“I had blood injected into my face to make me look younger”

Since reality star Kim Kardashian tweeted pictures of herself undergoing the treatment a few years ago, it’s become hugely popular among the well-preserved rich overseas. One writer in the United Kingdom tried it.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
Photo 123RF.com
Photo 123RF.com
Since reality star Kim Kardashian tweeted pictures of herself undergoing the treatment a few years ago, it’s become hugely popular among the well-preserved rich overseas. One writer in the United Kingdom tried it.

I’ve done lots of unusual things while making science television programmes. I’ve inhaled laughing gas, hosted three large tapeworms in my guts, invented a new diet (the 5:2) and had a brain scan to see if I have psychopathic tendencies (I do).

So when it was suggested I might like to have my face injected with blood, a process sometimes known as the vampire facelift or blood facial, I was sanguine. The cosmetic procedure was something of a trade secret among the Hollywood elite at the turn of the decade, although a few celebrities admitted to indulging in it.

Once Kim Kardashian had publicised it, however, undergoing the treatment on her reality show Kourtney & Kim Take Miami, the vampire was out of the box. Apparently, it’s now hugely popular among the well-preserved rich internationally. And strange as it sounds, there seems to be a scientific rationale behind it.

The Treatment

At a discreet beauty clinic, I introduced myself, then had some blood taken. While my blood was spun in a centrifuge (a machine which separates blood into its different components), they smeared my face with a cream containing a local anaesthetic.

Once the machine had separated my blood into red cells and plasma, they discarded the red cells and injected the platelet-rich plasma (PRP) into my face with a series of tiny needle pricks.

Janet Hadfield, a director of a company called Biotherapy Services, which does research into PRP, came to hold my hand and explain why taking blood out, spinning it down, then putting it back again might be a sensible thing to do.

As she explained, PRP has been used for years to promote wound healing and to stimulate new bone formation. It is also used to treat sports injuries such as tendinitis, meniscus tears and bone-tendon damage. Fans are said to include Tiger Woods and Rafael Nadal.

More recently, there have been trials of PRP at The Royal London Hospital, to see if it will help to speed up wound repair in type 2 diabetics, who are particularly prone to developing wounds that won’t heal. The results so far suggest it does.

No one is quite sure how it works, but the process of extracting the plasma by centrifuging it seems to activate platelets, which in turn leads to the release of growth factors and fibroblasts, cells in your blood that make new collagen.

A study published in 2011 in the Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery, which studied 50 patients who had been treated for a range of reasons from smoothing out laughter lines to old acne scars, concluded that “most patients perceived noticeable improvement in the treated areas by five to seven days”.

Looking Out for Changes

When I asked Janet what changes I could expect, she replied: “After a couple of weeks, you should be able to feel a difference in the tone and texture of your skin. Hopefully, it will become more like a baby’s bum.”

Immediately after the treatment, my face didn’t look or feel anything like a baby’s bottom. My face didn’t hurt, but it looked angry and blotchy. Within an hour, however, the swelling had faded.

A couple of weeks later, just as promised, there were some subtle changes. For maximum effect, I should apparently have had at least one more treatment, but at about £600 (S$1,176) a go, the improvement was not impressive enough to make me want to do it again.

DID YOU KNOW? The blood facial or vampire facelift, also known as PRP treatment, is banned in Singapore by the Ministry of Health.


Scientists are now studying how blood can help rejuvenate the body and health.

The idea that blood has restorative powers has a long history. There are numerous legends about people drinking blood, including one of a 17th-century Hungarian countess who is said to have bathed in the blood of 650 slaughtered virgins in the hope of preserving her beauty. And of course, there is Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula.

Blood transfusions have, of course, been saving lives for more than a century, but modern claims of rejuvenation go well beyond simply preserving life. Saul Villeda, a biologist at the University of California in the United States, is a pioneer in the field of rejuvenation research.

He showed me pictures of the brains of elderly mice. The neurons, instead of sprouting dozens of connections to fellow neurons, looked more like tired, shrivelled peanuts.

Then he showed me brain cells from an elderly mouse that had been infused with young blood. This mouse’s neurons looked much more like those of a young, smart, on-the-ball mouse. As Saul pointed out, this transformation is truly remarkable: “When we give them young blood, we see, all of a sudden, the shape of the cell body change. So something about young blood can actually change the shape of the neuron itself.”

Given young blood, the old mice perform significantly better in memory tests, such as finding their way through a maze. Rather disturbingly, the reverse also happens. If you infuse young mice with blood from old mice, they do worse in memory tests and their brains show signs of premature ageing.

He thinks that while something in young blood triggers increased activity in the stem cells of old mice, there is also something in old blood that inhibits this process. “My hope is that we can identify the youthful factors in blood that we want to raise and the ageing factors we have to lower,” says Saul.