The bloody faces are startling.
Maybe you’ve seen them — the tomato-colored faces covered in blood staring back at you as you surf online or scroll through social media. You cringe. You look away. You look back. You see the caption: “vampire facial.” You wonder if Stephenie Meyer has created a new and much more graphic series of overwrought and overly long young adult books.
Nay, this is the new fountain of youth, which makes sense, seeing how vampires have that whole eternal life thing going on.
This gruesome-looking, yet allegedly beneficial, result is achieved through microneedling, a process in which a professional uses an instrument to create tiny puncture wounds all over the face. By making microwounds in the epidermis and into the dermis, where collagen resides, the body’s natural healing response is activated. It responds with cellular turnover and the production of fresh collagen.
You can stop here, bloody face and all, or you can choose to have platelet-rich plasma (PRP), culled from your own blood, poured and rubbed into all those tiny puncture wounds.
“It’s the whole trauma to the skin that causes healing,” says Dr. Susan Schroeder, owner and founder of Perfect Skin Dermatology since 2017.
Cheryl Cooper-Brown reclines in the spa chair at Perfect Skin on a late August morning. Her long, blond hair is whisked off her smooth forehead by a headband. Her legs are crossed, her hands clasped. She’s ready for her close-up, Mr. DeMille.
At the nearby counter, Schroeder unclasps and pries open a miniature black and silver suitcase. She removes what closely resembles a gun. This particular instrument won’t kill you, but it will draw blood. At the end of its barrel is a flat round platform bearing the tiny needles. This is what she’ll use to gently tap all over Cooper-Brown’s face and create perforations in her skin.
This is the bloodletting, er, microneedling part of the procedure. It’s not particularly painful for Cooper-Brown, but she’s also been sitting for the past hour allowing a numbing agent to soak into her skin. And she’s an old hand at microneedling, so she’s come to be at peace with the sensation of needles being jabbed into her face.
“I feel it the most in my forehead,” says Cooper-Brown, Perfect Skin’s practice manager. “I feel the vibration, but not the needles.”
After one round of needles, which has left Cooper-Brown’s face bursting with little droplets of blood, Schroeder prepares to take one vial of her blood. This is the PRP portion of the procedure. Inside the vial is a solution that activates the platelets in the blood. Schroeder places it in a centrifuge and lets it spin for six minutes, which separates the plasma from the blood.
Cooper-Brown receives a second round of microneedling before Schroeder carefully pours the straw-colored plasma all over her face and rubs it in.
“She now has all these microchannels in her skin,” says Schroeder, a board-certified dermatologist. “It has to heal, and in doing so, it will repair and build collagen. She’s healing herself.”
Microneedling alone is said to reduce fine lines, wrinkles and brown spots and create better texture. Adding the PRP takes it to another level. At Perfect Skin, microneedling runs $350. Adding the PRP makes it $550. Packages are available. Some folks do it once and call it good, while others do the recommended series of three every four to six weeks.
Many clients also use the 90-minute procedure to improve acne scarring. In one study, Schroeder says 25 patients with scarring on both cheeks were given four treatments. One cheek received microneedling and a saline solution. The other cheek also received microneedling, but instead of saline, PRP was applied. The first cheek saw a 45% improvement in the scarring. The other cheek saw a 65% improvement.
Downtime after the procedure is minimal, though there might be a few double takes as you exit the clinic and head out into the light of day.
“An hour later, I looked like I had a mild sunburn,” says Cooper-Brown. “The next day I noticed texture improvement. I wasn’t swollen. I was really glowy.”
Other uses for PRP
You didn’t think they’d stop at the face, did you? Good, because PRP, which has been around since at least 2014, can be used in other ways, including injections into the scalp to stimulate stem cells to produce new hair on your head. Sadly, this doesn’t apply to hair you lost a decade ago. Whatever you’ve lost in the last six months will be easier to retrieve, Schroeder says, though it can be hair loss going back one to two years.
The rich substance is also used for vaginal rejuvenation. It’s way more involved than a vampire facial, but the procedure is said to increase blood flow, moisture and nerve sensitivity and can create more firmness in the skin. It requires more blood and a local anesthetic because the PRP is injected into three spots in the vaginal region. Results take six to eight weeks to be noticeable, but can last up to a year.
“This stimulates things for people,” says Schroeder. “It changes intimate lives.”
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