Microneedling and the Vampire Facial: Separating Fact from Fiction
Let’s be real here: microneedling isn’t for the faint of heart. After all, it’s used in conjunction with platelet-rich plasma, a procedure commonly referred to as the vampire facial. But is it really something you should be afraid of? Let’s find out.
How microneedling works
Microneedling is usually performed by certified aestheticians in the offices of plastic surgeons. Pen-like devices equipped with super-tiny needles, much smaller than those required for Botox or dermal fillers, are used to create acupuncture-like microscopic channels into the skin. These completely automatic and adjustable devices penetrate at the right speed and depth through the outer, superficial layer of the skin (the epidermis) into the slightly deeper layer (the dermis) just underneath.
Nothing is actually injected; the procedure is really just the “needling” itself, which in turn stimulates the dermis to release certain special active biomolecules into the surrounding skin. Areas of face which are deficient in collagen tend to look thin, loose, wrinkled, rough and weathered – microneedling improves the appearance of the skin by kicking local collagen production into high gear.
Dr. Dominique Mandeville, from the Lafond-Mandeville medical clinic in Montreal, Canada, was one of the first to use the Dermapen – a popular microneedling device – in the province of Quebec, several years ago. She swears by the procedure’s effectiveness.
“I love the Dermapen,” she says. “It allows me to adjust the depth of the needles as I wish, unlike the traditional derma-rollers. Also, some facial regions require deeper perforation – like acne scars or large pores on the cheeks – whereas skin surrounding the eyes is more delicate. With the Dermapen I can adjust the depth accordingly along with the speed of the device. Another advantage is that it’s very small compared to most derma-rollers, so I find it much easier to manoeuvre along, say, the sides of the nose, for example. The Dermapen works wonders in improving the skin’s overall texture.”
For New Jersey-based board certified plastic surgeon Dr. Lyle M. Back, the biggest advantage to microneedling is that it’s a non-destructive, naturopathic-like treatment for the face that actually harnesses the skin’s very own power to naturally rejuvenate, smooth and tone itself.
“It’s not hard to understand how revving up collagen production in the skin alone would result in significant improvements,” explains Dr. Back, “but microneedling also boosts the release of several important factors partially responsible for skin growth. The increased amounts of these growth factors circulating in your system further enhances the smoothing of your facial skin, its body, tone and softness. Actually, these same growth factors improve firmness and tone even more by increasing the elastin content of the skin, which helps to tighten and snug up age-related laxity.”
These benefits are noticeable after a short period of time, says Dr. Back: “A series of 4 – 6 treatments usually gives the best results, but better skin tone and visible improvements in lines and wrinkles are commonly seen within 1 – 2 weeks of the first treatment. These improvements become even more obvious after 3 – 4 weeks, with remodeling improvements in the facial skin actually continuing to develop for the next 6 – 12 months.”
Whereas invasive surgery, lasers, and the harsh chemicals such as chemical peels sometimes cause damage to the skin or unwanted scarring, microneedling is relatively harmless. “It’s quick, safe, effective, and there is no recovery to speak of – typically just some redness for a day or two,” says Dr. Back. “Microneedling can be safely performed on almost any area of the body in addition to the face, such as the back of the hands, or for loose lower abdominal, inner thigh or upper arm skin, and on any ethnic or darkly-pigmented skin types. This isn’t the case with almost every other treatment option available today.”
Vampire facial: the magic of platelet-rich plasma
But get this: a revolutionary twist to the microneedling treatment exists through a variation of the procedure. It involves drawing one’s blood and separating the platelet-rich plasma in a centrifuge before injecting it back into the patient’s face.
Dr. Mandeville refers to platelet-rich plasma as “liquid gold”, and with good reason. It turns out that PRP has been used in sports medicine for several years: by stimulating collagen and elastin growth, it’s been demonstrated that platelets can kick the healing process into overdrive.
According to the American Acadamy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, many famous athletes — Tiger Woods, tennis star Rafael Nadal, and several others — have received PRP for various problems, such as sprained knees and chronic tendon injuries. This clear substance contains over 30 bioactive proteins, many of which play a fundamental role in hemostasis.
The same principles are applied to microneedling: after your face has been jabbed with needles (a procedure that lasts about 15 minutes), you can choose to either have a vitamin C serum applied to your skin, or be injected with your very own serum.
“Thanks to modern science, we now know that platelets contain various factors that stimulate the production of collagen, elastic fibers and new blood vessels,” says Dr. Mandeville. “Microneedling causes direct trauma to the skin. As a result, the body rushes to repair the wounds, sending platelets and cells to the rescue. As platelets play a significant role in terms of growth factors, it seems particularly appealing to inject the plasma back into the skin through the punctured holes to really speed up the healing of the tissues.”
After all, PRP is prepared from your own blood so it is perfectly biocompatible. Essentially, your skin is regenerated with its own blood cells.
At the start of a treatment, Dr. Mandeville applies a numbing cream to the patient’s skin, causing vasodilation – which prevents bleeding. The second step consists of taking a small amount of the patient’s blood and having it centrifuged in order to separate the red blood cells. Next comes the microneedling itself, after which hyaluronic acid is applied topically to deeply penetrate the skin.
And finally, if you choose your own gold elixir over a regular serum, you will be re-injected several times with your own plasma all over your face, with a focus on the areas where you need it the most. For many that would be below the eyes (adios, eye bags!).
No drama to blood facials
Despite its name and the gory publicity it has received from TV shows such as Keeping Up with the Kardashians, the procedure is actually not dramatic at all, save for the blood draw which some of you might not be into.
“It’s nothing like what you see on the internet, and it has nothing to do with the picture of Kim where her face is covered with blood. Also, in Keeping Up with the Kardashians they show a huge needle, which is truly not the case with the Dermapen,” explains Dr. Mandeville, hinting that the downright shocking footage was likely inserted to boost TV ratings.
Side effects following the treatment include a slightly red face, as though the skin has been sun-kissed. No bruises, no black eyes, no blood. The procedure is relatively pain free, with scientific studies dating back as far as 30 years, all documenting that PRP does indeed grow new collagen when injected directly into skin.
Dr. Mandeville recommends 1-2 microneedling treatments per year for people who already have great skin and are just looking for that certain glow. For patients with severe acne scars, large pores or brown spots, one treatment once a month for 3 months is required on average.
At her clinic, the price range is $700 to $1,200 CAD per session. In the USD, the average single treatment usually runs about $1,500.
Microneedling is definitely not just some fad. Its popularity has steadily grown because it’s easy yet still produces pleasing, rejuvenating changes. Perhaps one of its biggest benefits, according to Dr. Lyle M. Back, is that doctors and patients alike love how microneedling works in a very natural sort of way: with the body, not against it.
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