THE WOMAN sits at her dressing table gazing fixedly at her reflection. Yes, she ponders smugly, she really is holding the years at bay – thanks to all the beauty creams and cosmetic aids arrayed in front of her.
And, honestly, who cares if the ingredients were plundered from the bodies of children, the dead and the poor?
One of her anti-wrinkle gels, for example, contains an ingredient from the foreskin of a circumcised baby.
Her long, lustrous hair – or, to be accurate, hair extensions – ‘belongs’ to a poor Russian child who was forced to sell her locks to survive, and is washed daily in ‘placenta shampoo’ (harvested from a selection of new mothers in the U.S.) to maintain its sheen.
No doubt she has also undergone the latest anti-ageing regime that cells from aborted foetuses. Ah yes, and her lips. They look as if they could belong to a pouting actress, but that is only because they contain skin cells harvested from corpses.
We exaggerate – but not much. The woman described above, of course, probably does not exist. But all these so-called ‘wonder’ products and treatments do – and they are becoming increasingly popular with British women. What a Frankenstein’s Monster the beauty industry has become.
Indeed, behind the creams, gels and potions, the Mail this week uncovered a story that would grace the plot of a sci-fi horror film. And each of these beauty aids is fuelled by the desperation of women whose pursuit of physical perfection and the elixir of eternal youth is both relentless and ruthless.
Cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies as well as doctors are only too happy to meet – some might say exploit – this demand despite the obvious ethical, moral – and potentially, medical – implications.
Only this week, shocking claims emerged that ‘skin’ from executed Chinese criminals were being used in ‘lip and anti-wrinkle’ products sold in Europe.
The revelations were almost too macabre to believe.
The Chinese cosmetics company, which was not named, was said to be providing such treatments at a fraction of the price of rival suppliers after making a secret deal with prison authorities. The skin is alleged to have been taken from inmates after they had been shot. In fact, lip implants – consisting of tissue harvested not from corpses in China but America – are shockingly commonplace in London.
The gruesome chain of events begins at the scene of, say, a fatal road accident or a death, on the other side of the Atlantic and ends in an injection at respected private clinics such as that which trades at 112 Harley Street.
Behind the grand front door of this establishment, stomachs are flattened, creases are ironed out, breasts are enhanced, faces are lifted – and the syringes, containing a substance called AlloDerm, are administered at Pounds 450 a time.
Clients need up to three injections.
But the resulting ‘pout’ is supposed to last for three years.
AlloDerm? It sounds as innocuous as an acne cream. Actually, it is culled from ‘cadavers’ in the U.S. and is essentially freezer- dried human skin minus the epidermis (the outer layer of skin).
It is used – quite legitimately – in hospitals for skin grafts and reconstructive surgery. But it is also used for making your lips look like they belong to a supermodel.
Dr Laurence Kirwan, a eminent and respected plastic surgeon, and one of two doctors who run the clinic in Harley Street, insists AlloDerm is safe, effective and, crucially, obtained with the full consent of those who donate their bodies to science, or their loved ones. ‘There is no reason to have any complaints about it,’ he said.
But is this really the case? Do those who bequeath their bodies to medical science expect to end up satisfying the vanity of women in London and elsewhere?
Consent forms are literally thrust into the hands of the bereaved in casualty departments or hospital corridors by scavengers – sorry, representatives – working for U.S. tissue banks. The families are not paid for their largesse.
The crucial information that the remains of the body may also be used in ‘reconstructive or cosmetic surgery’ is buried in the small print (until recently the word ‘cosmetic’ wasn’t even included in the form).
‘When people have died, relatives are not listening properly,’ says Dr Arthur Caplan, professor of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania.
‘They have no idea that tissue might be processed for the cosmetics industry.
I have consistently argued that there should be more regulation in this area.’ Almost as soon as a signature is obtained, a loved one’s remains are whisked off in a freezer chest to a tissue bank facility. Relatives assume they will be used to help the desperusesately ill or perhaps further the cause of medical research. Instead, they often enter the cosmetic supply chain. So how does it happen?
