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Kim Kardashian vampire facial
Courtesy Instagram/@kimkardashian

Vampire facials work, so why is everyone still grossed out by them?

We spoke to the UK’s leading phobia guru to find out more

There’s no shortage of eyebrow-raising ingredients used in skincare, and blood is arguably the most popular… and gruesome. From creams to facials, blood treatments are adored by insatiable beauty junkies and celebs alike, from Kim Kardashian to Hailey Baldwin. But there are an almost infinite amount of effective beauty treatments that don’t require having your face covered in your own blood, so why are so many people paying hundreds of pounds to do it?

As it turns out, your blood contains healing properties that could help with a bunch of issues, including acne, signs of ageing and hyperpigmentation, which explains why treatments like the “vampire facial” (aka PRP facial, where blood is withdrawn and then injected back into the patient’s face) are so popular. You’ve probably seen photos like the now infamous Kim Kardashian one where her face is smeared in blood and wondered “WTF?”, but although they may look like something straight out of a Dario Argento horror, there’s method to the madness.

The gory frenzy was kickstarted by skin guru Dr Barbara Sturm, who is renowned for harnessing the almost magical healing power of blood to heal the body, first in surgery, and now in facial treatments. Her fabled MC1 blood cream retails at $1400 and icons like Kate Moss and Cher supposedly swear by it. Why would you pay a month’s worth of rent in London to slather blood cream on your face? Because the science checks out. In layman’s terms, your own blood is something like the most powerful and hypoallergenic serum you’ll ever find. When applied topically, the proteins found in it have growth factors that mimic those naturally recurring in your skin and can stimulate collagen production, skin renewal, cell growth, and tissue regeneration.

“It’s not blood in itself that people fear but the associations or beliefs they attach to it” – hypnotherapist and Phobia Guru Adam Cox

And yet, despite its almost miraculous properties, to most people blood is either gross or downright terrifying. “Blood has many associations that people link with danger, death or warnings,” clinical hypnotherapist and Phobia Guru Adam Cox tells Dazed Beauty. “It’s not blood in itself that people fear but the associations or beliefs they attach to it.” Dr Cox explains that our cultural obsession with the pursuit of youth and beauty might be the one thing strong enough to overpower a disgust for blood. “Any product that promises an aesthetic improvement will have potential customers taking an interest. Interestingly the fact that it is gross or disgusting could add to levels of cognitive dissonance, this is when people believe that it must be effective because they are willing to do something unusual or ‘gross’. It’s because it’s unpleasant that people perceive that many benefits must be credible and authentic.”

I tried the vampire facial for myself at the medical beauty clinic Epilium & Skin, where I was told my skin would “look like porcelain” for months. Since I’m totally drawn to any treatment that is weird, gross or both, the thought of having my face slathered in my own blood fit the bill - and gave a new definition of “beauty from the inside out”. Plus, if it’s good enough for Cher, it’s good enough for me.

A nurse withdrew blood from my arm, hence why the word vampire is appropriate, and the sample was spun in a centrifuge to separate red and white blood cells from the PRP (which stands for platelet rich plasma). The plasma in itself was a yellowish gel and I was a little bit disappointed by the fact that it looked nothing like blood. Had I not known it came from inside me, I would have assumed it was your average serum - there’s that cognitive dissonance Dr. Cox was talking about.

 "It’s because it’s unpleasant that people perceive that many benefits must be credible and authentic"– hypnotherapist and Phobia Guru Adam Cox

The nurse then microneedled my face with a Dermapen, which provided enough bloodiness for a photo-op, and then repeated the process re-injecting the PRP into my skin. I was sent home with a syringe full of my own plasma and was instructed to spread it onto my face the next morning and leave it on for as long as possible. There was something oddly gratifying yet beautifully disgusting about the whole thing like I was somehow proud of smearing my own juices onto my face in the name of beauty.

Despite the name, the procedure was not as gory and gruesome as you’d think, but it’s hardly one for the faint of heart. But did the treatment work? Yes, it did. I’ve always had a fairly good complexion but after having the PRP facial done my face is brighter, plumper, way more even, the annoying expression line on my forehead is barely visible and I swear my pores look smaller.

Blood’s use in skincare provides the perfect mix of innovation, disgust, and results to make it one of the most coveted treatments available today. Yes, my face looks great even a month after getting the PRP facial done, but it was the novelty and intrigue of channelling the power of my own blood that made the whole experience worth it. At least now I know donating blood isn’t the only way it can be used for good.