The Science Behind The $650 "Penis Facial"

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The latest beauty fad to be doing the rounds in the celebrity circuit is the Hollywood EGF facial, or what Cate Blanchett and Sandra Bullock refer to as “the penis facial”.

First of all, it’s not what you’re probably thinking: no dicks are directly involved (or harmed) in the process. The treatment is so-nicknamed because it involves the application of an epidermal growth factor (EGF) serum developed from the progenitor cells of the human fibroblast taken from Korean new-born baby foreskin, which sounds bizarre enough in itself.

But you can breathe a sigh of relief – the cells that are actually added to the serum are, in fact, just clones of the original foreskin cells. Georgia Louise, beautician and penis facial originator, assured readers of as much in an interview with People magazine, saying: “I am always very mindful to explain radical serums and potions that I carry in my back bar so I always explain that EGF is derived from newborn baby foreskin, from which cells were taken and then cloned in a laboratory.”

But it still begs the question, why are people going around slapping on a serum made from the cells of baby foreskin?

It comes down to a substance called growth factors, which are extracted from stem cells – in this case, the stem cells derived from the foreskin. Why foreskins and why, specifically, Korean baby foreskins? Compared to other stem cells, foreskins are generally easier to obtain and utilize: When we are babies, our skin is at its best and the growth factors are at their most efficient (they decline in number and slow down as we age), and in South Korea, circumcision is near universal.

Back to growth factors. These are a group of amino acids or polypeptides first discovered in the eighties when it earned Rita Levi-Montalcini and Stanley Cohen a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. There are several types, including nerve growth factors, but epidermal growth factors (EGFs) are the ones most associated with the cosmetics industry and skin regeneration (though most companies use stem cells from plant-based sources).

EGFs are found naturally in the human body in several tissues, such as urine and saliva, and they are involved in various cellular processes, one of which is cell replication. EGFs stimulate the growth of cells including fibroblasts, which are responsible for the production of collagen.

Many in the cosmetics industry claim products containing EGFs help to replenish the aging body's diminishing supply. Applying EGF-filled serum or moisturizer topically, so they say, stimulates the body's own skin cells to multiply and regenerate, giving the applier a youthful complexion. Add in some more beauty industry lingo like renewal, skin elasticity, and radiance, and you get the idea. 

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