmetic. The ingredient you are looking for is likely called Tissue Nutrient Solution or TNS™, human collagen or human fibroblast.

What do you think? If you circumcised your son, do you care what happened to his foreskin after it was removed? Is it ethical to use babies’ foreskins for cosmetic purposes? Is this money maker part of a conspiracy to encourage Americans to continue circumcising their sons?

Thanks to Heather Farley who blogs at It’s All About the Hat for bringing this issue to my attention in the first place.

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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103 thoughts on “Babies’ foreskins used to make cosmetics. Is this ethical?

  1. Interesting article. I don’t think the business of circumcision is being driven by profit- ppl circumcise because its socially acceptable, or tradition, or for religious reasons- its personal, and not commercial.
    I imagine most people reading and commenting on this article have similar viewpoints on most social and political topics- and I consider myself on of you- a natural birth-advocating, intact-son-having, recycling, conserving, tree-hugging woman. Whats wrong with using medical waste to generate funds for the hospital? When a boy is circumcised, the money parents or insurance pays goes to the physician, not the hospital. If they can use those bits of skin to generate funds, I say more power to them!
    I guess one man’s trash really is another man’s treasure!

  2. Of course it is unethical to take somebody else’s body part and use it without their consent, which is two reasons. The child cannot give any consent for either the unnecessary surgery or the exploitation of the amputated body part.

    If somebody knocked you out and stole one of your kidneys to save somebody’s life, would that be ethical? You only need ONE kidney and, hey, it saved somebody’s life!

    There should be no question.

    HIS body
    HIS choice

  3. Adding to what I said a few comments up, for those up in arms over this being done without consent, look at it on the flip-side: if parents WERE giving consent, and being compensated, now THAT would truly be a crime.

  4. Jenny. I agree with you that if parents were selling their babies’ body parts that would be criminal. Parents CAN’T sell their babies’ bodies, parts or whole. Humans can’t be bought and sold, in part or whole. Buying and selling human beings is slavery and slavery is illegal. So if parents can’t do it, why can doctors? Why can hospitals?

    If you went to the hospital for an appendectomy to save your life, and while she was operating on you the doctor cut off your foreskin and sold it to a cosmetics company or a company that made artificial skin out of it to treat burn victims and you woke up foreskinless and your parents said, “Fine with us! WE certainly didn’t have any use for her foreskin!”, what would YOU think? What would you DO?

    People are insane on the subject of human male sex organs. There is no other conclusion that can be drawn from the sickening posts here.

    Every parent who consents to the circumcision of their child and every doctor who circumcises the child puts that child’s life at risk. FOR WHAT? WHAT is so important about amputating normal, healthy, sensitive, sexual body parts from male babiers that it is worth risking KILLING them to do it? And worth KILLING some of them?

    WHAT?

    WILL SOME OF YOU CIRCUMCISING PARENTS PLEASE TELL ME?

  5. Van- I’m so confused. How does circumcising your baby risk killing them? It’s no more serious than having a mole removed. The risk of infections from not circumcising is *probably* equally as dangerous.

    And going in for one procedure and them removing body parts without consent (of ANYONE) is an absurd comparison.

    As a parent you have to give consent for anything your child does! A field trip, an xray, a dental filling, a shot… so according to you- don’t give your consent for any of it and when your kid is old enough to decide if they want all those things then you can deal with it; broken bones, rotting teeth, and Hep B… yeah-good luck with that.

    Seriously- You’re taking a very extreme approach here, which I think most undecided readers will probably dismiss.

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  8. I think that the only thing that’s unethical here is the profit that is being made. If it is indeed waste, then why are they being bought?
    Who buys garbage?
    What does the hospital do with the money?
    On a side note, I, too, don’t understand why people circumsise. It’s uneccesary pain you put your newborn through.

  9. Oh My God. This is terrible!

    A ludicrous thought jumped in my head as I was reading – would aborted fetus tissue and amputated penis foreskins be qualified as Organic?

    Probably not.

    EWWWWWW!

  10. I just find it interesting that all the “proud” mothers of “intact” little boys seem to say it like their children are some how better, more pure, for not having their foreskins removed. While there is no medical reason to remove it, there’s no medical reason not to either, and is completely the choice of the parent.

