The Dark History Of Circumcision And Its Connection To Anti-Aging Skincare

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” “You are the fairest here so true. But…she who puts baby foreskin on her skin…is a thousand times more beautiful than you."

By Alicia Bittle9 min read

It turns out the fairytale Snow White may be more fact than fiction these days. In the original Brothers Grimm tale, once the Evil Queen learns her place as “most beautiful” in the realm has been usurped by a 7-year-old girl, she hires a hunter to kill the child and bring her the organs so that she can eat them. In one fell swoop, the queen can not only get rid of the competition, but she can become even more beautiful as well. 

Sound crazy? Well, in 2013, it was revealed that the key ingredient in Oprah’s favorite face moisturizer is cells derived from infant male foreskin. People were understandably outraged and disgusted by this, but others were left scratching their heads. Why does it matter? It’s medical refuse from a safe and necessary procedure anyways, so why not recycle it? 

So let’s break it down. Let’s talk about how circumcision is not safe, nor necessary and how the foreskin trade is definitely not ethical. 

Intact American Males are Unicorns

The U.S. is currently the only country in the world that universally circumcises its baby boys. If you give birth in a hospital in the U.S., it’s automatically assumed that you’ll circumcise your son. It’s something you intentionally have to opt out of, while in the rest of the world, it’s something you have to opt into

Additionally, an uncut penis in the U.S. is so rare, that many neonatal nurses don’t even know how to care for it. When I was researching the subject for my own family, I came across horror story after horror story of nurses retracting a poor baby boy’s foreskin as a part of cleaning his dirty diaper. Because of this, on the crunchy mommy blogs, many mothers recommend taping up homemade signs on their son’s hospital bassinets informing the nurse that the baby inside is uncircumcised and instructing them on the do’s and don'ts of intact penis care (spoiler alert, it’s more simple than caring for a freshly circumcised penis).

But I digress, the real question at hand is, how did we get here? How are unaltered penises so rare in the USA that not even medical professionals know how to care for them? We begin our tale in the 1800s with a man named Dr. Lewis Sayre.

The Creepy History of Circumcision in the U.S.

It was the year 1870. Washing your hands before putting them into someone else’s body had just been recognized as a generally good idea only about 20 years prior, and you were only 10 years away from being able to lock a woman away in a mental asylum on the grounds that her uterus was making her crazy. Your name is Lewis Sayre, and you’re America’s leading orthopedic surgeon. Life is good.

One day, your doctor friend asks you to visit a crippled 5-year-old boy and cut through his hamstrings in the hope of reversing his bow legged paralysis. After your personal examination of the boy and testimony provided by his nurse, however, you notice his penis is extremely irritated and painful due to his foreskin being too tight. You put him under, perform a rather heavy handed circumcision, and after a few weeks, the little boy is able to walk again.

Today, we know this condition as phimosis, and we treat it with steroids and (if necessary) circumcision. However, it’s extremely rare, with an occurrence rate of only 1% in teenage boys. But, back to the 1800s. 

Encouraged by his initial success and one more additional success shortly afterward, Dr. Sayre became obsessed. Suddenly everything could be cured by circumcision, even when it couldn’t. To test his theory that tight foreskin caused nervous system irritation that in turn caused insanity, Sayre took his theory to the local asylums where he examined 67 children and circumcised the vast majority of them. None, however, were cured of their condition, so none were discharged. Still though, Sayre insisted circumcision was a miracle cure for everything from tuberculosis to epilepsy to masturbation and carried on with his circumcision crusade. 

It’s important to note that during these same years, women were also undergoing similar operations in order to cure them of the same ills, as well as hysteria and “serious reading.” Slave women were operated on without anesthesia, bracing themselves on all fours, by James Marion, the father of gynecology, to cure them of fistulas. Housewives and asylum patients alike were subjected to hysterectomies (the removal of the uterus), oophorectomies (the removal of the ovaries), cliterodectomies (the removal of the clitoris), and labiaplasties (the removal of the labia minora).

During the mid and late 1800s, external female genitalia was seen as “insignificant,” and removing these parts and pieces was seen by many doctors as “harmless.” In fact, the majority of surgeons saw this new practice as a medical marvel founded on the theory that the nerves that are connected to the sexual organs of males and females could become “irritated” or “overstimulated” and go on to cause a litany of medical maladies. For this reason (as well as religious ones), masturbation was highly discouraged by all parts of society. If your sickness continued after your male or female circumcision, it wasn’t believed to be the doctor’s fault. It was your own. You must still be masturbating and lying about it.

Over time, however, female circumcision and the removal of their reproductive organs began to drop off. Male circumcision, though, only seemed to pick up speed. 

Quick pause. Before we continue, I feel it’s important to put this discussion into perspective. Female circumcision (rightfully so) seems barbaric to us today. Just thinking about it is enough to make my stomach turn. Male circumcision, not so much. But why? Why have we been culturally conditioned to believe male circumcision is not just as barbaric? Human fingertips have, on average, 3,000 nerve endings. Clitorises? 8,000. Foreskins have about 20,000… Let’s continue.

