Let’s chat about the vampire facial. The first image that will come to mind is Kim Kardashian’s blood-smeared selfie. Try to reject that. We’re going to try to have a semi-scientific discussion here, and that ain’t happening if Kimmie is around.
Blood is composed of solids (red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets) suspended in a liquid (plasma). Plasma is mostly water with a smattering of proteins, clotting factors, sugar (glucose), and electrolytes like sodium and potassium. Platelets are wee tiny in comparison to red and white blood cells. They cruise around like little security guards waiting for a distress signal. Any time there is a breach in your vascular system, like a cut, the little cells lining your blood vessels send out the red alert. The platelets spring into action and rush to the damaged area, gathering together to form a little plug to stop the bleeding. While they’re performing immediate damage control, they send up flares to attract the other proteins that will eventually help form a stable clot. They really are amazing little bastards, because they also contain a bunch of growth factors that promote tissue repair and healing. Because platelet-rich plasma is literally resplendent with healing growth factors, doctors have been injecting PRP into damaged tendons, joints, and nerves for some time. Since the PRP comes from your own blood, there is no risk for allergic reaction.
My rigorous scientific research Cornering my transfusion-medicine subspecialty trained colleague in the mail room and quizzing him about PRP resulted in a shrug and an eye roll. He, daring to act like a real doctor, referenced actual studies (and, in doing so, used the term “meta-analysis”, which is why he is the big dog medical director) that were meh at best. In classic Duffy fashion, my totally unscientific comeback was, “Well, it can’t HURT!” (which is why I sit in a windowless office interacting with as few people as possible).
I digress. Gravity and sun damage degrade collagen, the connective tissue layer just underneath the skin, resulting in the usual complaints: wrinkles, loss of elasticity, sagging, loss of fullness, people commenting on how tired you look. Thankfully, collagen production is relatively easy to provoke. Collagen is produced by the body as part of the wound-healing process; it’s laid down towards the end of a new scar’s development to increase its strength. Any procedure that causes damage to the skin will promote collagen deposition — this concept has spawned no shortage of methods that do just that, from microdermabrasion to laser resurfacing to micro needling. Methods that induce thousands of little bitty sites of microtrauma allow most of the skin surface to remain intact, while still creating enough injury to provoke significant collagen deposition. Because most of the skin is undamaged, recovery time is minimal. Any of these procedures can be done on their own, but their benefit is supposedly enriched by the addition of PRP, with its abundance of growth factors that may enhance wound healing.
So let’s talk about the “vampire facial”, the actual procedure. I am deathly afraid of laser resurfacing. It hurts, and I am a pussy. Plus, it’s aggressive. There is too much of a good thing, and people who OD on lasers, too much and/or too soon, they look unnaturally smooth, like creatures from a Vegas wax museum. It’s one thing if you’re sixty and have never had any procedures done. If you’re in your 30s, just no. Micro needling, on the other hand, causes less aggressive wounds. It’s done with an instrument of torture reminiscent of a tattoo machine — multiple needles (twelve, exactly) driven upanddownandupanddownandupanddown many times a second. Their depth of penetration is adjustable, from 0.5 mm (on your forehead and other painful bony areas) to 2.0 mm (on your chubby cheeks). The actual procedure may vary somewhat between providers, but here’s how it goes down at my place, where you are tag-teamed by the facility’s co-owners (Hannah, the needle-happy RN, and Juliana, the laser expert).
We start by slathering on a nice thick layer of topical numbing cream. This sounds benign and well-meaning, but it makes your face all burny, and your lips numb, which means you sound like a wino when you try to talk. You hope you do not get pulled over on the drive home.
Frosted like a nice cupcake.
While this takes effect, Hannah draws the blood into a specialized tube, which is then centrifuged to separate out the red cells from the plasma.
This is a wee butterfly needle. They use these on kids. It does not hurt.
Nothing makes your arm look sexier than a tight tourniquet.
The finished product (plus gratuitous booby shot).
Centrifuged and ready to rock and roll. The red cells are on the bottom of the tube; the transparent yellow fluid is the PRP.
Once this is done, they wipe off the numbing cream, which is hysterical because you totally can’t feel your lips. It’s like the dentist, but funny.
It’s funnier than it looks.
Then, micro needling! It’s definitely a surreal sensation, as is any movement that makes your skull bones feel like they’re in an earthquake. Drip, drip, of the PRP, followed by face tattooing. Drip, drip, tattoo. It ranges from uncomfortable to relaxing, depending on where on your face they are working and if your Xanax has kicked in yet (highly recommend).
Drawing up the PRP.
Readying the torture device.
Let the good times roll.
This isn’t too bad.
Just kidding, this totally fucking hurts.
You will bleed, not in dramatic spurting arterial streams but in a slow ooze from the pinpoint wounds. This is a good thing; if you’re not bleeding, you haven’t penetrated the epidermis, and you won’t effectively stimulate collagen deposition unless you do so.
Gotta get under the chin for the wattle situation.
Following this, the sadist with the needle injects PRP directly into areas showing the most volume loss. Numbing cream or no numbing cream, I cannot lie, this is NOT comfortable. I called Hannah every vile name in the book, and she just laughed.
Ugh. This really sucks.
Dear sweet baby Jesus, no.
HANNAH. YOU ARE AN ASSHOLE.
Once this circle of hell is complete, she smears on whatever is left of the PRP and sends you on your merry way.
No PRP shall go unused.
All done. Time to go back into public and try not to frighten the children.
The PRP gets dried and crusty and itchy but because you paid dearly in dollars AND pain, you’re going to follow the instructions and leave it on till the following morning. Suffice it to say you will be red, shiny, and funny looking for the rest of the day so don’t make plans.
Later that afternoon. Not the time to crack jokes about wife beating.
The next morning, you’ll be red (and possibly bruised around the injection sites) but there will be no scabs or crusties — once you put makeup on, everything looks normal.
The following morning.
The redness will improve over the next few days but you will be rewarded with extra dry skin and flaking.
The 2nd morning after. Gotta get up and go to work.
Extra sunscreen and a little more foundation than usual and all is well.
Because it takes 4-6 weeks for collagen deposition to peak, there are no immediate dramatic effects like you’d get with fillers. Patience, kittens!
So what are you waiting for!? Have you tried micro needling yourself? What was your impression?