Dr. Amy Tuteur is an obstetrician-gynecologist. She received her undergraduate degree from Harvard College and her medical degree from Boston University School of Medicine. Dr. Tuteur is a former clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School.

NOVEMBER 2, 2009 5:06PM

Skin cream made from aborted fetus?

Rate: 15 Flag


It sounds like a horror story made up by an anti-abortion group, but it is not. Neocutis, a Swiss “cosmeceutical,” is being marketed as a “Bio-restorative Skin Cream with PSP™” for “sensitive, stressed and irritated skin.” PSP are processed skin-cell proteins and the manufacturer, Neocutis SA, is honest about where they came from:

Inspired by fetal skin’s unique properties, Neocutis’ proprietary technology uses cultured fetal skin cells to obtain an optimal, naturally balanced mixture of skin nutrients including cytokines, growth factors and antioxidants.

Neocutis SA, cognizant of the ethical objections, declares:

Since the 1930s, the international medical community has used donated fetal tissue to better understand cell biology and as an essential tool in the development of vaccines, which are credited with saving millions of lives worldwide. The 1954 Nobel Prize for medicine was awarded to researchers who utilized fetal kidney cells to develop the polio vaccine… Our view—which is shared by most medical professionals and patients—is that the limited, prudent and responsible use of donated fetal skin tissue can continue to ease suffering, speed healing, save lives, and improve the well-being of many patients around the globe.

In other words, Neocutis SA believes that this is yet another benefit of stem cell research. But is this what proponents have in mind when urging the funding of stem cell research? Does support for stem cell research to cure fatal diseases extend to support for stem cells in cosmetics?

Dr. Summer Johnson of asks:

… [W]hat moral complicity exists for those who choose to put fetal skin protein creams on their faces? …

She acknowledges that consumers are likely to have one of two responses:

Yet for some, this will have no moral implication at all. For them, fetal proteins in a face cream aren't any different from animal or plant protein because for them the moral status of the aborted fetus doesn't have the moral status to give one concern if consent to both abortion and research took place.

But for many, it would be unthinkable to fetal ANYTHING into their deepening wrinkles to make them become less so. In fact, many would rather have crow's feet deeper than the Grand Canyon than have a fetal tissue cell touch their face as a result of their moral conviction…

I must admit that this issue has never occurred to me. When I think of stem cell research, I think of life saving technologies, not cosmetics. Does it matter, though, what the stem cells will be used for once you’ve decided they can be used? Is there any moral difference between using the tissue of aborted fetuses to cure cancer and using it to cure wrinkles? And if it does matter, what does this tell us about the status of fetal tissue? Are fetal cells no different from the animal and plant cells often used in the manufacture of cosmetics?

At a minimum, people deserve to know when products are manufactured using the tissue of aborted fetuses so they can decide for themselves whether to buy and use them. The real question is whether we should go further. Instead of leaving the moral decision to individuals, should we restrict the use of fetal tissue to life saving products, or even to no products at all? 

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What difference does it make what you're using them for? If a woman decides to abort her fetus, that's her right. Whatever it's used for after that shouldn't matter... life saving or not.
"Whatever it's used for after that shouldn't matter... life saving or not."

That's certainly one viewpoint. I'm not sure that everyone would agree.
Just personaly, this is sick. This may sound crude but I'd rather smear semen on my face. Using stem cells for legitimate research (like for treatment of disease) is one thing, but for a face cream?

"Using stem cells for legitimate research (like for treatment of disease) is one thing, but for a face cream?"

It makes me really uncomfortable, too, but I'm trying to figure out whether once we decide it is okay to use fetal cells should it make a difference what we those cells for.
It's not an advertising person's dream product is it? People don't even want to know that glue used to be made (maybe still is) from horse's hooves.

"It's not an advertising person's dream product is it?"

Certainly some people are going to be horrified, but I wonder if there are others who would buy it regardless of what's in it.
This repulses me. Using fetal cells to save other living beings' lives is one thing, but using them to make your skin smooth does not sit well with me at all. Something just doesn't seem right here.
that is just so wrong. I agree with Lady Miko. Big distinction between scientific research and skin cream.
I'll have to think this one over.

I'll get back with you.
I find it quite humorous that people think things like this are OK for one thing but aren't OK for others. What difference does it make if the fetal stem cells are used to cure a disease, are used in a skin cream (maybe that improves skin health to a certain point), or if they are discarded in the trash? It's not like people are killing babies to do these things. Once the fetus is aborted, it's not alive any longer. Why is that any different than a person giving their body to science after they pass on? I don't give a shit what happens to my body after I pass on, because I won't be in it any longer.

