Aesthetic Treatments

TreatMEnt of the Week: The Infamous, Gory Vampire Facial

The vampire facial is notorious. Ever since Kim Kardashian served up a photo of her bloodied post-facial face on Instagram®, beauty enthusiasts have been simultaneously terrified by and obsessed with the intensive treatment. I’m among those fans, and even though I will literally try anything, there was something that kept me from taking the leap.

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I’m not sure why. On paper, a vampire facial is not as wild as the name would imply. It’s a combination of microneedling and PRP, two increasingly common aesthetic treatments. The benefits of microneedling have been well-documented: by creating tiny chasms in our skin, we can engage our body’s natural restorative systems, stimulating collagen and elastin production in the process. The result: firmer, smoother, more radiant skin. Proponents of microneedling say that it can help everything from hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles, sagging skin, and even acne scarring.

The growth factors found in PRP (which stands for platelet-rich plasma, extracted from the patient’s own blood) helps to stimulate cell turnover and regeneration. It has also been shown to have a variety of benefits from injury recovery, post-surgical healing, hair regrowth, and yes, skin repair.

Both of these treatments are proven effective by themselves, but the secret sauce of the vampire facial lies in the combination. By pairing microneedling with PRP, the growth factors are driven deeper in the skin, where they are able to superpower the microtrauma-induced regeneration. “[According to one study], we are able to get up to a 400 percent increase in collagen production [after four sessions],” explains physician’s assistant Gabrielle Garritano, founder of JECTTM NYC and the person about to smear my face with my own blood.

According to Garritano, vampire facials are becoming the gold standard in facial rejuvenation because, compared to when they first hit the market in 2009, the technology has improved. For my facial, she uses a SkinPen®, the only FDA-approved microneedling device. “Better technology has improved downtime,” she says. “Now it’s only about [24 to] 48 hours.” The SkinPen also allows the provider to adjust how deep the needles go into your skin based on your needs and ability to tolerate discomfort. This is a major difference from at-home microneedling tools. For those of you who dermaroll — while those needles have some benefit, they are much shallower and don’t allow for customization. 

As I sit down in the chic, white chair in the equally chic, white partitioned area of JECT’s space in Manhattan’s West Village, Garritano excitedly tells me about the vampire facial she had only a few days ago. It’s hard to believe a few days before her face was covered in bloody needle marks. Today, it looks bouncy, tight and glowing. If my face looks even half as good as hers after my treatment, I’m on board.

“While you will see some results after one treatment, I like to set the expectation that you’re probably going to need multiple sessions, especially if you have severe acne scarring,” explains Garritano. “Do them one month apart until you get your skin where you want it, then you can go into maintenance, and get it about once a year.” Since my biggest skin complaint is redness and tone, she recommends two to three treatments (JECT charges $800 per treatment.) For severe acne scars, it would be more like six. Still, she promises me that I will see a big change shortly after this one facial. 

Before I go further, I have to say: if you are scared of needles, vampire facials are not for you. The entire treatment revolves around needles of various kinds: some are visible, some are not, but you will feel every single one of them. I personally do not mind a needle (thanks to the hundreds of hours I’ve logged sitting in a tattoo artist’s chair), but even I had to look away during the bloodletting.

And about that blood: The first step in any vampire facial is drawing your blood, just like at the doctor’s office. This is why these facials should always be performed by a trained medical professional. Garritano inserts a needle into my arm and attaches a vial, which quickly fills up with my blood. Once it’s full, she puts the vial into a centrifuge to separate the plasma. While it spins, she smears numbing cream on my face.

After I’m sufficiently numb and my blood is spun, she shows me the vial. My plasma was a bright orange gel at the top of the vial, like a parfait from a horror movie. “That’s what we’re going to put on your face,” she says, not at all creepily. She then directs me to the bathroom, where I wash off the numbing cream with Hibiclens®, the same medical-grade antibacterial soap doctors use on their hands before surgery.

Back in the chair, Garritano unwraps a brand new SkinPen in front of me and goes to work. Before going into this, I assumed that the plasma would be injected back into my face with a syringe. In practice, the process is less invasive. Garritano starts microneedling my face in sections, beginning with part of my forehead, and then instructs an assistant to smear the plasma over the needled portion. Once each section is sufficiently covered in goo, she moves on to the next.

As she works, my face gets continually bloodier, not from the plasma itself, but from the microneedling. The fact that it goes deeper into the skin than typical microneedlers shows: I’ve never bled so much from a microneedling treatment in my life. The needles go deeply into my skin and the sensation is close to what I assume getting a face tattoo is like. Uncomfortable? Yes. Painful? Not as bad as I expected.

The actual treatment goes quickly, with Garritano’s deft hands working the SkinPen rapidly and thoroughly across my face. She goes back over a few parts, like my nose and nasolabial folds, with the last remaining drops of PRP gunk for good measure; and, in about 15 minutes, we’re done. Before we’d started, she had warned me that it would feel like I had “a little sunburn” after the treatment. It did, if by “a little,” you mean my face felt like it had been completely baked off in the direct sun of the Sahara. It burned, it felt tight, and it tingled all over. And when I look in the mirror, I appear as if I’d washed my face in cherry juice (or blood, because that’s what it was).

After she cleans off the excess blood, my face is bright tomato red, and I can see the actual holes in my face from the needles (which look like very, very large pores.) “The redness will go away in about 48 hours,” Garritano tells me, giving me a custom skincare regimen to use for the next week, designed to help calm the skin and promote healing. She also tells me to wear a hat outside for the next few days, not only so I wouldn’t scare children, but also to protect my face from the sun. I take the subway home, red face and all, and no one bats an eye (you gotta love New York).

Garritano was right: my face is very red for about two days afterward. I’d specifically scheduled my vampire facial for a Saturday afternoon, so I would have an excuse to not leave the house for at least 24 hours. By Monday, my skin is pink, but hardly out of the ordinary. Within a week, though, my skin is definitely tighter, smoother, and has a natural glow. 

When it comes to weighing the benefits of a vampire facial with the experience, the brief amount of pain and longer period of discomfort pale in comparison to the results. The hardest part of the whole process was keeping my product routine out of the equation and letting the natural regenerative process do its thing. However, even the days of looking weird are worth it for how your skin transforms afterwards. Plus, who needs a better excuse to stay in and binge Netflix® for a day? It seems like a lot to go through in the name of perfect skin, until you see the bloody amazing results for yourself.

Complimentary service was provided to the author for the purpose of writing this article.