Unlike Britain, where tissue banks are affiliated to hospitals and universities, those in America are independent enterprises.
Of course, tissue banks deal directly with hospitals. But there is also big money to be made from the cosmetics market. Or to put it another way: one square foot of skin equals $1,000.
It is illegal to make a profit from the sale of human tissue in America. But tissue banks can get round this by charging large ‘handling and processing’ fees, which is within the law.
In other words, it costs $1,000 to ‘handle and process’ one sq ft of skin, $2,000 for two sq ft, and so on. It is marked down as a fee – not profit.
Buyers include pharmaceutical giant The LifeCell Corporation based in New Jersey. LifeCell is also the firm that produces AlloDerm. The same principle applies when the firm sells the products to doctors working at clinics like 112 Harley Street.
A spokesman for LifeCell said the firm did not market products for the cosmetics industry, and it was up to surgeons to decide how they use products like AlloDerm. ‘Doctors can take it and use it for almost anything they want.’ Does Dr Kirwan – who also works at the private Highgate Hospital in North London and at the Hospital of St John
and St Elizabeth in St John’s Wood – inform clients about the ‘ ingredients’ of AlloDerm? He declined to say when we contacted him again.
The truth is, however, that most women who want full lips probably don’t care.
Rene Chapman, 33, is a businesswomen who splits her time between Knightsbridge and New York. ‘I knew one of the components of Allo- Derm was human tissue,’ she said.
‘It sounded a bit creepy at first but it is produced by a reputable firm and I wanted nice lips.
‘The operation for AlloDerm implants is straightforward.
Afterwards, you experience a burning sensation in your lips and you can’t go out for several days because of the swelling. But it’s worth it.
‘My lips look very natural, and whenever I tell people what I have had done, they can’t believe it.’ How different from the generation of women who depended on the ‘Avon Lady’ and the cosmetics counter at their local department store for all their beauty needs.
‘Cadaver collagen’ is only one of the ‘extreme beauty’ treatments on the cosmetics shopping list of a growing number of British women who have Botox during their lunchbreaks and can buy other ‘miracle’ products over the internet.
Among them is a cream called TNS Recovery Complex. Anyone who watched TV’s Celebrity Love Island recently might have heard model Nikki Ziering extolling the virtues of this anti-wrinkle cream to fellow islanders Jayne Middlemiss and Rebecca Loos, claiming: ‘It’s the most amazing stuff.’ Perhaps. But it is probably fair to assume that Miss Ziering is unaware of the provenance of TNS, which contains Nouricel-MD – that’s the scientific word for an active ingredient derived from the foreskin of a circumcised baby.
Not so long ago, could anyone – apart from the most warped horror writer – have imagined that such a product would end up on the faces of British women?
In fact, the gel comes from a single foreskin that was donated to – yes, you’ve guessed it – an American pharmaceutical company, called Skin Medica, more than 15 years ago.
The tissue cells of that foreskin were then replicated in a laboratory.
Why a foreskin? Because it contains proteins, collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid – all the things that ageing skin tends to be deficient in.
Skin Medica claims its products are not sold over the counter as they form ‘part of a medically supervised skincare regime managed by physicians’.
However, a number of internetbased firms are more than happy to sell direct to customers.
One is Revitalise UK, run by Chris Pattison. The cream costs Pounds 195 and he has sold more than 100 ‘units’ of TNS in the past two months – an income of Pounds 20,000.
‘If someone asks me what’s in the product, I will tell them, but no one has been put off when I’ve told them about it. But most people simply don’t ask,’ says Pattison.
‘Ultimately, unless they have very sensitive skin, people just aren’t concerned by what’s in a product, they just want to know it works.’ He’s right, of course. Wendy Lewis, herself a beauty consultant, is proof, if further proof were needed. ‘I’ve been using it for a couple of years and apply it twice a day to my face.