This kind of thinking is no different than Americans thinking it's disgusting that other cultures eat animals such as cats, dogs, horses, rats, kangaroos, whatever... but it's not just as disgusting to eat pigs, cows, chickens, or turkeys. What's the difference? ALL of it is muscle and/or the organs of an animal, so what does it matter which one it's from? It's completely illogical and egocentric thinking.

And yet so many people think it's fine to kill animals for various reasons, and that's OK... because, you know, humans are superior to all other living beings.
Let's see if I can make cause a few more squirms. The quotes refer to "donated" skin tissue. If the cells have value, then why shouldn't the providers be able to sell the tissue? Providers in the supply chain being the women and the abortionist, not just the lab that presumably cultures the cells into enough for this company to use. Anything wrong with that?
"but I'm trying to figure out whether once we decide it is okay to use fetal cells should it make a difference what we those cells for."

I am thinking not, but then, I'm on the fence. I think(keyword being I --- :) -----) that there's a difference between cancer(life threatening) and wrinkles(just threatening to the ego) but what the hell do I know?

Good article.
One common ingredient in hair conditioners (good ones) for years has been bovine placenta. Probably not much different than human placentas. Infant foreskins are used often for grafts, they have very special properties, one good reason to keep circumcising babies!
Personally it doesn't bother me at all because I'm guessing that the fetal tissue is getting incinerated or disposed of in some other way. Why not use it for something if it was otherwise going to be thrown away. It's human tissue at that point. Nothing more and nothing less.
Face cream is for vanity, nothing more. The thought that abortions could be induced or encouraged for the marketing of a vanity project is more than a little abhorrent.
Oh, I do think that if one has an abortion and the clinic is selling the tissue to produce face cream, then the woman should receive a discount on the procedure. In other words, there should be full disclosure on both ends.
I answered this without reading comments - Ablonde, that's a reasonable point, but if the market for this cream were extremely lucrative, inevitably someone will want to stimulate demand, then create more more supply to satisfy the demand. That's how capitalism generally works, and I think has to be taken into account - we do so with organ donation, after all, and that too is human tissue, no more, no less.
Nothing like wiping some murder all over your skin. Just great......makes me sick. What's next in this world.
Thanks for bringing this issue up. It was very much in focus years ago when the rumor was spreading that collagen from aborted fetuses was being used for cosmetics and skins creams.

There may be nearly as many opinions as there are people commenting - but I believe that enthusiastic support of cosmetic uses ultimately works against the life saving value of stem cell research and furnishes the opposition with a straw man to fight in what is actually a life and death struggle for many.
The wide variety of viewpoints shows just how difficult and controversial this is.

I think everyone would agree that the "yuck" factor is very high, and that is generally a sign that there is something wrong with an idea. However, if there is something wrong, we should be able to describe what it is.

Let's assume for the moment that it is acceptable to use fetal cells for lifesaving purposes, although there are good arguments to be made that it is not acceptable. If we assume that it is acceptable, does it matter precisely what the cells are used for? Is it okay to take kidney cells for kidney transplants, but not okay to take skin cells for cosmetic purposes?

And what do we do if a stem cell product designed for a lifesaving purpose like treating extensive burns and helping skin grafts heal turns out to have a cosmetic benefit as well? If it already exists is it okay to use to the product for cosmetic purposes?

McGarrett50 raises a really interesting question that I had not initially considered. If the product is being used for something other than advancing research or saving lives, shouldn't the "donor" of the tissue share in any profits? Before we say yes, though, we need to consider if that would provide an incentive for abortion and whether we want to provide such an incentive. We don't allow people to sell their organs, but we do allow them to sell ova and sperm. In which category would stem cells fall?

I realize that I am offering far more questions than answers, but this is a complex ethical issue, not an empirical issue with right and wrong answers.

I can't help recoiling from the idea of using fetal cells in cosmetics because it seems to me that fetal cells are different from and should be treated differently from animal or plant cells, but I'm trying to figure out exactly why.
Will you clarify a term please? The article mentions "cultured fetal skin cells". Is that similar to cutured pearls in that the cells are grown as opposed to harvested?
“...this is a complex ethical issue, not an empirical issue with right and wrong answers.”

When a situation calls for it that is an admission I truly admire. Thank you.
"Is that similar to cutured pearls in that the cells are grown as opposed to harvested?"

