In the business of vanity almost anything goes. Creams, lotions, and cosmetics are reported to be made out many things that most people would be repulsed by. Fish scales in lipsticks, cow placenta in anti-aging products, crushed female cochineal insects in shampoo, and human foreskin in face cream.
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.
Debate is growing over the ethics of using human foreskins 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. Dr. Fitzpatrick, who invented SkinMedica, works with a supplier that uses foreskin fibroblast to make injectable collagen. The foreskins that he receives the growth hormone for are used especially for cosmetics rather than for growing new skin for medical patients.
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.
Dr. Fitzpatrick says that using foreskins was simply a choice of convenience. "It doesn't matter if you get a fibroblast from the eyelid, the cheek, the foot or the foreskin," Fitzgerald said in an interview. "That cell is still a fibroblast; it does the same thing. Foreskins were used because that is a common surgery and the skin is thrown away, so why not use it for benefits? Twelve years ago when this was done, there would have been no objection to using foreskin tissue." But now that circumcision rates in Canada have dropped below 10 percent and rates in the United States are dropping foreskins are not as convenient anymore. Newborn foreskins are extremely valuable for fibroblasts. The tissue reproduces better, has more vitality, and is generally guaranteed to be healthy.
SkinMedica is not the only company profiting from human foreskins. Since the 1980's many hospitals have been providing infant foreskins to a number of bio-research laboratories, pharmaceutical companies, and of course cosmetic companies. In Mothering Magazine in the Winter of 1997 issue Paul M. Fleiss, MD stated that "the marketing of purloined baby foreskins is a multimillion-dollar-a-year industry." With inflation and the growing number of cosmetic companies using foreskin fibroblasts that number is surely even higher today.