The New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) released a statement at the start of this week, recommending that clients of VIP Spa in Albuquerque who “received any type of injection service, including a vampire facial” should come to the Midtown Public Health Office for free and confidential HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C lab testing and potentially counseling.
All three are blood-borne viruses that usually require blood-to-blood contact. Normally, you need unsafe sexual practices, risky healthcare working procedures, or unsafe intravenous injections to contract it, so what the heck happened here?
During an inspection of the spa a few days prior, officials noted that several practices were identified that could spread these diseases. Issued a cease and desist letter, the facility was immediately shut down. It appears that a tip was given courtesy of a former client of the spa, who developed an infection that possibly resulted from what was going on there.
At this point, of course, you’re probably wondering what in the name of Nosferatu a vampire facial is. If you’re thinking it’s a fad-like beauty treatment that has no scientific credibility, then you’d be right.
Popularized by various predictable celebrities back in 2012 and 2013, said facial involves drawing blood out of your own body. Then, per Popular Science, segregating the red blood cells from the platelets and the plasma, a yellowish fluid that transports nutrients, hormones, salts, enzymes, and proteins to parts of the body that need it, while also removing cellular waste.
This platelet-plasma cocktail is then spread all over your face until you resemble a careless, imprecise murder. To speed up the supposed absorption process, small holes are made in your face using very tiny needles. Sometimes, as explained by Allure, people’s faces are essentially sanded down instead.
It is unclear why putting distilled blood remnants on your face is supposed to give you healthier-looking skin. It’s thought that the platelets in the plasma encourage growth and skin repair in the face, but there’s no strong evidence to suggest that this specific procedure will make this already unclear process take place artificially.
This commentary, dating back to 2007, explains that there’s some limited evidence in animal models that it may help boost bone repair. Saying that, papers presenting tentative evidence of the procedure’s benefits or negatives crop up from time to time, but there’s nothing substantial there.
Although such benefits are theoretically possible, poor study design renders those claims moot. There’s a huge variability in how such studies are carried out, and more often than not, limited samples sizes are used without controls.
“There is a paucity of critical scientific data regarding the beneficial effects of platelet-rich plasma in clinical procedures,” the authors note. “The use of this material cannot be supported at present, and further controlled, prospective clinical trials are urgently needed.”
Fast-forward to 2018, and little has changed with respect to the scientific literature. This 2016 entry into the BMJ, for example, notes that the procedure has “insufficient evidence of clinical efficacy.” There’s just not a lot of verifiable, peer-reviewed information about it.
It’s also a bit daft to refer to them as “vampire” facials. Is it really vampirism if it's your own blood? Technically, to be fair, it’s known as Plasma Rich Platelet (PRP) therapy.
At this point, it’s unclear how these crimson facials, silly though they are, put patients at risk of blood-borne infections, especially as it's their own blood. Although it’s purely speculation at this point, it’s possible that the needles used to either extract the blood, or those used to make perforations in the patients’ faces, were contaminated with the infected blood of others.