The cells are the descendants of those that were originally harvested from the fetus.
I don't see how people can view this as unethical, when they don't view killing animals for different purposes as unethical. Again, it goes back to the "people are supreme" attitude... which, IMO, is completely egocentric and self righteous.

Why is it OK to kill animals, but when a wild or domesticated animal kills a person (often because the person was invading their space or was bothering/hurting them in some way), it's such a big deal, and people want to disposeof the animal right away?

THAT is a barbaric and self-righteous attitude.
Clinics that are selling the byproducts of abortion should offer their services at a discounted rate.

If new uses for fetal tissue can be developed, all the better. Waste not want not. Why should it be better to dispose of this valuable tissue than make use of it?

And maybe the suppression of wrinkles is vanity, but then again that tissue might also suppress skin cancer cells. who knows. And Sandra, I love you madly, but in another 20 years we may both be very much pro anti-wrinkles!

I just don't see a reason to waste anything (abortion product or not) if it could be useful. People have been going to mexico (and switzerland etc..) to get injected with wacky assed stuff like sheep fetal cells, and paying out the ying yang for it too. Applying some human placental cells to your face seems mild by comparison.

It touches on the fringe of one of my favorite bioethical dilemmas, should a living transplant donor be paid for their organ? I say yes, yes in a very big way, but with clearly well thought out contracts to protect the donor.
"I can't help recoiling from the idea of using fetal cells in cosmetics because it seems to me that fetal cells are different from and should be treated differently from animal or plant cells, but I'm trying to figure out exactly why."
Dr. Amy,
A fetus (latin for "life") is a HUMAN BEING, not an animal or plant.
And that is why there should be respect for him or her.

"A fetus (latin for "life") is a HUMAN BEING"

But I don't think that's the source of the disgust. If the processed skin cell proteins came from the skin of consenting adults, I suspect that most people would not care.
It sounds like a great fundraiser for your local Planned Parenthood! After all, in the USA, it's perfectly legal to have an abortion. Who cares what happens to the clump of cells (which is NOT and never has been a baby) after it. I say to make use of everything, and this is exactly what they are doing. Good for them.
"If the processed skin cell proteins came from the skin of consenting adults, I suspect that most people would not care."
True, true. It's the taking of something that is still precious, life, and making it cheap and vain. This to me, as are many of the comments here, is disgusting and inhuman.

"It's the taking of something that is still precious, life, and making it cheap and vain."

Is it the idea of abortion, per se, or is the idea that the tissue comes from a dead body and was used without the consent of the person/entity from which is came?

I suspect people would also be outraged if it turned out that the cosmetic used tissue from dead adults without their consent.
"I suspect people would also be outraged if it turned out that the cosmetic used tissue from dead adults without their consent."

Then, again, many people weren't outraged at the "use" of residual tissue from Holocaust victims.
This is what we are reduced to, seeing a dead body, no matter how chopped up, as a potential for personal gain.
I actually love this controversy. You get rhetoric on one side and actual consumer behavior on the other. I suspect that you just sold thousands of dollars of product for them, Amy.

Look at what a non trivial subset of woman do to their own bodies, voluntarily, to enhance their perceived appeal to men. If a man MADE women get liposuction or breast implants, he would be [legitimately] considered a monster. Yes woman line up for it. They can't afford health insurance, yet they PAY CASH for it. Or, indenture themselves to a credit card company.

So, women that do this to themselves..... they will be lining up if they think it works. Hell, they made the Nantucket diet book a best seller, and it advocated COLONICS for weight loss! Duh.

I dunno, Amy. All I have to say is that I am not interested in women with plastic boobs. Don't blame this on men.

And, keep selling fetal skin cream!!!!!!!!

They love you. Their marketing people.

Regards, Nick.
I thought they sold the after birth for this stuff.... I didn't realize they were still doing this.
I think we need "rescue" men at the breast enlargement places.

They could have brochures showing the effects of botched boob jobs. Even the high end Hollywood Stars get shockingly awful plastic surgery.

Then, they could have some alternatives. Like:

1. Listen to men.
2. Be NICE.
3. Perfect oral sex techniques.
4. %C.

I mean, there are ALTERNATIVES to mutilating surgery. I would say #3 trumps a boob job any day of the year.

Just call me a misanthrope.

