Shedding Daylight on the Vampire Facelift

I’ll put it back into your face. Pinky swear.

Women love vampires.  They’re immortal, sexy and never have issues with hyper-pigmentation.

So it’s no wonder the Vampire Facelift, with the promise of turning back the clock using your own natural juices coupled with the innuendo of Twilight and 50 Shades of BDSM has women curious.

But there’s a lot of confusion.  What exactly is a Vampire Facelift and why would you want one?  How is it different from traditional fillers?  What should you do if your doctor suddenly appears in a dark cape instead of a white coat?

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First, lets start with the fact that the Vampire Facelift isn’t a facelift at all, but an alternative to traditional hylauronic acid fillers (HA) like Restylane, Juvaderm or Sculptra that are FDA approved to fill in the marionette lines  and off label, the cheeks, lips and sometimes the hollows under the eyes.

The blood-filler craze started in 2009 with the launch of Selphyl, a blood filler “kit” that for years had been used under the name Fibrinet in the orthopedic field to help tendon tissue heal faster.  However, Selphyl is not yet formally FDA approved for cosmetic purposes in the face, so it is only used “off label”.  It’s also not the only PRP on the market;  there’s another brand called Regen which is manufactured by Eclipse Aesthetics (no, I am not making up the name).

Selphyl claims that by using growth factors in your own blood, you’ll stimulate longer term, more “natural” collagen growth versus traditional HA fillers.  There are also secondary, albeit inconsistent claims of a rosier glow, less bruising, and a reduced risk of the bumps that can sometimes accommodate traditional HA fillers.

The process of getting Selphyl is simple; your doctor takes a vial of your blood and spins it in a centrifuge to separate the platelets from the serum and harvest what’s called platelet rich plasma (PRP – where the growth factors live).  The PRP is then activated with calcium chloride to create a platelet rich fibrin matrix (PRFM) and is then injected into your face.  Sometimes it’s combined with fat injections or traditional HA fillers to give more fullness.

And it’s bloody expensive; Selphyl’s tab is coming in between $1000 – $1500 per treatment.  Often, Selphyl requires more than one treatment and seeing the results of the rebuilt collagen take a few months where with HA fillers, the results are often immediate.

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But what’s created a lot of smoke and mirrors around Selphyl is the Vampire nickname.   Originally, the media coined the vampire nickname in 2009, but in 2010 an enterprising plastic surgeon, internal medical doctor, Dr. Charles Runels who trademarked the name “The Vampire Facelift”.  He’s also behind this bodice ripper of a promotional video that’s worth sitting thru for a few minutes if only for the thundering soundtrack usually reserved for women’s soft porn.

After dissecting the hyperbole, what I took away is that Dr. Runels has merchandised and trademarked a “kit” of traditional HA fillers  in partnership with Eclipse’s Regen PRP product (not Selphyl).  Filler gets injected first, then the PRP.  And all that talk about harnessing the science of mathematics and great artists?   To me that simply means this should done by an experienced injector who is board certified by the ABMSASPSASAPS (the latter is my build), but neither of which had Dr Runels registered as an active member.

A video still from Dr. Charles Runel’s Vampire Facelift video. Serious.

So I was especially curious to learn what it takes to be a “Vampire Professional”.  A zip code finder on the website shows a relatively small list of doctors in Manhattan, but features Dr. Paul Nassif (Andrienne Malouf’s pseudo husband from RHOBH) who does a live injection on video which I found helpful.  However, Dr. Runels places a lot of emphasis on the skill of the injector, so I was disappointed to learn he doesn’t necessarily train the doctors who he authorizes to use his kit and promotional materials.  In fact, an article in the NY Times from March 2011 says that all doctors have to do to get the kit is to pay a monthly fee of $47  $97 fee to Runels.  Buyer beware.

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Hoopla aside, is Selphyl worth your hope and cash?

Selphyl on it’s own does not have the same filling results as the traditional HA fillers mentioned above.  But combined with HA fillers, or even with fat there seems to be a healthy mix of possibility and skepticism in the medical community.  Dr. Andre Berger, a cosmetic surgeon was quoted as saying in the Los Angeles Daily Post:

“(Vampire therapy) is not the miracle filler.  Patients will be greatly disappointed if you try to say it was a comparative option to using a filler. It can be used in conjunction with a filler to enhance the effects … kind of like fertilizer is used to make a more beautiful garden.

On Skintour.com, dermatologist Dr. Brandith Irwin also hesitates to jump on the Selphyl bandwagon given the long list of proven options on the market:

“While Selphyl looks interesting and promising for some issues in facial aesthetics, it’s far from being a magic wand.   It’s expensive and results so far are not very predictable from patient to patient.  The one study published in 2009 (Sclafani) only had 15 patients.  The results in those patients are easily achievable with other products or lasers already on the market.  Products equal to or less in price and with over 20,000 patients injected for a track record of safety and results. Which would you rather choose?  In my opinion, a new technology needs to be BETTER than a tried and true technology of similar price to be a good choice.

You can see Selphyl before and after here, but I believe there was some fat or traditional HA filler involved.

Selphyl’s skeptics are also holding out on a ringing endorsement because haven’t been any formal clinical trial, the data set is tiny and it simply hasn’t been out long enough to understand the long term trade-offs.  Further, there has been heavy PR and viral promotion touting claims for a product that isn’t even FDA approved for cosmetic use.  Dr. Phil Haeck, former president the American Society of was quoted last year in the NY times as saying,

“This is another gimmick that people are using to make themselves stand out on the Internet in a real dog-eat-dog part of medicine.”

While Dr. Irwin points out that the long-term data available is only for tendons — not the face:

“My main concern is that safety data from orthopedic tendon injections may not apply to the face. Injecting into a mostly blood-vessel-free tendon is very different than injecting into the face where there are many blood vessels and anatomy, including many nerves, is more challenging.”

So after all this, would I try Selphyl?   Maybe.  In 5 years, once we know more.  Using it with fat or other fillers sounds interesting, and I like the promise of rebuilding my own collagen, but only time will tell.

What do you think?  If money were no object, would you try a Vampire Facelift?

Sources, resources and other articles you might be interested in