Nine years ago, Kim Kardashian posted a viral selfie of what looked like blotches of blood around her face, hashtagging it “#VampireFacial." At first, the amount of blood Kardashian has on her face is shocking. It's natural to think, “How could someone possibly go through a procedure that looks so painful?”
But after looking up more about the procedure, I realized this photo is actually a bit deceiving. Although there is such thing as a “vampire facial," the treatment’s secret is not where you might think it is (more on that later). Tired of my curiosity, I went to Dr. Leslie Gerstman’s Lenox Hill office to experience the treatment for myself and learn more from an expert. Upon arrival, I was greeted by one of her incredibly talented RNs, Emilia Bytner, and together we headed into the treatment room for a quick consultation, walkthrough, and the treatment itself. If there’s one spoiler I can give now: This was not the last microneedling with PRP treatment I had. Keep reading to learn all about the truth behind the infamous "vampire facial."
Meet the Expert
What Is Microneedling?
It’s a microneedling treatment involving one’s own Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP). Contrary to what you might think of a blood-sucking vampire, Bytner says this treatment actually helps boost collagen production for smooth, youthful, glowing skin. (It's her favorite treatment to perform.) Microneedling treatments involve a device that looks like a pen. Micro-punctures are created using single-use microneedles which produce a controlled skin injury without actually damaging the epidermis. These micro-injuries lead to minimal superficial bleeding and set up a wound healing cascade with release of various growth factors. Adjustable needle length allows for targeted treatment of specific skin concerns.
In my experience, the needles being used on my cheeks were different (they’re the same needles- just different length- and the perception of pain increases as the depth of needle penetration increases) from what was used on my forehead.
Microneedling with PRP vs. Microneedling
So where does platelet-rich plasma (PRP) come into the picture? PRP is the “secret sauce” to the facial—not the red blood cells, as the viral appearance of the treatment may have made you believe. Microneedling can be done with peptide gel, hyaluronic acid serum, or in the case of the “vampire facial,” with platelet-rich plasma. According to Bytner, “PRP contains a concentrated amount of your own platelets that are chock-full of proteins called 'growth factors'—they are responsible for healing wounds and stimulating collagen. The addition of PRP to microneedling enhances the results, speeds up the healing process, and helps boost cellular renewal. It results in brighter skin that looks and feels younger." In my opinion? A “vampire facial” is essentially a next-level version of microneedling.
Benefits of Microneedling with PRP
Microneedling with PRP has a few main benefits that make it a standout treatment you may want to try if you're looking to address certain concerns and/or enhance your glow.
- It's a minimally invasive treatment.
- It evens out skin tone.
- It involves little to no downtime is needed (one to six days).
- It can help reduce the appearance of enlarged pores, acne scars, uneven skin tone, fine lines and wrinkles, and sunspots.
When discussing benefits, Bytner gave me more context on skin longevity. "The natural capacity of the skin to produce collagen decreases with age due to various other factors," she explained. "That’s why I think anyone can benefit from microneedling (especially with PRP) to improve the overall tone, vitality, and glow of their skin.” The benefits go on—it also helps to firm, improve texture, shrink the appearance of pores, blur acne scarring, and stimulate collagen production and cell turnover. She also mentioned that it’s safe for all skin types, and commonly treated areas include the face and neck.
The cost of a microneedling with PRP treatment can run anywhere from $500-$1300 per session, depending on your location as well as any additional PRP treatments you plan on doing. If you’re just doing the face, it will be less than if you do the face and neck. Though costs may range depending on who does the procedure (MD, RN, etc.), it’s crucial you seek a professional and do not resort to inexpensive treatments.
What to Expect During Microneedling with PRP
In my experience, Bytner first gave me some context on how the procedure is done. She showed me the tools she was going to use and was explaining what they did. It was really helpful for her to walk me through so I knew what to expect (considering it's a “bloody” facial).
First, Bytner applied numbing cream on my face and neck so I wouldn’t feel the microneedles. She took a sample of my blood (while my face was getting numb) and after that inserted it into a centrifuge, which is a medical machine that separates the red blood cells from the plasma. "A note that all centrifuges are not the same. Please ensure your centrifuge corresponds to the procedure you are doing," she advises.