    If you want to hate on hospitals for the practice, that’s one thing, but to imply that the mothers who do circumcise their children are misguided and dirty, along with their ruined sons, is ridiculous.

    Such an interesting school of thought.

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  12. Ok, I’ll bite. I actually chose not to circumcise my son, but I can’t really say that I find using the foreskin in cosmetics to be unethical. I think it’s actually recycling at it’s finest. Something taken from the trash and turned into something valuable again. Certainly, it’s a little gross, but lets remember that that skin was unwanted. That’s why it was lobbed off in the first place. We re-use other discarded tissues for a variety of reasons- where do you think your placentas are going when the docs carry THOSE off? It’s resourceful.
    This discussion seems to me just people making something out of nothing. If parents want the skin gone, then who cares what happens to it after that? People are going to circumcise their children, and they’re going to buy anti-wrinkle cream. We can either re-use their discarded waste or kill a few whales to do the same job. You choose. If this is truly a forum for social consciousness let’s focus on things that really matter–like, oh I don’t know, the millions of kids here in the states that still can’t read, or the people being slaughtered en mass all over the African continent.

  13. When I learn’t what my parents did to me without my consent, our relationship changed greatly. Part of me truly hates them even to this day.

    I wonder how many “parents” in here are going to be loathed by their sons when they are old enough to understand what was inflicted on them. Its OUR bodies, not yours.

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  15. This is so sick

    I can’t believe it. A monster business for medical groups.

    I find funny some comments about it’s not a problem if foreskin can be beneficial to someone else. Seriously the ONLY person who can benefit from foreskin is the poor circumcised baby who didn’t ask anything. Circumcision is disturbing, painful and needless.

    Foreskin isn’t useless : it’s the MOST erogenous part of penis. Parents shouldn’t be allowed to decide circumcision. His body, his choice.

  16. I am surprised to see such use of the Bébé. This is not normal in most of Europe & I hope it will never be. We do not like Geneticaly Modifide Foods also. Why is the world going this direction? It is not good.
    Bonne Santé, Jacques S.

  17. This is completely unethical and sick. I am a male and a thief stole my foreskin when I was an infant (he should spend most of the rest of his life in jail and I would give everything I have to track that sick criminal down, for he is guilty of crimes against humanity). I have to be constantly reminded of the vandalism of my penis every time I go to the bathroom and my anger is uncontrollable. This needs to be illegal just as much as the stealing of clitoral hoods needs to be illegal. If I was running for President, then I would promise to do everything in my power to end this clandestine, reckless, and provocative violation of human rights. I would attempt to pass a law that would guarantee severe and criminal penalties for anyone responsible for the stealing of human foreskin. And yes, the laws would apply retroactively.

    I cannot help it that I am a male. I was born that way. These sexist thugs need to quit stealing foreskins and treating males like sub-human slaves, and they need to leave the boys’ penises alone and treat the boys like the human beings that they are.

    When I wake up in the morning, I feel like a man. Therefore, I deserve to have a fully functioning penis just as much as a woman deserves to have a fully functioning clitoris. It’s as simple as that.

  18. Oh great. I got moderated. Bravo wuss! No sense of humor!

    Like I said, it’s pure evil considering the foreskin provides men with a ton of nerve endings in effect outnumbering those of the average woman’s labia and clitoris combined. It’s ridiculous that religious primitives would still be actively pursuing this form of mutilation at all, just to appease their filthy incubus of a god.

    And like I said, everyone outside anglo-world knows the aforementioned for a fact.

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  20. In response to all the flippant ignoramuses dismissing male genital mutilation as somehow akin to removing a mole, or justifiable by tradition, or an inconsequential cosmetic procedure: DO THE RESEARCH. LISTEN TO THE VICTIMS.

    My own parents hardly thought twice about the decision, because it was just the way things were done in those days. I understand, but can never excuse or forgive such an irresponsible abdication of the prime parental directive – to protect and nurture their helpless, trusting infant.

    Similarly, any medical doctor who performs even a single male genital mutilation is unquestionably guilty of the most fundamental violation of the Hippocratic oath imaginable: genital mutilation of either sex does demonstrably do irreparable harm. All such butchers thoroughly deserve to have their licenses revoked and to spend the remainder of their years in solitary. Not that the latter would help any of their victims, but at least the former would prevent them from racking up any more.

