What is a ‘vampire facial’?
Is a vampire facial as gory as it sounds? Is there any science behind its benefits? And how is a treatment actually done?
The vampire facial is essentially a beauty treatment procedure that combines platelet rich plasma (PRP) with micro-needle stimulation (for those with visions of needles the size of knives, it’s actually fairly similar to acupuncture needles and the devices used, not nearly as scary). It is aimed at rejuvenating the skin by inducing collagen production which helps to improve skin elasticity, texture and tone as well as reduce the appearance of fine lines, acne scars and large pores. To obtain PRP, a patient’s own blood is required.
How is blood a healing factor for these treatments?
Blood consists of plasma and small solid components, namely red and white blood cells and platelets. Platelets are involved in the normal blood clotting process (known as coagulation) which is the body’s way of protecting itself from loss of blood due to an injury or wound. Providing the helping hand in the healing process are growth factors, which are naturally occurring hormones in the body that are comprised of hundreds of proteins that act as signalling molecules between cells and also tell the bone marrow to make certain types of blood cells.
In medical aesthetic circles, PRP is associated with its ability to heal wounds, as well as stimulate tissue regeneration and the production of collagen (1).
A cell free plasma containing at least 8 growth factors, PRP effectively contains a higher concentration of human platelets per volume than is normally found in the same amount of blood. This is what has been noted as particularly beneficial for surgical repair, cutaneous wound healing and facial rejuvenation therapy to address sun damaged skin, scars, fine lines and wrinkles.
A vampire facial effectively uses a patient’s own blood in order to ‘supercharge’ healing and achieve the objective of youthfulness. No, a patient will not be soaking their face in a basin full of their own blood. It’s not that gory, and neither is the process quite as graphic as the famous Kardashian made it out to be either.
In simple terms, the facial involves the extraction of a small amount of blood from the body through a vein in the arm, which is then placed in a centrifuge and spun at high speed to separate out the platelet-rich plasma (PRP) to convert it for use. Micro-needling using fine needles to puncture the skin (usually in the form of a dermaroller or pen) is then performed and the PRP concentrate administered into the treatment site/s via this device
The PRP concentrate used is not red and macabre either. Once it has been prepared for use, what remains is a light golden liquid serum. Now it doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
And there is some science around why this concentrate liquid works …
The normal function of growth factors is stimulated by their release from activated platelets. The resulting wound-healing cascade, as it is known, targets both soft and hard tissues. It has been determined that this cascade could be further promoted for wound healing by preparing an ‘autologous platelet concentrate’ which is suspended in plasma (i.e. PRP). (2) The substance (platelet concentrate) still contains the growth factors necessary for wound healing, and can be administered directly to treatment sites where it can be massaged into the skin, administered via micro-needling or injected.
Studies have also looked at how to quantitate platelet numbers and growth factors within the platelet concentrate. To achieve data and information for research, in one study, 10 healthy patients undergoing a cosmetic procedure (aesthetic / plastic surgery) all opted to have blood samples withdrawn. Their samples were all then concentrated into PRP (using a centrifuge) after performing a platelet count using a Cell-Dyn 3200. The platelet count was then performed on the concentrated substance too.
The growth factors with therapeutic potential assessed were also measured using an immunosorbent assay (enzyme) method – a measurement which assesses antibodies, proteins, antigens and glycoproteins in a biological sample. In this study, researchers noted platelet-derived growth factor-BB, vascular endothelial growth factor, endothelial growth factor, transforming growth factor-beta 1, and insulin-like growth factor-1 (among others) in the PRP concentrate.
While whole blood (i.e. the original sample) underwent a concentration procedure, researchers assessed platelet activation by measuring P selectin values in the serum. Findings concluded an 8-fold increase in platelet concentration in the PRP solution compared with that of the whole blood. Along with an increase in platelet numbers, growth factor concentrations also rose (but could vary from one participant to another, the study noted). Insulin-like growth factor-1 was the only one not to see an increase. That said, researchers felt that the number of growth factors released from the platelets were of significant levels, and sufficient concentrates created through autologous platelet gels could better promote wound healing in numerous applications. (3)
Vampire facials and vampire facelifts, are they the same thing?
Not to be confused with the other ‘vampire treatment’, a vampire facial is not the same as a vampire facelift® (also known as PRP mesotherapy). While the aim of both procedures is relatively similar, the substances used and how the procedures are performed differs somewhat.
