What Is a Vampire Facial, and are the Benefits Worth It?
Vampire facials may just be the secret to smoother, brighter, younger-looking skin. Here’s what’s involved.
Blood keeps us alive, as we all know. Just a few of its duties: transporting oxygen to our cells, regulating our body temperature, and maintaining our immune systems. Now skin pros think blood also keeps us beautiful—and so-called vampire facials, which entail extracting your own life source and strategically applying it to the skin, are the magic treatment.
The basic idea behind vampire facials: Blood is a miraculous healer, says Richard Firshein, D.O., who specializes in integrative medicine in New York. “When you have a wound of any kind, the platelets in your blood rush to the injury and seal it up like a zipper.” Take that healing mechanism and apply it to your complexion, and voilà—you’ll become rejuvenated, refreshed, and radiant, according to experts. (BTW, there's even a vampire facial for your vagina.)
Here's what you need to know about the slightly scary, highly effective vampire facial, its cost, and its benefits.
What's so special about blood?
There are four main elements in your blood: red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and plasma. “Red blood cells bring oxygen to your body, while white blood cells fight infections, viruses, and bacteria,” says Dr. Firshein. “Platelets seek out and heal damage, and the plasma is the stuff that it all floats in.”
It’s the platelets we want when it comes to wielding blood for its healing power and benefits in vampire facials. “Their primary function is to reduce inflammation, which causes all sorts of problems, from aging to acne,” he says. “Platelets are also an amazing source of growth factors, containing 30 to 40 types that perform different skin-benefiting functions, including building collagen.” (Here's more about collagen's important role in your skin—and how to protect it.)
How did the vampire facial originate, anyway?
Processing blood, called centrifugation, gained traction years ago with doctors specializing in sports medicine, says Sejal Shah, M.D., a dermatologist in New York. “They discovered you could utilize its healing powers to repair athletes’ injuries.”
Barbara Sturm, an aesthetics doctor and a pioneer in this area, explains: “I would inject the patient’s own platelet-filled plasma with accelerated growth factors and other anti-inflammatory proteins into the area of the injury to boost healing.” (Her orthopedic treatment has been called the “Kobe Procedure” since she and her colleagues used it to help heal former basketball star Kobe Bryant’s knee.)
What's it like to get a vampire facial?
Dr. Sturm soon realized that the same repair process would work on skin too. “It’s now known as the vampire facial,” she says. Your doctor draws a vial of your blood and puts it through a special centrifuge to separate the platelets and plasma from the red and white cells. The resulting solution becomes what’s called platelet-rich plasma, or PRP, which is then injected into your skin with either one long needle or many microneedles (you’ll want a topical numbing cream beforehand because it can be uncomfortable). The injections create microinjuries that the platelets hurry to repair. (Related: Microneedling Gave Me the Best Skin of My Life)
The platelets then move on to other inflammation they find, releasing their growth factors in an effort to heal damage, thus combating skin damage and other signs of aging. “Think of them like mini Pac-Men searching for inflammation and leaving a trail of skin-rejuvenating ingredients as they go,” says Dr. Firshein. In the time after your vampire facial, you see their hard work: inflammatory conditions like acne, hyperpigmentation, rosacea, and psoriasis all calm down.
“I like to target the three main layers of your skin—the epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous layers—for the best results,” says Dr. Firshein. To reach the deepest layers of skin, he injects PRP directly into different areas of the face with a long needle (his PRP AcuFacial starts at $2,000). For the midlevel, or dermis, he stamps microneedles, which are short and fine, over the full face, then paints on the PRP. “Microneedling creates very small channels in your skin’s layers to allow up to 300 percent greater penetration than standard topical application,” says Dr. Sturm. (Related: Dr. Barbara Sturm On the Skin-Care Mistake We're All Guilty Of)
One of the most popular devices for the vampire facial, the Vivace Fractional Micro Needle RF, microneedles and blasts the skin with radio-frequency energy to help tighten it. “I use this on the face, neck, chest, or hands and then immediately follow with PRP injections. I’ve found that I get the best results from this combination,” says Dr. Shah. Patients’ skin can be red for a couple of hours afterward. She recommends two to three treatments (each costs about $750). (Just note: Vampire facials don't come without risks.)
Can you do a vampire facial at home?
Yep, you can now get PRP added into your skin care—though the vampire facial isn't 100-percent DIY. “Using a topical formula that’s full of inflammation-fighting platelets helps your skin battle daily bombardment from things like pollution and allergies,” says Dr. Firshein It can also help smooth texture, fade fine lines, and stimulate collagen and elastin production, Dr. Shah adds.
She recommends SoMe Skincare ($900, for locations). To get it, you’ll make an appointment with a dermatologist, who will draw your blood, separate the PRP, and then immediately mix the platelet-rich plasma into a serum. “This keeps the platelets as fresh and potent as possible,” says Dr. Shah.
You’ll be sent home with a minifridge containing a three-month supply for your vampire facials; that’s how long platelets can remain stable and efficacious. “The customization of using your own blood means the product is made just for you, and your blood already knows what to do to improve your skin,” says Dr. Firshein. “It’s about as personalized as you can possibly get.” (Related: Are Personalized Beauty Products Worth It?)
Shape Magazine, June 2020 issue