Kim Kardashian has gotten one. So, apparently, have other ladies in Miami.
A “blood facial” or “vampire facial” is a cosmetic procedure during which a doctor draws a couple vials of blood from your arm, centrifuges the blood to separate out the plasma and platelets from the red blood cells, and then adds the platelet-rich plasma back into your face. For extra absorption, the doctor pokes your face all over with a bunch of micro-needles before applying the plasma. Reminds me a little bit of making a Jell-O poke cake.
There’s no evidence at all that this gory procedure works, and only the babiest starting evidence that injecting platelets into the skin works at all against the appearance of aging. But there probably is little harm, at least, to plasma injections because they deal with the patient’s own body fluids, dermatologists say. The technologies dermatologists use for the facials are U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved for adding plasma to bone before orthopedic surgery… but not for wrinkle-busting.
The idea behind blood facials is that they infuse the skin with platelets, which contain growth factors, which in turn are known to be helpful in wound healing. Practitioners of related injections say the growth factors may stimulate new collagen growth in the face. Collagen is the protein in skin that keeps young’uns’ cheeks firm and taut.
Whether that collagen growth really happens and helps, “nobody really knows,” Patricia Farris, a cosmetic dermatologist with a practice in Louisiana, tells Popular Science. “I just think that it’s a procedure you don’t know all that much about. I think we need good studies to see if this is an appropriate use for this material.”
“It’s not something in mainstream cosmology or dermatology practice,” she says later in our conversation. In her practice, she offers injections such as Botox and Restylane for smoothing wrinkles, she says, but not plasma injections.
Needling the skin always has the risk of infection, but Farris didn’t think that would be a significant danger if people received the procedures from a dermatologist or plastic surgeon. She also doesn’t think that getting your own plasma is likely to cause a problem, but she says that nobody has studied whether that’s true.
Some dermatologists I talked with did offer plasma injections, but not exactly in the way Kardashian got hers. Anthony Sclafani, a facial plastic surgeon at the New York Ear and Eye Infirmary, performs single-needle injections for wrinkles and acne scars. Sclafani also authored one of the only actual studies about platelet-rich plasma for wrinkles, a small study of 15 people published last year. The study was supported by Aesthetic Factors, the Pennsylvania-based company that makes the technology for separating plasma from the blood in the doctor’s office, a procedure that previously had to be done in labs.
Sclafani is enthusiastic about the injections for certain patients. “It’s been terrific,” he says. “It’s not for everybody,” he continues, saying that some patients don’t see any difference from the treatment. For those for whom it works, it appears to last a long time. Sometimes patients come back in six to eight months to get further treatments done, Sclafani says.
Side effects he has seen include small bruises. Like Farris, he mentioned the potential danger of infection, but added he hadn’t seen that in his own patients.
He’s less enthused about the all-over needling that vampire facials require. “I wouldn’t let anyone do that to me,” he says. He doesn’t believe micro-needles deliver the plasma properly into the skin.
Sclafani’s injections are an off-label use of Selphyl, the Aesthetic Factors technology that separates plasma from the blood. Bruce Katz, another New York dermatologist who offers individual injections, uses a similar technology made by the Swiss company Regen Lab. Katz advertises “twilight plasma renewal treatment” on his website. His patients get about 20 injections at once in the face, neck and décolleté, he says.
No injectable platelet-rich plasma has FDA approval for aesthetic uses, Sclafani says. But doctors commonly—and are legally allowed to—use FDA-approved drugs and devices in a way for which the drug or device didn’t earn FDA approval.
Both Sclafani and Katz say their typical treatment costs about $1,500, but the amount depends on how much a patient ends up using.
There are several prescription injections that are FDA-approved for temporarily improving wrinkles or padding the face to look younger. Some of the better-known names include Botox, Restylane and Juvederm, but there are lots of others. Sclafani and Katz say the reasons to use platelet-rich plasma instead of other injections is that the plasma is “natural” and doesn’t carry the risk of allergy or rejection—because it’s your own blood.