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. @nonsense – The concensus on the benefits of circumcision are inconclusive – Penile cancer is relatively rare and the UD has similar rates of penile cancer to many European countries (where circumcision is very rare). The UTI difference is 1% but the researchers never accounted that the intact newborns in tr study were catheterized increasingly the likelyhood of UTI’s not to mention women are ten times more likely to contract them. STD’s/HIV the study was conducted in Africa and since then has been shown to be extremely flawed, studies on STD/HIV contraction in regards of circumcision status have been conducted in the UK Australia New Zealand Puerto Rico and even one conducted by the US navy and it showed circumcision status had no effect in the contraction of the diseases. Not to mention HIV is more common in circumcised men in most african countries, and the US has the hugest rate of STD/HIV contraction of the first world nations, the first world nations that have lower levels are non-circumcising countries that have comprehensive sex ed programs and emphasis condom use. So let your kid keep his junk and teach him proper hygiene and safe sex.
    You were also being extremely dramatic with your jumps to non immunize or feed your children. Vaccines actually work and have an efficacy rate of upwards of 90% circumcision DOES NOT ! When it comes to food your priced nutrition but children can choose what they want to eat from a young age, regardless you can choose whatever diet you want when you can properly reason. Relating that to the excision of a healthy body part that is supposed to be there and caused no harm (and actually has an immunological defense that in some cases defends against certain STI’s) is far-reaching and shows you have no knowledge of the foreskin or how the procedure is carried out and your seriously undermining men’s genital integrity and an important human rights issue that most countries have realized is quite cruel and unneeded like we just realized in the late 90′s concerning the excision of the clitoral hood in the case of female circumcision (studies were conducted showing removal of tw clitoral hood may have some benefits in warding off HIV, do you believe that ?). It’s a big humans rights issue and if you feel parents should be allowed to do as they wish with their children why look down upon female circ ? Why look down upon physical punishment ? Or some forms of abuse ? It’s their kid ad thee parenting methods right ?

  2. This fuels the conspiracy to commit bodily harm and remove informed consent from infant boys. Removing healthy tissue from a normal penis is genital mutilation by definition. This just shows the money trail, where hospitals are double profiting. Circumcision is a barbaric practice and shouldn’t be legal anywhere on minors.

  3. I was circumcised as a baby. I am furious about it. To a large degree, I hate my parents, the medical field, the government, religion, and all of society for not only allowing, but promoting this barbaric atrocity. And now that I know big business is making profit from my stolen body part, I feel more enraged than ever. I have no recourse other than acceptance, but that doesn’t quell the anger. I feel betrayed by society, and I want revenge. But more importantly, I want circumcisions on minors to be banned. Nobody should have to live with and accept incomplete, scarred genitalia. Life is fucked up enough without adding problems.
    To everyone who thinks that circumcision is ok, would you have your child’s ears docked? What about your son’s “useless” nipples? Does your daughter need that labia? What about removing that bump in the nose? How about a tattoo? Why not a penis ring? Do you have the right to sterilize your child? And why stop at just the foreskin? Why not take some scrotal tissue, or the head of the penis? Are TWO testicles really necessary? Are you such a slave to social norms that you would jeopardize the well-being of your child in any way? CHOPPING THINGS OFF IS WRONG!!!!!
    And on a final note about cosmetics using my foreskin, I demand a large fucking royalty. I will find a lawyer or join a class action lawsuit. Big Pharm is out of control. The FDA is a joke. I am livid.
    Finally, fuck all the doctors. Their Hippocratic oath is a hypocritical oath.

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