    To the poster who wondered how epidemic genital mutilation is tantamount to a murder lottery: these things are botched fairly often. Sometimes the poor kid gets lucky and ONLY loses the tip of his penis right away. Sometimes he loses the whole thing. In either case, he will most likely then be given a sex reassignment surgery and raised as a girl – which of course chromosomally and physiologically he will never actually be. In other cases circumcision or its subsequent infections do cause death. But the point cannot be overstated that even when done “correctly” this grossly unethical amputation causes intense and lasting trauma, deformity, and varying degrees of sexual dysfunction in all cases.

    As for this breathtakingly moronic blithe assumption that the risk of infection is “*probably*” just as high with the benefit of a protective covering, smegma, and white blood cells as with an open wound on a mucus membrane being thrust into constant contact with urine and feces? Citizen’s revocation of breeding license.

    In closing: it is NOT “kind of a guy thing.” The decision to have one’s healthy son mutilated is not a decision that any parent ever has any right to even contemplate making. In any union where even one parent has the minimal parental instinct necessary to recoil from the horror of inflicting such a primal wound on their son, it is that person’s responsibility to stop at nothing to prevent such a sacrilege from occurring.

    Thanks in advance for allowing me to vent this rage and grief I will never be rid of. I only pray that some of you who would otherwise have considered betraying your future sons have been able to see through my rage to the basic humane truism that no person should ever be subjected to such an ordeal for such transparently hollow reasons as are advanced in defense of this practice. I implore ALL of you who remain unconvinced to actually do the knowledge: http://www.norm.org/lost.html
    http://www.cirp.org/news/Mothering1997/

  21. “This discussion seems to me just people making something out of nothing. If parents want the skin gone, then who cares what happens to it after that?”

    I CARE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  22. It is unethical and cruel to subject any child to circumcision as its foreskin/body belongs to it and not the parents or anyone else.it is painful and the result is A surgical lottery as the outcome of the procedure cannot be projected ahead on one so small so the adult may end up with a mess.it must also be remembered that the part that is removed has more sensory areas than what is left leaving the victim genitally crippled for life.many babies suffer minor problems and a number die or
    are left disfigured. now we also know about the foreskin trading we have to look
    at any recommendations to circumcise as being nothing more than thinly veiled invitations to partake in the continuing big dollar business circumcision has become . TIME TO MAKE CIRCUMCISION ILLEGAL.i would also say this pre-occupation with baby boys genitals indicates a serious mental health problem which needs looking at.

  23. Since profit from the foreskin itself could be a potentially motivating factor for doctors to recommend circumcision, it at least needs to be disclosed. The fact that it is not commonly disclosed makes me think it is a motivating factor. The point is that your doctor may not always be telling you what is best for you or your son (money talks). I was circumcised, and I resent that my parents did that to me. I was born when it was commonly performed and people believed their doctors and did not question them. I am actually trying to regrow the skin now, but that can take years (and a fair amount of effort) unlike fingernails that someone compared foreskins to above. Also, I understand that muscle is cut away also, so I will NEVER be the same. If my wife and I have a son, I have no intention of circumcising him. Why would I want to amputate a healthy part of his body? To make him look like me is a ridiculous argument. We all want our kids to have things better than we did.

    The “justifications” for circumcising have been being dispelled or reduced over the years. At one point, they claimed it would prevent masturbation. TRUST ME, that is NOT true. If circumcision is really so great, every country in the world would do it, but many advanced countries do not.

  24. Evidence is in great abundance that in the psyche of many females there resides a succubus (female demon who rapes males) and they express it in the act of sanctioning a violent sex crime against their sons, all the while wearing a mask of “loving, caring mother.” I see them in audiences on TV talk shows LAUGHING about male infants being needlessly tormented! The worst of them have degrees “authorizing” them to be sexual vandals! And you reap what you sow! These boys victimized by violence will consider beating the living hell out of a woman sometime in their life. Some will go beyond thinking about it to doing it. Imagine men in a barber shop joking about how they ordered their girl’s tits cropped off! Me? I’ll only be violent in a boxing ring. Emperor Hadrian outlawed CC, which really speaks to its cruelty considering Romans used crucifixion as capital punishment. We need to be reminded its origins are EGYPTIAN not Jewish.