One of the main differences between the two PRP treatment procedures is that vampire facials do not involve injectable dermal fillers, while vampire facelifts do.
For a vampire facial, a small sample of blood is withdrawn from a patient, processed in a centrifuge in order to isolate platelet-rich plasma (PRP) and is then used in combination with a micro-needle device called a Dermapen or roller (a method of CIT / collagen induction therapy), which creates entry points in the skin’s epidermis (i.e. the top layer), by administering little pricks in the skin and delivering the PRP serum. These applications stimulate collagen production in the skin which is responsible for the final result.
A doctor or therapist is likely to customise the rate and depth of micro-needling for patients in order to ensure that the maximum benefits are achieved. The micro-needling process / technique may differ slightly from one doctor to another too, so it is a good idea to ask a practitioner about how the process will be done beforehand if you’re researching before a consultation in order to feel more comfortable with the treatment process.
The vampire facelift on the other hand, is a “designer aesthetic procedure” that is trademarked by Dr Charles Runels of Alabama. It aims to rejuvenate the skin, achieving a youthful look in a short period of time but does not involve surgical means.
So, if muscle and fat loss, ‘the turkey neck look’ or other areas of sagging (drooping) skin and fine wrinkles are weighing down your self-confidence, a vampire facelift helps to improve volume in the cheek and jowl areas as well as beneath the eyes quite effectively. An added benefit is a rosier complexion which also contributes to a more youthful appearance.
Like the facial, the procedure works with the body’s own regenerative properties (growth factors) derived from the blood but this is also combined with the administration of injectable hyaluronic acid (HA) fillers like Juvederm or Restylane. The process of administration of the PRP also differs from the facial method in that it is returned to the body via injections rather than microneedling techniques.
The injections are virtually painless thanks to the application of a numbing cream, and are strategically placed to achieve volume, improve the overall texture or quality of the skin, and reduce fine lines or wrinkles. The effects and overall results can be a little more dramatic and longer lasting than those achieved by a vampire facial.
In the trademarked version of the procedure, the doctor or therapist first administers fillers to sculpt a youthful appearance and face shape. Thereafter, blood is drawn and prepared in a centrifuge to extract the platelet rich plasma. Finally, this is prepared to produce what is known as platelet-rich fibrin matrix (PRFM), a thicker form of PRP, which contains up to 8 concentrated growth factors, and is injected into the face in a very specific way.
Other forms of the treatment not performed under the registered name or according to its trademarked procedure are sometimes marketed as a ‘liquid facelift’ and combine hyaluronic acid fillers and PRP into a single solution that is then injected.
While doctors who are licensed to practice the trademarked technique argue that achieving the desired results is an artform and as such, the techniques used are a well-guarded secret, regardless of how the procedure is administered, the basics of the underlying premise remain the same.
The process for both vampire facials and facelifts activates multi-potent stem cells which would normally only be stimulated when the body incurs an injury. This ‘tricks’ these cells into thinking that some form of damage has been done, thus stimulating them to produce new blood cells, collagen and fatty tissues for skin repair. By stimulating this process for repair purposes on skin that was never ‘technically injured’ in the first place, new, and younger skin tissues are produced, giving the desired more youthful effect.
The entire procedure for both vampire facials and facelifts takes around an hour, with vampire facial results lasting for around several months, and facelifts anything from several months up to a year. For both versions more than one treatment may be recommended, depending on the problem areas being addressed.
Cigarette smokers are cautioned, however, that results may not be as dramatic or desirable for them as for non-smokers. This is because smoking naturally interferes with the body’s ability to heal under any circumstances. Filler applications may be a better solution for those a little hesitant to kick the puffing habit.
Those with advanced signs of aging are another group of potential candidates which may not experience effective results. In this instance, a doctor may suggest options like Botox injections or surgical procedures instead.
1. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. October - December 2014. Principles and Methods of Preparation of Platelet-Rich Plasma: A Review and Author's Perspective: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4338460/ [Accessed 11.12.2017]
2. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. 1 February 2017. The Clinical Efficacy of Autologous Platelet-Rich Plasma Combined with Ultra-Pulsed Fractional CO2 Laser Therapy for Facial Rejuvenation: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5314998/ [Accessed 11.12.2017]
3. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. November 2004. Platelet quantification and growth factor analysis from platelet-rich plasma: implications for wound healing: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15509939 [Accessed 11.12.2017]