A Chinese cosmetics company is using skin harvested from the corpses of executed convicts to develop beauty products for sale in Europe, an investigation by the Guardian has discovered.
Agents for the firm have told would-be customers it is developing collagen for lip and wrinkle treatments from skin taken from prisoners after they have been shot. The agents say some of the company’s products have been exported to the UK, and that the use of skin from condemned convicts is “traditional” and nothing to “make such a big fuss about”.
It is unclear whether any of the “aesthetic fillers” such as collagen available in the UK or on the internet are supplied by the company, which cannot be identified for legal reasons. It is also unclear whether collagen made from prisoners’ skin is in the research stage or is in production. However, the Guardian has learned that the company has exported collagen products to the UK in the past. An agent told customers it had also exported to the US and European countries, and that it was trying to develop fillers using tissue from aborted fetuses.
When formally approached by the Guardian, the agent denied the company was using skin harvested from executed prisoners. However, he had already admitted it was doing precisely this during a number of conversations with a researcher posing as a Hong Kong businessman.
The agent told the researcher: “A lot of the research is still carried out in the traditional manner using skin from the executed prisoner and aborted foetus.” This material, he said, was being bought from “bio tech” companies based in the northern province of Heilongjiang, and was being developed elsewhere in China.
He suggested that the use of skin and other tissues harvested from executed prisoners was not uncommon. “In China it is considered very normal and I was very shocked that western countries can make such a big fuss about this,” he said. Speaking from his office in northern China, he added: “The government has put some pressure on all the medical facilities to keep this type of work in low profile.”
The agent said his company exported to the west via Hong Kong.”We are still in the early days of selling these products, and clients from abroad are quite surprised that China can manufacture the same human collagen for less than 5% of what it costs in the west.” Skin from prisoners used to be even less expensive, he said. “Nowadays there is a certain fee that has to be paid to the court.”
Meanwhile, cosmetic treatments, including those with aesthetic fillers, are growing rapidly in popularity, with around 150,000 injections or implants administered each year in the UK. Lip enhancement treatments are one of the most popular, costing an average of £170.
Some fillers are made from cattle or pig tissue, and others from humans. The DoH (Department of health) believes that there may be a risk of transmission of blood-borne viruses and even vCJD (Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease) from collagen containing human tissue. Although there is as yet no evidence that this has happened, the inquiry found that some collagen injections had triggered inflammatory reactions causing permanent discomfort, scarring and disfigurement.