Beauty Bullshit: the Vampire Facelift
Reader whateveramber says “I would love to see you do a Beauty Bullshit post on the ‘vampire facial.’ My rational brain tells me that that can’t possibly work, plus it looks creepy as hell.”
Anything with the term “vampire” in the common name is surely based in concrete science.
The Vampire Facelift (sometimes called the vampire facial) is a treatment that generates significant sensationalism because it involves injecting components of one’s own blood into one’s face. The most recent wave came when Kim Kardashian posted a rather stomach-churning photograph of herself drenched in her own blood in the name of beauty.
Proponents of this beauty regime suggest that it improves the texture of the skin and helps “treat” wrinkles. According to the Vampire Facelift website, the procedure “promotes collagen growth and long-term skin rejuvenation.”
|Why, Kim Kardashian? Why?
So, what is the theory behind this treatment?
Human blood consists of two broad components: blood cells and blood plasma, which is a yellow-ish liquid consisting of water, various proteins, clotting factors, hormones and other miscellaneous dissolved components. There are three main kinds of blood cells: red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Red blood cells are the principle method of transporting oxygen throughout the body. From the name, you can probably guess that they are responsible for the red color of blood. White blood cells are primarily responsible for defending the body from infectious diseases. Finally, we have something called a cell platelet.
|A red blood cell, platelet and white blood cell as seen via scanning electron microscope.
Cell platelets are cells that don’t have a nucleus. They are relatively small and usually irregularly shaped. Platelets are one source of growth factors, which are proteins or steroid hormones that generate cell growth.
One way to separate out the different components of blood is to use a centrifuge, a machine that quickly spins the blood sample, separating out the components of blood by density. Because red blood cells are more dense than platelets, they can be removed from the solution, leaving you with a two layers: a layer of cells including platelets and white blood cells and a layer of plasma. These come together to form something called platelet-rich plasma. This platelet-rich plasma is the basis of the Vampire Facelift.
Note that since red blood cells are the source of blood’s red color and they are separated out in this technique, any procedure using platelet-rich plasma won’t be red. It will be sort of a gunky yellow color. So, to be frank, I have no fucking idea what’s going on on Kim Kardashian’s face in that photo. I guess the yellow color wasn’t as dramatic.
When someone goes in to get a Vampire Facelift, they have some blood drawn from their arm. That blood goes into the centrifuge to separate out the platelet-rich plasma, to which thrombin or calcium chloride is added. This forms a viscous gel called platelet-rich fibrin matrix. It is then promptly injected into the participant’s face.
|What platelet-rich plasma would actually look like.
Studies that have examined the medical use of platelet-rich plasma for non-cosmetic purposes have found mixed results. Although the possibility that platelet-rich plasma may be applicable to joint and muscle injuries remains, no controlled clinical trials have indicated its efficacy and many studies report negative effects.
The developers of the Vampire Facelift looked at the clinical trials for platelet-rich plasma and somehow concluded that it would be effective as a cosmetic treatment. However, since it has been introduced to the market, no studies have indicated its efficacy.
The problem is simple: the growth-factor containing platelets are already in your blood, pumping past your pretty face. Your whole body is bathed in growth factors. Injecting a few extra ones in choice places likely won’t make a big difference. In all likelihood, the platelet-rich fibrin matrix used in the Vampire Facelift is absorbed by your body in just a few days– before you’ve even finished healing from the procedure.
If you’re in the market for a placebo, there are placebos that don’t cost $1000 a treatment. Save your money, Kim Kardashian.
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