Would it be better just to dispose of an aborted fetus rather than use parts of it in cosmetics? If you think so... why? Why is it any different than a person giving their body to science after they have passed on? Why is it any different than a person giving their body to science to be used in educational exhibits in museums, where viewers are able to see the preserved skin, muscle, nerves, etc. of those who have passed on? Many people have a problem with that, but it's really none of their business what happens to another person's body if they chose to give it to science in that way.

Again, no one has the right to tell a woman she can't have an abortion, and if she does have one, what difference does it make what happens to the fetus after it is aborted... whether it be put in the trash, be used to help save lives or to cure a serious health condition, or to use it in face creams to improve one's skin?

I find it to be completely illogical for people to say, "We can use aborted fetuses for this, but we can't use them for that." People's insecurities shouldn't determine what happens. It boils down to people not being able to handle certain things that shouldn't be ethical issues, and THAT shouldn't determine what happens (much like how religious people love to call the shots on things that they have no business in).

The ethical part would come in if companies are encouraging/forcing women to get abortions for this. Maybe for that reason women who get abortions shouldn't be paid for their fetuses. Afterall, they're getting rid of something they decided they couldn't keep, so after that, it shouldn't be their choice as to what happens to it. It's kind of like giving someone a gift. After you give that person the gift, it's none of your business what that person does with it.
Rated for weirdness.

You really couldn't make this stuff up.

The truth is always totally unbelievable. I mean, if it WEREN'T TRUE and was submitted as fiction, it would get 86ed for being truly unbelievable.

I am in total shock, Amy.
Also, does it work? Or is it like eye of newt?

Please delete any of my posts if you find them offensive, Amy.
Think about the use of animals in research. Many people can accept the fact that animals are used in disease and drug research, and are an important part of that process. The way they're treated could arguably be called cruel or at least callous, but in the pursuit of saving human lives, it's deemed just on the ethical side of the line. However, many of these same people, including myself, abhor the idea of a rabbit getting mascara smeared into its eyes to see if it goes blind, or the other cosmetics testing that happens on animals.

I am pro-choice to a certain extent, but I find the idea of using human cells for this purpose repugnant. And I am in favor of stem cell research for lifesaving purposes. I'd no sooner smear fetus on my face than cadaver cells. Maybe that's illogical, but it feels like a terribly disrespectful purpose.

I'm not religious, but to me, it's more than just any clump of cells. It has the spark of human life, whatever that is, and yes, I'd rather see it disposed of than used to prevent wrinkles on some overtanned millionaire.
Again, abusing live animals by doing experiments on them and killing them for the sole purpose of satisfying the egos of people is unethical (including "saving" human lives). If people were picking up roadkill and then using it for some purpose, then there's nothing wrong there... since the animal had already died, independent of what its body is being used for.

As for fetal tissue, it's the same. It's tissue that already died, independent of its after use, so the purpose it's being used for has no significance.

People really need to get over their self righteousness. The world would be a much better place if people would learn to come down off their pedestals.
If someone from the manufacturing company was forcing women, either through physical force or emotional force, to get abortions so that they can use the fetal tissue in their face creams, then that would be unethical, since they'd be forcing a person to do something against their will in order to gain financially.

Would it be unethical if reps from these companies went into garbage dumpsters and took the fetal tissue and then used it? No. If the fetal tissue is disposed of, then what is the big deal?
If a woman chose to have an abortion for whatever reason, and then she decided she wanted to donate her fetal tissue to one of these companies, that should be her right to. No one else has anything to say about it.
@La Capitana13: so are these women aware of what the fetal tissue is being used for? Cadaver experiments are indeed done on bodies that have been donated by their owners, but it's unethical to steal bodies or body parts that have not been donated.

And certainly the idea of a woman profiting from the abortion is repugnant. If you're not allowed to gain montetarily by donating your kidney for a live transplant, you certainly shouldn't be allowed to gain donated a terminated fetus.
Wow - fantastic example of weird science. Great to discuss too... I would wonder if non-fetal stem cells would be as effective for wrinkles?
This is the kind of inflamatory discourse that miscontrues the Stem Cell debate. An understanding of what Stem Cells are is more important. My son's life is in the process of being saved from Juvenile Myelomonocytic Leukemia thanks to Stem Cell research . He received a Hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) on June 11, 2009.