After a few minutes of separating, the test tube is taken out of the centrifuge and you can instantly notice the separated PRP (clear, yellow fluid), red blood cells, and white blood cells. It’s often referred to as “liquid gold.” Bytner then activated the PRP with a small amount of calcium chloride solution. This new solution is called PRF (platelet-rich fibrin), and it's what goes on my skin prior to using the microneedles. After applying all the PRF solution on my face and neck, she then began using the needle pen, puncturing my face with microneedles. I didn’t feel any pain; it was ticklish, in fact. When Bytner noticed I had some remaining solution, she asked if I potentially wanted it inserted onto my under eyes. I thought this “surprise and delight” moment was so cool, and took her up on it. She then injected my PRP with a cannula needle under my eyes (a problem spot for me). After the entire facial treatment, she added 20 minutes of LED to further enhance collagen production and speed the wound healing process.
The morning of my treatment: I felt a little anxious but was excited to see what the results would be.
During treatment: I waited five to ten minutes for the numbing cream to activate.
Immediately after treatment: Right after my treatment, Bytner told me to wear a hat and do my best to keep out of the sun for the rest of the day.
Six hours after treatment: I started noticing a sting, similar to what you would get if you were in the sun for too long. The numbing cream had officially worn off, so I definitely was starting to feel the pain of those needles a bit more.
24 hours after treatment: My face wasn't cherry red like it was most of yesterday but I still feel my skin tight as if I got a bad sunburn. I was putting a lot of moisturizer on and only washing my face with a gentle cleanser.
Three days after treatment: The scabs were nearly gone, but my face started to shed a lot of dead skin, so I made sure to continue keeping it moisturized.
Five days after treatment: Most of the flaking was gone, and I started to notice that my face looked a lot plumper. I also realized my dark circles nearly disappeared!
Nine days after treatment: I was really feeling myself in this selfie. My skin felt hydrated, rejuvenated, and I no longer had as deep under-eye circles as I did before the treatment. It was really amazing to see the entire process of the treatment. I definitely will be doing it again to see more consistent results.
I left the doctor’s office bright red (which was expected), but not because of the blood. My treatment didn’t contain any red blood cells. Bytner says, “PRP has a higher concentration of growth factors compared to regular blood.” It made me realize that Kardashian’s photo was a little exaggerated, considering you don’t normally use red blood cells in a PRP treatment, because you don’t need to.
After a few hours, the numbing cream started to wear off and I started to feel a bit more of a sting. It sort of felt like I had too much sun that day, because of the micro-injuries I had all over my face. Every day during my five-day recovery period, I did the following:
- I did everything I could to avoid sun exposure. (This could be another reason it's called the vampire facial.)
- I wore hats and a mask when out for further protection.
- I wore sunscreen and moisturizer all day.
- I used a milky, gentle facial cleanser (my usual Avène).
- I avoided toners, acids, and other products that might irritate healing skin.
After day two, you don’t feel as much of a burn or sting. On day three, you'll likely start to see your face peel a bit. Bytner says, “This is due to an increased turnover of skin cells." You’ll notice you’re back to normal again after day six. I saw the best results 10 days after my appointment. I don’t have that many wrinkles, but my sun spots got smaller and my face felt a lot more hydrated and plumped. Bytner was kind enough to check up on me throughout my recovery period and make sure I understood the aftercare process.
Although the aftercare is very light, you have disrupted the skin barrier with this treatment, so some irritation is normal and it's key to keep your skin protected and moisturized. Though redness and light bruising are common symptoms, talk to your physician if you are at risk for infection, swelling, and tenderness.
According to Bytner, “most people need two or three sessions to achieve the benefits of this treatment.” She mentions that when treating more extensive issues, such as acne scars or surgical scars, you may need between four to six treatment sessions. Each session must be spaced between four and six weeks apart. It’s also extremely important to get the treatment done with a professional. This cannot be done at home and could be very dangerous. I learned that PRP has to be your own, and by no means are you able to use anyone else’s plasma.
I think microneedling with PRP is one of the more “worth it” pricey treatments. I’d say the only thing stopping people from receiving this treatment is the price tag. But unlike a chemical peel, the stimulation from microneedling with PRP enhances the collagen you already have in your dermis. The more you do it consistently, the faster you’ll notice results. I noticed that the PRP worked under my eyes, making me look less tired and brightening them up a bit. This treatment has definitely convinced me to use more PRP therapy. I would honestly recommend this to anyone! Anyone can benefit from microneedling (especially with PRP) to improve the overall tone, vitality and glow. Even younger patients will benefit and their skin will look better (not only these with acne scars).
IIriarte C, Awosika O, Rengifo-Pardo M, Ehrlich A. Review of applications of microneedling in dermatology. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2017;10:289-298. doi:10.2147/CCID.S142450