Although my job requires that I test-drive fancy new skin-care products almost constantly, the truth is I actually prefer a no-frills routine with ingredients I can understand without having to pull out a medical dictionary. At the same time, I’m totally into innovations that sound weird or gross but are indeed beneficial, because every once in awhile, a little adventure is needed.
Such is the case with stuff that comes from our own bodies, like placenta and blood. Both of those words immediately make me think of childbirth and horror movies, but now people are actually slathering both on their faces in the name of healthy skin. So what gives?
There are a couple different variations, but the ones used most frequently in skin care are derived from animals or plants. On rare occasions, experts extract human placenta for serums and other concoctions, too. Placentophagy, a fancy word for eating placenta, is also popular among new moms who want to feed nutrients back into their body post-childbirth, although the idea that this actually confers benefits isn’t backed by strong research.
Placenta has long been a sought-after ingredient for firming and hydrating skin because of its protein content; a key compound for pumping up collagen production. Maryam Zamani, MD, founder of MZ Skin, has been incorporating ovine placenta and plant stem cells into her luxury line for this very reason.
“When absorbed topically, these stem cells help boost collagen synthesis while increasing hydration, which helps to fight the signs of aging and rejuvenates skin,” she says. (A great product for this is the MZ Skin Rest & Revive serum, which contains both restorative placenta and stem cells.)
Great news for people who get queasy when they see red: you have options! No, you don’t need to rub actual blood all over your face, but applying it topically through cream can actually plump up your skin with regular use.
One of the most popular options is courtesy of Barbara Sturm, MD, whose Blood Cream is constantly name-dropped by celebrities such as Emma Roberts and Jenna Dewan Tatum. For a pricey $1,400, she withdraws blood from your arm and a week later you get a label-less jar, filled with fragrance-free cream that does everything from speed up the healing of acne scars to even out skin tone.
There’s also the vampire facial, immortalized in this classic Kim Kardashian selfie:
According to medical aesthetician Holly Cutler, the name refers to the use of a person’s platelet-rich plasma to rejuvenate the skin through a micro-needling device. The obvious expectation is that you will see blood, which is why the word vampire is fitting. Thankfully, the procedure (which provides best results after three to six treatments) isn’t as painful as it looks since a numbing solution is applied beforehand.
So how does it work? Prior to the micro-needling, blood is drawn from your body and spun in a centrifuge for six minutes to remove red and white blood cells, leaving only your liquid gold plasma, or PRP (platelet rich plasma). This means that the platelet concentration is now considered to be double the normal concentration in whole blood.
“Once the skin is cleansed, this concentration is applied to the skin during the facial treatment using a micro-needling device to create thousands of micro-channels to drive the plasma into the dermis causing the skin to rejuvenate,” says Cutler. “The skin is wiped clean at the end, and healing topicals are applied to enhance collagen stimulation and seal the skin.
Slightly gory details aside, you’re probably wondering why people put themselves through this. According to Cutler, growth factors from PRP boast many benefits including reducing fine lines and wrinkles, evening out the skin tone, improving dark circles, and helping to rebuild scars.
Cutler adds, “Overall, there will be an increase in thickness by 10 to 12 percent improving the youthfulness and volume of the skin almost like a small amount of filler all over. PRP is also used in hand rejuvenation, hair restoration, and vaginal rejuvenation.”
It’s also worth noting that both blood- and plasma-infused treatments and products often come with a hefty price tag because of the technology and equipment needed to create them. If you’ve considered adding either to your routine, prepare to save your pretty pennies.