In 1877, John Harvey Kellogg (yes, the cereal guy) got wind of the new circumcision trend and published this in his book Plain Facts for Old and Young: “A remedy which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision, especially when there is any degree of phimosis. The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment, as it may well be in some cases. The soreness which continues for several weeks interrupts the practice, and if it had not previously become too firmly fixed, it may be forgotten and not resumed.”

In case you’re wondering if you read that right, you did. Kellogg is not only proposing the removal of the foreskin as a punishment for masturbation, but he’s also proposing it be done without anesthesia or a nerve block. Kellogg was so puritanically anti-sex, it’s believed that he never even consummated his own marriage. Additionally, he believed everyone else needed to hate sex as well. So, in order to help us all, he invented cornflakes because he believed bland food helped to curb the sexual appetite as well as the physical one. It’s believed the circumcision rate in the U.S. at this time was about 10%. 

About 20 years later, in 1890, the circumcision discussion dramatically changed course. It wasn't about health anymore. It was about control and racism. Dr. Peter Remondino proposed compulsory circumcision of all black males, stating, “We feel fully warranted in suggesting the wholesale circumcision of the Negro race as an efficient remedy in preventing the predisposition to discriminate raping so inherent in that race.”

In the early 1900s, the circumcision tide turned again, but this time onto white upper-class men who sought to elevate themselves above the poor white immigrants flooding into America. Some doctors during this time even started claiming parents who did not circumcise their boys were criminally negligent. Circumcision rates in the U.S. during this period had risen to approximately 30%. 

In 1986, when the circumcision rate was estimated to be about 80%, a study was released. A researcher by the name of Thomas Wiswell found that circumcision resulted in lower rates of UTIs. However, the issue with his study was that, as part of the procedure, he instructed parents to retract the foreskin of their son and then let him pee. The problem with this is that, before puberty, the foreskin usually adheres to the head of the penis. It’s not designed to retract yet. The hormones of puberty naturally dissolve the adhesions and allow it to retract when such a thing is necessary. But by tearing these adhesions prematurely, a breeding ground for bacteria is created, and the bacteria then travel up the urethra, causing recurrent UTIs.

In 1996, Female Genital Mutilation, otherwise known as female circumcision/cutting, was outlawed in the U.S. Many supporters of the practice today state that one of the reasons FGM is practiced is that (similar to the circumcision myth) it’s more hygienic

In the 2000s, three circumcision studies were conducted in Africa that claimed to reduce a man’s chances of contracting HIV by 50-60%. But here’s the issue: Those are the only studies that have ever reported such a high reduction rate. Those numbers have never been replicated. Here’s the other issue: The way these studies were conducted is ludicrous. What these researchers did is they rounded up a bunch of men, circumcised half, and then sat around and waited to see how long it took them all to get HIV. The issue is, the men in the circumcised group weren’t allowed to have sex for 4-8 weeks while they recovered. You would think that the studies would start once the circumcised men had recovered, but that’s not what happened. While the circumcised men were recovering (and not having sex), the uncircumcised were living it up and, consequently, contracting HIV. Additionally, the test the studies used to test for HIV had a three month wait window, meaning that the men had to wait for three months after their last sexual encounter to see if they got HIV or not. So again, of course, the uncircumcised group had a higher rate of HIV. Lastly, the studies didn’t control for blood exposure or anal sex, which, as we know, results in higher contraction rates of HIV. Being that this was a study to determine the transmission rate of HIV during heterosexual sex, the fact that these things weren’t controlled for doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

I’ll close the bizarre history lesson with this. During the birth of my firstborn, I tore my clitoris. Though it was years ago, I still have issues with pain and numbness. Recovery was one of the most painful things I’ve ever gone through. The pain wasn't localized to the injured area either. I could feel it down my thighs and in my abdomen and back. For the next several weeks, I wasn’t able to sit down. Laying on my stomach was what was most comfortable. Because of this experience, I can’t comprehend inflicting genital trauma on a tiny, helpless baby who doesn't have the capacity to understand why one of the most sensitive parts of his body hurts so badly. Much less can I comprehend the fact that, to this day, there are still doctors who do not use any sort of pain block during circumcision. They simply strap their small baby bodies down and cut into them. The arguments used to not anesthetize babies during circumcision are actually the same false ones perpetuated and promoted by the abortion industry, stating that babies don’t feel pain or, at least, don't process it the same way. This is an obvious lie. 

Babies don’t deserve to experience any sort of pain, much less do they deserve the magnitude of pain that would accompany slicing through 20,000 nerve endings. But to prove to you that this is more than just simple sentiment, let’s talk statistics.

Why Circumcision Is Medically Unnecessary 

I’ve already described how American studies on circumcision are kind of sketchy at best. There may be some out there that aren’t, but being that you can make thousands of dollars off just one baby foreskin that was discarded as medical waste…I have a feeling there may be conflicts of interest out there. That being said, what we can do is compare disease rates between the U.S. and the UK. The populations closely resemble each other in demographics except for one key area – circumcision. Only about 20% of the UK population is circumcised, compared to the U.S.'s 76-92% of males.