I was impressed, rather than put off, by the science behind it and, like a lot of women, I was prepared to try it if it worked, and TNS certainly works for me,’ she said.
So, that’s lips and faces. What about hair? One woman who lives in a Docklands apartment overlooking the Thames is something of an expert in this field.
Svetlana Bobrakova runs a company called Euro Hair London.
For just one kilogram of 18in hair – sufficient for five people’s extensions – she charges about Pounds 950 for a brunette and Pounds 1,070 for blonde.
But it’s not the price that is the issue here. It’s where her ‘products’ come from – the heads of impoverished Russian children whose naturally healthy hair is highly prized.
In the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, for example, there is a sign outside the bus stop in Karl Marx Square which announces ‘wonderful prices’ for good-quality hair. The people who supply ‘that wonderful hair’ are children reduced to selling their hair for about 70 roubles a time (about Pounds 1.40) simply to eat.
‘Virgin Russian hair’ – considered the thickest and most luxuriant on the market – is becoming a ‘must have’ accessory in fashionable London where you can expect to pay Pounds 600-plus for it.
Demand has never been greater (Victoria Beckham has worn this so- called Virgin Russian hair) and has doubled over the past three years. Miss Bobrakova, a beautiful young Muscovite in her 30s, is helping to meet that demand. Her company, which imports hair from Eastern Europe, sells to many top British stylists.
It is certainly profitable, but is it ethical? As we know, ‘ethics’ and the ‘beauty industry’ are not always compatible. The picture which emerged this week shows that across the globe, from China to Russia to America, scientists are pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable in the beauty industry.
And if the source of these dubious treatments may be thousands of miles away, it’s clear that scores of British women are either creating a demand for them to be imported to London, or are travelling overseas themselves.
Indeed, wealthy British women are even now embarking on ‘ cosmetic breaks’ to Miss Bobrakova’s native Moscow. No, not for hair extensions, but for something far more sinister on offer at the city’s Cellulite Clinic, an upmarket beauty treatment centre.
It is here that women are promised eternal youth – an antiageing injection that the doctor at the clinic boasts is composed of cells taken from the nutrient-rich umbilical cords and placentae of aborted foetuses.
Many of the foetuses have been deliberately left to grow in their mothers’ wombs until five months old – the point at which they are considered to be optimally potent in terms of their ability to promote regeneration and repair.
The women are not being paid to have abortions. They have already decided on this course of action.
But, scandalously, they are encouraged to wait until ‘five months’ in return for payment. The abortions themselves are performed at other centres.
Surgeons at the Cellulite Clinic, and many others throughout the city, are simply exploiting a loophole in Russian law which permits the extraction and storage of embryo stem cells but doesn’t explicitly specify the use they can be put to.
As a result, clinics are free to use foetal cells for cosmetic injections without fear of prosecution.
According to someone who has worked at the clinic, the treatment, which costs between Pounds 2,500 and Pounds 20,000, is ‘particularly popular with British and American women’.
If the thought of having stem cells from a placenta injected into you is too much to bear, perhaps you’d consider something less invasive from the ‘placenta product’ range, such as a placenta shampoo or a placenta face mask.
According to some sources it is commonplace for many hospitals to sell placentas to cosmetic companies.
One firm in America, Plazan Skincare, told the Mail that the cells used in their products are collected from maternity wards ‘only after the mother has given birth to a healthy baby and a donation consent form has been signed’.
Plazan claims it is offering ‘a service of timeless beauty’ on its glossy website, and admits it was one of the few manufacturers in the world offering ‘skincare products enriched with foetal cell components’.
It may be better regulated than the Russian clinics, but the basic facts remain the same.
So, ‘cadaver implants’ in Harley Street – and the potential exploitation of the dead and the bereaved who facilitate them – foreskin cream and now aborted foetuses.
Just how far will women’s vanity push the limits of human decency?