Today in “Things we wish we didn’t know about” news: This morning I had the unique pleasure of explaining to my colleagues here at The Root what a “penis facial” is. Slang connotations notwithstanding, it wasn’t what they thought.
It was worse.
The discussion started rolling when The Root’s weekend social media editor, Corey Townsend, shared with us a screenshot of a post—from the New York Post—calling the celebrity trend “the latest disturbing beauty treatment.” While the treatment has actually been around for quite a while, it recently caught steam when actress Cate Blanchett reportedly shared with Vogue Australia what I’m sure she thought was an adorable anecdote about a spa day she shared with Ocean’s 8 co-star (and fellow famous white woman) Sandra Bullock:
Sandy Bullock and I saw this facialist in New York, Georgia Louise, and she gives what we call the “penis facial” and it’s something—I don’t know what it is, or whether it’s just cause it smells a bit like sperm—there’s some enzyme in it so Sandy refers to it as the penis facial.
Of course, jokes immediately ensued, until I broke down for The Root crew exactly what a penis facial comprises. (Again: Keep your minds out of the gutter.)
Since your curiosity is obviously now disturbingly piqued, here’s what you need to know about the penis facial: It’s made from actual penises—or, at least, parts of them. That’s right, the main ingredient in this exclusive beauty treatment is the discarded foreskins of newborn Korean boys. [Editor’s note: Leave it to K-beauty to come up with some shit like this. After all, they also gave us the beauty innovation known as the snail mucus mask.]
Aside from the obvious issues that arise from using unclaimed DNA to produce a beauty product, the main question among our crew was, how does this even become a thing?
While we know the service likely originated with creative Korean chemistry, it gained its popularity among the celebrity set via New York City-based, British-born facialist Georgia Louise, who named it the far more delicate “Hollywood EGF (Epidermal Growth Factor) Facial” and purportedly charges $650 a pop to administer this ... unique beauty treatment.
How does it work? The “epidermal growth factor” is harvested from the stem cells of circumcised newborn foreskin. Apparently, the enzymes in the cells are so powerful that they encourage rapid cell turnover and immediate benefits like brightening, tightening and wound healing—all of which might be particularly appealing to wealthy and/or famous women without the naturally youth-enhancing benefit of melanin on their side. (That’s not shade, just facts.)
But in case you’re thinking this treatment is new—or just appealing to white women—think again: The chemistry first gained attention about 15 years ago, when Oprah Winfrey extolled the virtues of SkinMedica’s TNS Essential Serum—basically, the OTC version of this treatment—on her then-hit daytime talk show (RIP, The Oprah Winfrey Show).
The jelly-like liquid looks a little like congealed blood. It smells pretty funky. And it once got Oprah in hot water with anti-circumcision activists because it uses human fibroblast conditioned media, a growth factor derived from neonatal foreskin.
But here is why I don’t give a fuck about any of that: It’s the closest topical product I’ve found to Botox, which is not something I throw around lightly.
The potent (and controversial) growth factor stimulates collagen synthesis and anti-aging genes within the skin to plump, smooth lines, tighten sagginess, and heal wounds — a claim many products make, but none noticeably deliver on. I’d bathe in the stuff if I could ...
At $281 per 1-ounce bottle, it’s definitely an investment, albeit a far cheaper one than the spa version. It’s also worth noting that among other retailers, you can procure this wonder product from Amazon.com—which means you can be slathering foreskin on your face tomorrow if you have a Prime membership. And if your tastes skew more vegan—or the foreskin concept is just too much to stomach—BioEffect makes a barley-derived version for $160.
Of course, this isn’t the first DNA-based treatment to catch steam: Remember the “vampire facial” (which harvests your own blood plasma) or the numerous placenta treatments derived from both sheep and humans? And as for who comes up with this stuff, we only have science to thank; I’m pretty sure the lifesaving harvesting of umbilical cord blood and the application of vampire facials are two sides of the same scientific coin.
That said, according to mind-and-body site Inverse, the specific benefits of using foreskin, while intriguing, aren’t exactly backed up by science:
While medical researchers continue to investigate stem cells for potential restorative properties, there is little evidence to suggest that cell regeneration could take place when stem cells are used only as a topical treatment.
There is a theory that skincare containing stem-cell extracts may encourage cellular growth in the skin, and thus prevents aging. While that theory is promoted by some skincare lines, most companies offering this service use stem cells extracted from plants or fruits, not baby flesh. ...
There is little evidence to suggest the EGF serum generates collagen and elastin any more than other aspects of the treatment. Given that the baby foreskin is applied after a chemical peel using salicylic and glycolic acid and is followed by an electrifying mask, there are too many variables in the process to point to foreskin’s necessity.
Hmm ... sounds like only firsthand experience will provide the answer here. So will The Glow Up be trying out penis facials anytime soon? Stay tuned: I’ve already issued a dare to our resident beauty adventurer, Veronica Webb.
You know, for science.