So, let’s compare. If an uncircumcised penis causes as many issues at the rate the U.S. studies say they do, this should be reflected in the UK’s pediatric and adult population, right? So let’s go. Lightning round style.

So… yeah… it’s not looking good for our good ‘ol medical industrial complex. 

Now obviously, I have to add the disclaimer that there could be confounding variables here, such as the fact that since the UK’s population is smaller, public health outreach is easier, and therefore getting people to comply with safe sex practices could be achieved. But, there’s not really a good explanation for any of the other statistics. 

When you compare the rate of the above risks to the risks of the procedure itself, circumcision makes even less sense. There’s a bleeding risk of 0.8-1.8/1,000, an infection rate of 6/10,000, and the risk of injuring the penis itself is 4/10,000. When it’s all said and done, the chance of a “significant complication” sits at 1 in 500 circumcisions, and an estimated 117 baby boys needlessly die each year from the procedure.

The U.S. is the only country that practices circumcision for cosmetic reasons. I’m not going to even say it’s for health anymore because, clearly, it isn’t.

Circumcision and Money and Skincare

So why is America seemingly obsessed with circumcision? We’ve funded studies at home and abroad, moms are shamed into making sure their son “doesn’t stand out,” and we even play vocabulary gymnastics when we talk about the procedure. One of the risks listed for circumcision is “injury to the penis,” but we're literally already injuring a perfectly healthy penis by lopping off a part of it! The Western medicalization of the human body has duped us into behaving as if the foreskin is somehow not a part of the penis.

So, again, why is America obsessed with baby foreskin? Maybe because it’s essentially black market organ trade made legal. And maybe it’s because it’s an incredibly lucrative scheme for Big Pharma.

First off, the hospital you just gave birth at will charge you anywhere from $200-$2,000 to perform a circumcision. They’ll take your baby away, do the procedure, and bring him back. Most mothers think that’s the end of the story, but it’s not. Instead of discarding the foreskin they just snipped off, the hospital turns around and sells it to a tissue bank, a researcher, or a business.

From there, the possibilities are numerous. Due to the nature of newborn foreskin fibroblast cells, they can be transformed into almost any other cell in the human body as well as multiplied exponentially. Scientists can take one tiny baby foreskin and cause the cells to divide until the tissue could easily cover several football fields. In all likelihood, the U.S. could probably blanket swathes of its countryside in foreskin cells. Additionally, scientists can also keep the tissue “alive” for decades after its harvested. 

So exactly how much money can a hospital make from the foreskin trade? Unfortunately, I don’t know. It’s a secret they keep close to the vest. I know firsthand. 

Despite reaching out to almost every person on staff at the University of California Tissue Bank, Irvine, no one had an answer for me. Several people simply refused to talk to me altogether. I reached out to them specifically because through an email correspondence with Hansderma (a skincare company that uses foreskin in one of their products), they informed me that they procured their cells from this particular tissue bank. 

I emailed Professor Robert Edwards after Professor Dan Mercola referred me to him and asked this: “As we know, foreskin fibroblasts are used in skincare products for their rejuvenating benefits. One brand I’ve spoken to states that they receive their cells from your tissue bank. All I’d like to know is, how does that work? How are the foreskins collected, and how are they given to/received by companies?”

I never got a response. 

So I reached back out to Prof. Mercola, asking, “I was just curious as to how procurement on both ends worked? Procurement on their end and on the laboratory’s. I appreciate your help!”

But I never heard back. 

So, I have no clue how much hospitals make from selling foreskins each year, but I do know this. You can buy the cells as a civilian, and they are pricey. 

I can go here and buy a vial of baby foreskin fibroblasts for $596. Or, I can pay $1,000 per vial and inject baby foreskin cells directly into my face as an anti-wrinkle treatment. Or, I can buy Oprah’s favorite SkinMedica anti-wrinkle cream for $230. Or I can go get myself a foreskin facial for $650. No matter which way you cut it, it’s all expensive, it’s all insanely disturbing, and it’s all driven by Big Pharma.

Now some may argue here that foreskin cells are used for more than simple vanity. And that’s true. These cells are also used for incredible purposes such as spray on skin for burn victims and to repair diabetic ulcers. However, my counter is this: Umbilical cells, adult bone marrow stem cells, and many other types of cells not involving babies or their penises, can also be used for these purposes. It’s more expensive, but it can be done. There’s no need to butcher a baby to benefit an adult. 

Closing Thoughts

I honestly don’t know what's creepier, hospitals feeling like it’s ethical to collect discarded foreskins and sell them without the mother’s consent, people slathering their faces in baby foreskin cells, or lying to an entire nation in order to continue making money by inflicting genital trauma onto poor, helpless, little babies.

It’s a sick industry fueled by a lie, the skin of innocent baby boys, and greed. And it’s past time that it’s brought to an end. Mothers alone are able to stand between their baby boys and the organ trade. Mothers alone can say enough is enough and break the cycle America has been stuck in for 153 years. Mothers alone can do what mothers have been doing since the dawn of time: Protect their children from the beast that would devour them.

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