The untold truth of vampire facials

While Vampire Facials sound scary, they are really anything but. They do, however, involve blood. First made popular by none other than Kim Kardashian, the Vampire Facial has gone mainstream. But what exactly is a Vampire Facial and what does it have to do with vampires anyway? Is it really the fountain of youth or just another skincare trend du jour? I asked several medical experts to reveal the untold truth of Vampire Facials.

Vampire facials have nothing to do with vampires

According to Dr. Sal Nadkarni, who is known as Dr. Sal, the Vampire Facial describes an aesthetic procedure using the patient's own blood. Originally coined and trademarked by Dr. Charles Runels, a plastic surgeon from outside of Mobile, Alabama, the medical term for this procedure is a Platelet-Rich Plasma or PRP facial. However, the terms are often used interchangeably.

"Platelets contain a large amount of growth factor, which can lead to tissue regeneration," said Dr. Sal. "If platelets are removed from the plasma, which is the cellular component of blood, and re-injected back into the skin, the growth factors in the platelets can cause tissue regeneration leading to increased collagen production in facial skin."

He explained the PRP procedure itself "involves drawing up a couple vials of the patient's own blood, spinning the blood in a centrifuge to separate each cellular component, removing the platelet component from the plasma, and then re-injecting the platelets back into the face."

Vampire Facials aren't the "Fountain of Youth" but they do make you look younger

Every next big skincare product or procedure is marketed like a "Fountain of Youth," and this label has certainly been applied to the Vampire Facial. But according to Dr. Kristina Goldenberg, of Goldenberg Dermatology in New York City, PRP facials might not be a magic bullet, but they are a great treatment for a variety of skin issues including "acne, acne scarring, melasma, wrinkles, and lines. Additionally, she noted, "[It is also great for] overall skin maintenance."

Dr. Goldenberg explained to me how this procedure helps these conditions. "Microneedling stimulates collagen production and breaks up acne scarring. It also helps the epidermis to refresh and recycle itself, promoting shedding and stimulation of new, healthier keratinocytes to grow."

PRP makes you look younger because "the growth factors help collagen production and improve health of the epidermis, helping with scarring and pigmentation." Another reason why PRP is so popular is that for Dr. Goldenberg's patients, "it has little down time and virtually no pain."

They require your doctor to have very specific equipment

The word "facial" for this procedure is slightly deceiving. A Vampire Facial isn't a really a facial at all. It's a medical procedure, as opposed to a cosmetic one. It is not performed by an esthetician and is only administered by medical professionals. 

Vampire Facials require very specific medical equipment, as Dr. Sal explained. "The main equipment needed to perform the Vampire Facial (PRP) procedure are phlebotomy kits in order to draw blood and a centrifuge to spin the blood in order to separate out the cellular components of the blood plasma." After the blood is spun, the platelets are separated and then re-injected back into the face. 

There are two ways the platelets are re-injected. "The re-injection of platelets can by performed either by direct injection into the face using a standard needle, or by first performing microneedling on the face and then topically applying the platelets on the skin to allow diffusion of the platelets into the tiny holes created by the microneedling," said Dr. Sal. The end result is increased collagen production as well as a refreshed and rejuvenated face. Dr. Sal also noted, "Patients tend to love the procedure since the technique uses your own blood and does not involve anything artificial."

​They actually don't need to be performed in a medical office

While the majority of medical procedures need to take place in a doctor's office or a sterile environment such as a hospital or surgical center, Vampire Facials are the exception to that rule. In fact, as a concierge physician, outside of a medical office is the only way Dr. Sal gives them to his patients. 

"While the procedure does use sterile equipment including sterile disposable needles, it does not necessarily have to be performed in a medical office. For example, my practice is a house call based aesthetic medspa in Los Angeles, so I perform all my cosmetic procedures including the Vampire Facial in the comforts of the patient's own home." 

After all, who wants to drive home with bloody face if it is not necessary? Or worse, have your neighbors see you immediately after this procedure? Me either.

They cannot be a substitute for plastic surgery

While Vampire Facials are a very effective treatment, unfortunately they cannot do exactly what plastic surgery can. Dr. Gary Goldenberg, also of Goldenberg Dermatology, explained, "Plastic surgery such as a facelift pulls the skin up and laterally (to the sides). The extra skin is cut out. A Vampire Facial helps with skin complexion, etched in wrinkles and lines, melasma, acne, and acne scarring. These are different problems than what a facelift or plastic surgery can help with." 

Comparing plastic surgery to a Vampire Facial is kind of like comparing apples and oranges. They're both fruits, but definitely not the same thing. "Plastic surgery cannot help with the problems Vampire Facial can address," he said. "Surgical treatments cannot solve the problems that the Vampire Facial can address."

...But vampire facials can be a great alternative to other treatments

Despite the differences between surgical procedures and Vampire Facials, they can both help you achieve a more youthful look. The Vampire Facial can be a great alternative if you don't want the expense or downtime of surgery.

Dr. Kristina Goldenberg explained to me how this is possible. "Vampire Facials allow for facial rejuvenation to happen in a natural way, by stimulating collagen production and improving elasticity of the skin. Although this treatment is very effective, the results can take weeks to months. A surgical facelift, however, will give immediate results because the correction is achieved by the surgeon rather than by the skin itself. Also, results from Vampire Facial will never be as dramatic as from a surgical facelift because it's a natural, more subtle approach."

To make a Vampire Facial even more effective, she suggests combining it with ultherapy to tighten the skin.

These procedures can help all of your skincare products work more effectively

Many people who get PRP Facials might be under the impression that their skincare products are suddenly working better, but that is incorrect. The products themselves aren't changing, but rather, the skin is healing itself.

Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, Dr. Sheila Nazarian explained why. "[Because] the procedure is used in conjunction with microneedling, it tricks the face into thinking it is massively injured. PRP contains the signals that are triggered when your body is trying to heal an injury. By creating micro-injuries with microneedling and also placing PRP into those injuries, you get heightened collagen growth."

You need to take proper precautions after your procedure

As with any medical procedure, you need listen to your doctor and follow his or her aftercare instructions. But luckily because the Vampire Facial uses your own blood as opposed to artificial substances, there aren't too many precautions you need to take.

However, Dr. Sal says you still need to watch for swelling. "The injection of platelets back into your face (either by direct injection with a standard needle or by diffusion after microneedling) will cause your face to become a bit swollen and flushed. So to reduce the swelling post-procedure, I recommend avoiding any strenuous activity for at least one to two days, as well as using a couple pillows under your head, to keep your head slightly propped while sleeping during the first night."

You should have them done regularly​​​​​​​​​

Unlike a surgical procedure, Vampire Facials aren't one and done. While the results are long lasting, they aren't permanent and the procedure may need to be repeated again.

Dr. Sal told me, "The effects of the Vampire Facial are fairly long lasting due to the growth factor in the platelets causing increased collagen production. However, due to the body's normal aging process, collagen in your face constantly depletes each year. So to counteract the constant collagen depletion, I recommend repeating the vampire facial once a year to ensure renewed collagen production." 

Is this just a fleeting trend?

While we can't seem to get enough vampire movies, television shows, and books, are Vampire Facials here to stay or are they just a fleeting trend? The answer, given everything we've discovered here, is probably that they are here to stay. 

Unlike many popular skincare procedures, the Vampire Facial is the only one that does not require injecting a foreign substance into your body. It is also unique because it can help with a variety of skincare problems. So you can think of PRP as a procedure for the people and the Kardashians.