Bringing abortion into the picture does nothing to further research. If you are against abortion, advocate another way. This is underhanded and decietful. The more I read your posts, the more confused I get. Are you here to present medical information or are you here to push your own "moral" agenda? I know one thing, the two do not mix.
kathleendsm... I don't feel it's unethical, because when women get abortions, they are giving up the fetal tissue that was inside of them. After it's taken out, it's no longer theirs... so I don't see a problem there. I'm not saying I'm not for disclosure of this when companies use the fetal tissue, but I believe that women are giving up their rights to the fetal tissue once they get it aborted.

People make the decision to donate their bodies to science. No relative or any other person has the right to interfere with that once they've made that decision and have passed on. I believe it's the same when women get abortions. Once the fetal tissue is removed from them, it's no longer theirs.

I agree that a woman shouldn't be able to gain financially from this.
This discussion is about using fetal tissue that ALREADY HAS BEEN ABORTED INDEPENDENTLY of using it in skin creams... NOT about aborting fetal tissue for the purpose of using it in skin creams. It's about tissue that ISN'T alive anymore.

I don't get what the big deal is.
MindiTheMagnificient... I'm very happy to hear that your son is benefitting from stem cell research. Good luck to him in his recovery. I'm glad we now have a president who understands the importance of this.
LC13 ~ Thank you for the sentiment. It's been one hell of a road to travel.

Yes, having an administration that supports Stem Cell research is crucial. I would like to see people have a better grasp on Stem Cells and how they are used in research.
"He received a Hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) on June 11, 2009."

Hematopoietic stem cells (blood stem cells) can be obtained from adults or children, not fetuses. This is commonly referred to as bone marrow transplantation.

In general, when people talk about stem cell research they mean stem cells acquired from an embryo or fetus. Unlike blood, stem cells for most organ systems do not persist past the fetal period.

I hope that your son continues to do well. We are not talking about interfering with the type of therapy he received. We are talking about something very different.
La Captiana:

"As for fetal tissue, it's the same. It's tissue that already died, independent of its after use, so the purpose it's being used for has no significance."

But we don't allow people to use dead human tissue for just any purpose. You can't take people's organs just because you want them. You cannot desecrate the bodies of the dead. So simply being dead does not end our moral obligation.
I was shocked when my husband told me about this company. I understand that people have opinions either way about abortion, but there IS a right answer. Just because I want 2 plus 2 to equal 3, doesn't mean that it does. Abortion, at its crudest definition, is terminating a life that if left alone, will come out in 9 months being, acting and looking like a human baby. Not a dog, cat or plant, but a human. So, reasoning would suggest that a baby is a baby, no matter the stage its in, because eventually, it will "look" like our definition of a human baby. The "clump of cells" that a former commentor referred to the baby as- at 14 weeks is about the size of a lemon, complete with all organs, a beating heart, fingerprints and reflexes like opening and closing of hands, kicking of feet etc. And as long as we are all being honest here, we can all agree that abortions are done for the mom, NOT the baby. Do you think murderers ask their victims if they want to die...usually not. And if so, the response would probably be "no." I am guessing that if the baby could choose, they would choose life.
This is important to set up, because the argument falls flat if we are just debating WHAT to do with aborted babies, rather than understanding that there is a sanctity of life issue here. If one understands that God created life, gives life and blesses us with children, then the debate is over because it would be at that point, that human life would be valued enough to not be terminated, or put in skin cream, in the first place.
savedbygrace... no one on this planet can prove or disprove when a fetus or clump of cells actually becomes a human, and so many belief systems have so many different views... so don't think that everyone needs to believe the way you do. You don't have the right to tell a woman what to do with her body, and neither does anyone else. There ar eplenty of people who don't believe in god, so your god explanation DOESN'T fly at all.
Amy, I agree with you to a point, but only because there are laws against taking a dead body and using it for whatever purpose. But, are there any laws out there determining how aborted fetuses are handled? Perhaps the companies should get permission to use the fetal tissue.

Like I said, I could care less what happens to my body after I pass on, because I won't be in it any longer. If anything, I'll give it to science... but I'm not too worried about whether someone steals it or not. I'm not that egotistical to care what happens to a material object once I've moved on.
Well, let's put it this way, If it doesn't make a difference what I use them for, the next time one of my dear but confused girl friends has an abortion, I'll let her know that her aborted child's fetus/placentia are being used to reduce the wrinkles on your aging Mom's face. C'mon. This practice which has been around in the U.S. since the 70's is barbaric and inhumane. Would we do this to our pets? I don't think so. My dog aborts her pups and I sell the fetal tissues/placentia to a cosmetic company to make 'real' collagen which is used in anti-aging creams for my neighbor to use on her face? Not in a million years.