What exactly is a Vampire Facelift?

What exactly is a Vampire Facelift? »Play Video

SEATTLE -- Thanks to vampire-themed entertainment products like "The Vampire Diaries,"  "True Blood" and  "Twilight," vampires have become a popular marketing tool for everything from clothes to candy to cosmetics. 

One of the latest trends is a trademarked cosmetic procedure called the "Vampire Facelift."

Technically, it's not a facelift at all. It's a designer cosmetic procedure that combines injectable hyaluronic acid dermal fillers, such as Juvederm and Restylane, with what many call a "natural' fountain of youth" -- components of your own blood. 

Vials of blood are placed in a machine called a centrifuge and spun at high speed. The centrifuge separates red blood cells from plasma -- a golden yellow liquid known as PRP.  PRP, platelet rich plasma, is the part of your blood that helps stop bleeding and heal wounds.
 
PRP is FDA approved for use in orthopedic surgery, but more and more it's being used for non-surgical procedures. Many people, including professional and weekend athletes, get PRP injections to help heal and repair tennis elbow, tendonitis, and arthritis. 

And now, PRP is being used cosmetically to help fight the visible signs of aging. The rationale?  Injectable fillers give initial volume. PRP stimulates cell growth for more youthful, longer lasting results.

"The PRP actually helps stimulate the collagen," said Dr. Kristine Brecht, who performs the facelift at her Burien practice. "It helps the circulation, and that's why you get that immediate kind of rosy glow."

But simply getting facial injections of dermal filler and PRP does not mean it's a Vampire Facelift. The true "Vampire Facelift" was designed and trademarked Dr. Charles Runels of Alabama.  In order to use the vampire term in connection with a facial PRP injectable procedure, professionals must pay for Runels' special training, and use his specific techniques and HA fillers.

Runels says his licensing, training, techniques and procedures are intentionally standardized to control quality and results.

"This is a service mark that indicates something will be done in a particular way," Runels said.

Runels is very serious about protecting the vampire name, emphasizing that he defined and named the procedure and does not want people being confused. He goes to great lengths to prevent "Vampire Facelift" from become a generic term for any procedure that uses PRP and makes it clear the procedure is not for everyone, including patients on blood thinners.
   
Nurse Practitioner Debra Tri of Kirkland, who performs different variations of PRP/dermal filler injections, including the Vampire,  says the real key to all the procedures is the PRP.  

"It's like miracle grow is to the garden where you get rejuvenated, bright color flowers. That's what PRP does for the skin," she said.
     
Not everyone is sold on the procedure. The most common argument?  There are no long-term clinical studies to scientifically prove the claims. Skeptics like plastic surgeon Richard Baxter of Mountlake Terrace  argue that for the extra cost -- as much as $700 more than a typical procedure with dermal filler alone --  PRP adds no significant benefit.

"I haven't been able to find any published data showing that combining PRP with a dermal filler produces a different effect than you would get by using dermal filler alone. It may be the case. We just haven't been able to prove that yet, with anything that's gone through peer review," said Baxter.  

Baxter performs dermal filler procedures on his clients, including HA fillers, but he doesn't use PRP. Comparing the trend to other trendy procedures that get a lot of buzz early on, then fizzle out.

"So often we see the hype precedes the real science to back it up.  And a lot of  them tend to sort of disappear from our minds before science ever arrives, because they don't end up proving themselves," he said.

Runels and other PRP believers insist anyone who claims there are no published studies are wrong.

"When they say that, it's so absolutely blind to what's been published," Runels said. "They're dead wrong. Multiple studies have been done  how long term do we need to go?"

Despite the controversy, the PRP trend appears to be taking off. Some cosmetic clinics now apply PRP topically after facial laser treatments. And Runels recently came up with another trade marked PRP procedure called the "Vampire Breast Lift."