When used in conjunction with platelet-rich plasma, microneedling is commonly referred to as the vampire facial.
With the bloody faced selfie of Kim Kardashian’s vampire facial making the media rounds, it is no wonder that the procedure has garnered a reputation for looking painful. Looks can be deceiving however, and the procedure might be the answer to many peoples’ skin care issues.
Are microneedling and the vampire facial really something you should be afraid of? We talked to the experts to find out more about these procedures.
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 microscopic acupuncture-like 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 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 skin by increasing localized collagen production.
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. It allows me to adjust the depth of the needles as I wish, unlike the traditional derma-rollers. Some facial regions require deeper perforation, like acne scars or large pores on the cheeks, whereas skin surrounding the eyes is more delicate,” says Mandeville. “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’s 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 of 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, but microneedling also boosts the release of several important factors partially responsible for skin growth,” says Back. “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 Back: “A series of four to six treatments usually gives the best results, but better skin tone and visible improvements in lines and wrinkles are commonly seen within one to two weeks of the first treatment. These improvements become even more obvious after three or four weeks, with remodeling improvements in the facial skin actually continuing to develop for the next six months to a year.”
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 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.” Additionally, unlike many procedures, microneedling is an effective treatment for people of all skin tones.
Vampire facial: the magic of platelet-rich plasma
A variation of microneedling treatment, the vampire facial, has recently come into the limelight. It involves drawing one’s blood and separating the platelet-rich plasma in a centrifuge before injecting it back into the patient’s face.
Mandeville refers to platelet-rich plasma (PRP) 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, PRP has been shown to kick the healing process into overdrive.
According to the American Acadamy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, many famous athletes — golf master Tiger Woods, tennis star Rafael Nadal, and several others — have received PRP for various issues like sprained knees and chronic tendon injuries. This clear substance contains over 30 bioactive proteins.
The same principles are applied to microneedling: after your face has been jabbed with needles — a procedure that takes about 15 minutes to complete –, you can choose to either have a vitamin C serum applied to your skin, or be injected with your very own PRP.
“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 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 concentrated healing agent.
At the start of a treatment, 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 out 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 liquid gold over a regular serum, you will be re-injected several times with your own plasma around your face, with a focus on the areas where you need it the most. For many that would be below the eyes to treat under eye bags.
No drama to blood facials
Despite its name and the gory publicity it has received from celebrities, the procedure is actually not as invasive as it’s been portrayed.
“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 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, but no bruises, black eyes, or blood. The procedure is relatively pain free and effective, with scientific studies dating back as far as 30 years documenting that PRP does indeed grow new collagen when injected directly into skin.
Mandeville recommends one or two 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, a monthly treatment for three months is typically required.
At her clinic, the price range is $500 to $900 USD per session. In the US, the average cost of a single treatment $1,500, but varies depending on the region.
Microneedling is definitely not just a fad. Its popularity has steadily grown because it’s a simple procedure that produces a rejuvenating effect. Perhaps one of its biggest benefits, according to Back, is that both doctors and patients love how microneedling works with the body in a very natural way.