vampire facial

Clients from a spa in New Mexico that touts a “vampire facial” are being urged to seek HIV testing. The state’s health department discovered some negligent practices at the VIP Spa (located at 809 Tijeras Avenue, NW Suite B in Albuquerque) that have already resulted in one (non-HIV) infection. So far, no cases of blood-borne illness have been confirmed, but the phrase “vampire facial” sounds horrific enough without the risk of contracting HIV.

When you get a vampire facial — as Kim Kardashian once did — the doctor draws your blood, and passes it through a centrifuge, a machine that spins blood at such a high speed that it actually separates out into its different components. Then, a portion of that blood is reapplied to the patients’ face using a variety of microneedles. This is where things went bad in New Mexico according to a statement by the New Mexico Department of Health. Seven dangerous needle handling practices were identified by public health authorities. As a result, clients could have been exposed to blood-borne diseases like HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.

While the culprit here seems to be improper needle handling, not vampire facials in general, the technique also has other debatable applications that are the subject of ongoing research investigations, from sports medicine to plastic surgery.

Human blood is primarily made up of four main components: plasma, red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. These are usually indistinguishable but separate into distinct layers after the centrifugation process. The secret ingredient for a vampire facial is the platelets found in the middle layer alongside white blood cells.

centrifugation vampire facial
Three components of blood, post-centrifugation. 

Platelets are fragments of cells that help with blood clotting and wound healing. A variety of studies suggest they are full of crucial ingredients, called growth factors, that can help promote skin regeneration. With vampire facials, the hope is that re-injecting these platelets and growth factors into a patient’s face will help skin look younger and wrinkle-free. When used outside of the realm of undead facials, this same treatment is often referred to as platelet-rich plasma therapy, or PRP for short.

PRP is sometimes used to help repair tendons after sports injuries, but there aren’t a ton of studies on PRP as a facial treatment. The authors of one literature review, published last May in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, write that it contains a “cocktail of growth factors” that might help aging skin repair itself.

“Dermatologists and plastic surgeons are using the natural healing properties of platelets to improve the appearance and overall health of skin,” said Alexes Hazen, MD, and a co-author of the 2018 paper. But she also indicated there was a lack of randomized control trials and standardized procedures for PRP. “More studies are needed to optimize PRP treatment techniques,” she said.

Unfortunately, her warnings from a few months ago seem to have held true, much to the misfortune of the Albuquerque spa’s clientele.