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Would you inject blood into your face?

Published May 16, 2011


Vampire therapy may describe how you feel when you’ve walked out of a Twilight film , but it’s also one of the latest types of non-invasive surgery treatments revolutionising the beauty industry.

For years blood has been used to save lives, but now it’s being employed to improve looks and promote a youthful appearance. The treatment involves having your face injected - with your own blood.

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While it has made headlines in British and American beauty magazines as “vampire” or “Dracula” facial therapy, the medical term for the anti-ageing treatment is Autologous Platelet-Rich Plasma. It was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2009 and was recently introduced in South Africa.

Dr Kamlen Pillay, the registrar of general surgery at Groote Schuur Hospital, offers the surgery from a private clinic at Wembley Medi Spa in Gardens.

“There are a variety of ways to achieve a younger-looking skin, the most exciting of which deals with cellular regeneration,” says Pillay, who doesn’t just talk about it - he has had the surgery himself.

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“The younger you are when you start preventing collagen degradation, the more effectively you can maintain your skin’s elasticity, and the fewer treatments you require.

“I have treated more than 500 patients to date, and the ideal age is definitely between 30 and 40, or even younger.

“But my oldest patient is 82, and the difference in skin texture after the treatment is still discernible.”

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He says platelets, that magic component in blood that signals it is time to clot to heal any wound, are harvested by first drawing a small vial of blood from a patient’s arm.

“The plasma is then extracted from the blood sample in a centrifuge machine in a controlled environment. It looks like a straw-coloured serum.”

The patient has a local anaesthetic, which is given 45 minutes to work. The serum is then injected into specific areas that require rejuvenation. Another way of injecting the platelets is to use a device called a dermaroller, which has 196 microneedles. This is rolled over the skin, injecting the serum. The patient may not wash his or her face for six to eight hours.

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“They will look sunburnt for two to three days,” says Pillay. “Due to the imbued tissue rejuvenation ‘message’ contained within platelet-rich plasma, wound healing is accelerated and fresh new tissue with the elasticity of young skin is produced.”

He said the treatment could be used for stretch marks, acne scars, pigmentation problems, large pores or uneven skintone.

Prices start at R3 800 and depending on other treatments used, could cost up to R15 000 a session.

Lying on a bed in a treatment room , Nocawe Mlandu, 49, has received the treatments for pigmentation on her face and for hair loss.

She says the anti-ageing benefits were an added bonus. “I started losing my hair three years ago. I was very concerned because hair is part of being a fulfilled woman. I came here for a massage. When I heard about this therapy, I thought I would give it a try and so far I am pleased with the results.”

Ian Manely, 41, also had the treatment .

He said he wanted it for “longevity reasons and to boost my collagen”. It was relatively painful, but he believed it would be worth it and he would have “a youthful advantage of five to seven years”.

But later the same night he tweeted on Twitter that “one needs a high pain threshold… crawling into bed with a box of painkillers.”

Pillay said using the treatment for alopaecia (hair loss) was still in the “research stage and evidence was anecdotal”.

Regardless of the treatment clients chose, “I pride myself on delivering an outcome that results in compliments on how refreshed and healthy you are looking, rather than ‘what have you had done?’”

Pillay said he was also in favour of stem cell therapy, the latest buzz in anti-ageing medicine. Stem cells present in the blood could adapt into any cell, depending on what in the body needed replenishing.

“The theory is that stem cells revitalise organs and the skin is an organ. In skin rejuvenation treatments, stem cells extracted from the patient’s own blood are applied to areas where underlying collagen and elastic begin to break down and wrinkles emerge. The result is tensile tissue and, like A-PRP, produced from cells harvested from the patient.

“I have always been fascinated by aesthetic medicine and particularly by the incredible advances being made in the area of cell biology, but also believe in the simple rejuvenating benefits of being thoroughly pampered.”

Professor Don Hudson of the University of Cape Town Medical School’s department of plastic surgery said while there was an international buzz about the treatment, it did not produce long-term results.

Other ways to look young

Whether it’s mere vanity or a media-fuelled need for perfect-ion, more people are opting for a nip-and-tuck or wrinkle bust-ing injections and laser treat-ments to improve their looks.

A number of treatments and operations are available, ranging from botox injections that can be done in minutes to lengthier and more common operations like facelifts, eyelid lifts, liposuction, nose jobs, breast implants, penis enlarge-ments, tummy tucks and cheek implants.

There is also a list of non-surgical methods to promote your gorgeousness, including stem cell therapy, chemical peels that minimise the appearance of fine lines, age spots and acne scars as well as laser skin resurfacing, which uses pulsating beams of light to the skin to achieve a similar outcome.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, plastic surgery is nothing new:

* Written evidence shows medical treatment for facial injuries more than 4 000 years ago. Physicians in ancient India used skin grafts for recon-structive work early as 800 B.C.

* Progress in plastic surge-ry was made in the 19th and 20th centuries. America’s first plastic surgeon of note was John Peter Mettauer, who performed the first cleft palate operation in 1827 with instru-ments he designed himself.

* World War I led to a huge need for reconstructive surgery as doctors had to come up with innovative procedures to treat extensive facial and head injuries, including shattered jaws, gaping skull wounds and burns.

* The first breast augmentation was performed in 1895 by Austrian-German Vincenz Czerny. This type of surgery was made famous by Pamela Anderson, who had her first implants in 1989.

* Nose jobs or Rhinoplasty dates back to India 800 BC. Michael Jackson’s first operation was in 1980.

* Botox injections were first introduced in 2002 to temporarily zap frown lines.

* The father of plastic and reconstructive surgery in South Africa was Dr Jack Penn who trained as a doctor at Wits before World War II. As a major attached to the 7th Field Ambulance in 1939 he went to London to help with war casualties especially during the Battle of Britain in 1940.

After the war, mining magnate Sir Ernest Oppenheimer endowed a new chair of plastic, maxillo facial and oral surgery at Wits, and Penn, 35, became the first professor of plastic surgery there.

Later he helped establish plastic surgery in other countries, and helped some of the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

- Weekend Argus

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