  25. Male circumcision at birth is a physical parallel of the doctrine of “cross dressing” or “transvestism,” which holds (since WWII factory work freed women from psychiatric attack on their right to wear ANYTHING)that “only males may err in clothing choice.” We aren’t free to determine either the appearance of our naked—or of our clothed—body! And our rights are ruined by being defined as “illnesses” (possession of natural anatomy and freedom of dress—to wear a GD skirt without being slandered for it!) Don’t any unjust person put words in my mouth by saying bras are sex neutral. Men wore skirts for 1,000′s of years. Psychiatry promoted circumcision AND denial of freedom of dress (previously to both sexes, now to men only!)

  26. Cosmetics always claim to have value by having some exotic ingredients. Is there is any scientific proof that using the foreskin for wrinkle cream helps? As far as using the foreskin from circumcised babies to help burn victims or diabetics, what better purpose can there be. This is sort of the ultimate recycling once the foreskin is cut off and is of no use to the boy it now becomes a valuable asset to a person in need. When my son was born most likely his foreskin was burned in the hospital incinerator.

  27. As usual, most of these responses are from WOMEN who basically make jokes about cutting off a baby boys foreskin. Hey you stupid bitches, how about cutting off your damn clit and see if you joke about it!!?????? To imagine that a perfectly good body part of baby boys going for the beautification of these stupid cunts is appalling!!!!

  28. I’m so glad that I’m born to Asian parents and I’m not circumcised! Foreskin gives me a lot of pleasure!

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  30. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.”

    These claims about “neonatal foreskins” being used in cosmetics are certainly extraordinary. And I see no proof offered – just hearsay.

    I won’t believe it until I see proof. And I’m amazed at the number of people here who will just accept at face value something that someone says in a blog of this sort! Shame on you, people! Learn about the scientific method. Learn about peer review. Don’t just believe anything anyone says! If you do, you are fools…

    Or is that what’s wrong with society today? Laws being passed on the bases of unsubstantiated claims – people put in prison for falsely-claimed harms?

    Wake up, sheeple! The media is out to fleece you.

  31. True or not true, why is it so hard to accept using a body part for medicine but it’s okay to discard? Dog in the Manger mentality…. if the dog can’t eat the hay, then the horses can’t eat the hay either..

    I can’t believe people use websites as proof. I’ve seen so many anticirc websites that quote statistics and facts they cherry pick that are not even true or that they twisted for their benefit. you can’t use websites as proof, you have to actually read the studies and then analyse the data and then, look at similar studies for comparison.

    and so what if they use the foreskin? Have you heard of the saying “For the Greater Good?” I would feel better thinking that somebody else could benefit from something that is going to go to waste anyway. Typical Dog in the Manger mentality.

    People are so focused on the small things these days it’s pretty sad. I haven’t seen anything that is so beneficial about the foreskin. Based on the studies and data gathered from both circ and uncirc men, the results are inconclusive. The only thing I’ve seen that is valid is storing drugs and M&M’s in the foreskin. So what you get a bit more feeling from the foreskin? is that little bit of sexual pleasure really enough to disregard the benefits of circumcision? I.E helping burn victims, helping minimise cancer risks, hepl minimise HIV risk etc?

    I would gladly give up my clitoris if it means I could help save other people’s lives. But that is just me. some people it seems care more about their sexual pleasures than caring about the world in general.

  32. Who besides the genital mayhem camp has said it’s OK to discard the part? As soon as the surgical damage is started, it’s been discarded (forfeited without consent of owner). No you wouldn’t give up your C! “Caring about the world in general” includes going out of one’s way to hack off part of a nonconsenting person’s body, that’s your perspective, very uncivilized. Women rave about how they’re oppressed, when in fact it’s men that are much more repressed. The ways in which our rights are denied us are not defined as repression. That’s the PSYCHIATRIC (neo-Inquisitional) method for oppression. Men are hit with an act of mayhem at birth, which is packaged as a “medical procedure.” Then they’re raised without choices in clothing, while females ARE raised with choices; if a man wants to wear something really different, he faces being called a “cross-dresser.” The upshot is that men have no self determination rights to control the appearance of either their naked or their clothes bodies, while those rights are protected for females. Shame on man hating women, shame on society!

