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The Vampire Facelift: Not really a facelift and no vampires involved

With popular interest in vampires seeming to survive beyond a natural lifespan, it was probably inevitable that someone would find a way to capitalize on the term in plastic surgery. But the "vampire facelift" isn't really a facelift, and the only connection to vampires is the fact that it involves use of a product made from your own blood. Yet for a seemingly clever but innocent marketing term it has generated a lot of controversy.

The basic idea is to take a sample of your blood, process it into something called "platelet rich plasma" or PRP, and then inject it into facial wrinkles. PRP has been in use for some time in treatment of orthopedic problems and in sports medicine, and some research suggests that it may prove to be useful in promoting wound healing. So inject it into wrinkles and areas of volume loss in the face, the logic goes, and you have the new fountain of youth. It's all natural!

For facial rejuvenation, PRP is typically combined with a dermal filler such as Restylane or Juvederm, two widely used products. This is the first area where controversy comes in. The term "vampire facelift" was trademarked by an enterprising physician who now charges royalty fees for use of the term, though it apparently was first coined by someone in the media. In this case, it is a specific PRP product and a specific dermal filler. However, the idea of combining them is not something that can be restricted, provided that good standards of medical practice are followed.

So whether it is the brand-name vampire facelift or some other version of PRP plus filler, is it any better than filler alone? Normally we would turn to results from clinical trials to determine safety and effectiveness of a product, and how it compares to others already on the market. But the vampire facelift is a combination of products, so it is a procedure not a product that would have to prove its case to the FDA for approval. Even so, we would expect to see some sort of clinical evidence, but it is all but absent in this case. Instead, its proponents point to articles on PRP used for entirely different purposes, inferring that it must therefore be good for cosmetic uses. But right now we simply have no way of knowing whether it is any better than dermal filler alone.

Is it even a facelift? The term is used more broadly than it used to be, with anything that plumps up or tightens even a little bit called a "facelift." Purists hold to the view that a surgical facelift addresses both the volume loss that occurs with facial aging, as well as skin laxity and wrinkles. It's a 3-dimensional operation that both lifts and reshapes. Others point out that restoration of volume alone gives a lifting effect, and the more we can do without surgery the better. The way I see it, the issue is whether expectations are created that imply that injections are an alternative that yields comparable results. Maybe (hopefully) the future will bring such choices but we clearly aren't there yet.

My hunch (to go along with the non-scientific approach) is that the vampire facelift is already in its twilight. By the time clinical studies are done (if ever) there will be some other flashy product or procedure. "Bungee facelift" anyone?


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