Ever think that people may have been murdered in the making of your cosmetics? According to recent news reports, a gang in Peru has been killing people and draining fat from their corpses to sell on the black market to cosmetics companies. Police involved in the investigation have traced the fat to intermediaries in Peru's capital, Lima, and believe that it was destined for cosmetics laboratories in Europe. Like us, you are probably thinking, what the fat?

As outrageous as this scenario sounds, three suspects have openly confessed to killing five missing persons in the Peruvian jungle in order to extract their fat. Two were arrested while carrying bottles of amber fluid, which was confirmed by a lab to be liquid fat. The suspects told police that this practice has been going on for three decades and that the fat is worth $60,000 a gallon. Could a bizarre tale of foreign kidnapping, murder, and human fat trafficking really be interwoven with your cosmetics?

If you ever saw that testosterone-fueled film from 1999, "Fight Club, you probably recall how Brad Pitt's character built an illicit designer soap business on leftover fat stolen from liposuction clinics. Considering the possibility of a Peruvian underworld that fuses misappropriated fat and mysterious cosmetics, a human fat-based soap industry doesn't seem that far-fetched. But let's not jump to sordid conclusions until we pick out the facts.

It is common knowledge that soap is traditionally made from various fats, which could originate in animal sources unless explicitly designated vegetable-based. Glycerin, a byproduct of soap production, crops up in products as varied as mouthwashes, ointments, plastics, and brake fluid. Certain manufacturers of soap, lipstick, and eye makeup are patrons of rendering plants that combine fat extracted from animal carcasses (swine, cattle, poultry) with discarded cooking grease. That all sounds repulsive enough, but to think that human carcasses are thrown into the mix seems both vile and improbable. Besides, synthetic oils are now less expensive and more readily available than anything that requires costly factory processing.

Among some of the animal-derived ingredients in cosmetics, there are a handful of fats that can be questionably derived. Arachidonic acid, a liquid unsaturated fatty acid taken from the liver, glands, and fat of animals, is used in skin creams to soothe inflammation.  Hyaluronic acid, a natural moisturizing factor, is found in umbilical cords and the fluids around the joints, but its usage as a cosmetic emollient has roots in the plant world. Monoglycerides/glycerides, stearic acid, and oleic acid can all be obtained from animal fats, while placenta polypeptides protein contains waste matter eliminated by the fetus. Last but not least, gelatin is the most notorious animal-derived protein produced by boiling skin, ligaments, and/or bones with water. None of these ingredients merit a $60,000 price tag.

The more likely scenario, if the investigation into the Peruvian gang does in fact draw a link to sales in Europe, is that cosmetics manufacturers purchased the fat for the purposes of clinical study. For years, biotech and cosmetics companies have been researching the effects of stem cells (extracted from human fat) when applied on skin. However, stem cell products now on the market purportedly use fat tissues sourced from hospitals. After harvesting stem cells from the tissues in a culture dish, cosmetics companies incorporate the fluids containing the cell-growth chemicals into anti-aging products. These types of products have come under fire for being contaminated with infectious viruses, bacteria, HIV, fetal bovine serum (FBS), and various enzymes, which can cause allergic reactions. But assuming that people were killed in Peru for cosmetic stem cells is plain (far-fetched) speculation.

Beyond guessing at the uses for human fat in cosmetics, an even more puzzling question is why there would be an international black market for it. Bearing in mind the prevalance of blubber in the western world, you'd assume that it would be widely accessible when every Jane, Dick, and Flabby willingly pays top dollar for fat-purging procedures. Why would European cosmetics manufacturers deal with a shady cartel in Peru and pay obscene prices for stolen liquid fat when they could more easily swing by the nearest liposuction clinic for free samples? We can only hope that the whole story is a hoax, because the only thing worse than bulge in our bellies is criminal lard in our cosmetics.