  33. your parents make a decision all your life mostly for what they think is best. It is not only the physical part but also psychological and emotional. You can’t go around blaming your parents for doing something what they thought is best for you when you were a little boy. It is the exact same as obese people. What their parents feed them all their life affects their physical and psychological state. Should they also curse their parents for that? What about children of divorced couples that have psychological trauma? Should we also ban divorces??

    So where do we stop? Should we monitor every thing parents decide on and ban the decisions we think is not good for the child?

    Maybe parents just shouldn’t immunise, circumcise, feed, educate, clothe their children until the kids are 18+ and can decide what they want. Or maybe people should just stop having children altogether. Circumcision is one of those things that people will always disagree on but you can’t ignore the REAL statistics and facts that it does offer benefits, so anti-circs should just respect parents decision to do it, so should men who were circumcised because your parents are your only parents and you should respect the decisions they make for you when you were little.

  34. yes, you’re right maybe I would not give up my clitoris, something that is NOT the equivalent of foreskin btw, for a society that puts so much emphasis on sexual pleasures from a foreskin (with ambiguous research data).

  35. Christ, they have doctors and “scientists” in Arab/African states ALSO who can give YOU “ambiguous data” about your clit! You sure as holy hell want rights for yourself, but corresponding rights for males, you dismiss in a cavalier manner. What you’re sending out will ALWAYS return to you, B***H! My parents did NOT make a “decision for me,” lawsuits had to be filed against hospitals to stop them whittling on little boys without parental consent! So-called “medical doctors” are the most arrogant hooligans who ever lived! The state is supposed to protect all children from harm; not only the female children! But this is why so many women get beat up by the men they choose; men are retaliating for their mothers conspiring with a sex criminal to reshape their anatomy! What is done to children, they will do to society! Yeah, you sure as hell are being influenced by a SUCCUBUS (invisible female demon that rapes males).

  36. righto, this debate is anything but decent or respectful anymore so I’m returning to hell where I belong.

    You have serious issues, maybe the circumcision did this to you?

    tsk.

  37. cHARLES SAYS:

    ! But this is why so many women get beat up by the men they choose; men are retaliating for their mothers conspiring with a sex criminal to reshape their anatomy!

    I’m sure battered women would love to hear your reasoning and condoning domestic violence. nuff said.

  38. Ass, I didn’t condone anything, I mentioned cause and effect. They send out mutilation, violence returns to them in some form as they did reap what they “sow”-ed! “You have serious issues” sounds like a “mental illness” accusation. What a way to try and trump in an argument—accuse the adversary of “mental illness.” 450 years ago in Europe, you would have accused me of “heresy” or “witchcraft.” No wonder so many judges are tossing psychologicals OUT of their courtrooms!

  39. are you aware that aborted babies have been used in skin care products for decades and our law does not require the industy to list the ingredients? Yeah…

  40. I resent my body being used as a source of raw materials. It’s a grudge I will hold against my parents until the day I die.

  41. I have developed a keen hatred of women after reading this article. You cry foul when baby girls get cut but it is now clear why so many women support male circumcision. So you can profit from it.

    I hate you monsters more than you can imagine.

  42. Know what a “succubus” is? It’s a female demon who rapes males. That’s what’s going on here. But that’s not the end of it. “Karma” as they call it in India, returns misery to women who impose it on males. It comes back in the form of men who savagely beat them; in the form of breast cancer; financial loss; rejection by men; and any other way suitable for retribution.

  43. I am disturbed by this article greatly. I do not support the use of baby parts in cosmetics. However, Jimmy and Charles’ comments are out of line. The majority of the woman using these products do not know what they are. Furthermore, the majority of the Drs in this country are Men. It is a tragedy and disturbing that this is happening but Woman are not solely to blame.

  44. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. I’m amazed by the fact a lot of women didn’t know. I come from a medical family that deals with this stuff all the time, but they mainly use the placenta of a woman with a stillborn. I don’t use a lot of makeup either but I really do find it shocking a lot of women didn’t know this already.

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