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"The gory beauty treatment that made my face go crazy."

Image supplied.

If you’ve got any interest in the beauty industry, or in celebrities, then you’ve probably heard of the Vampire Facial.

And if you haven’t heard of it, you might still be familiar with this picture:

That’s Kim Kardashian, straight after getting one done.

Grizzly, right?

Now, I’m not much of a thrill seeker in other areas, but when it comes to weird beauty treatments, I’m pretty much up for anything. So when I was offered the chance to try a Factor4 treatment, AKA a Vampire Facial, I couldn’t not. As it turns out, what I had done looked a little different from Kim Kardashian’s pictures — but the ‘after’ shot is just as gory.

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Vampire Facials earn their name. The active ingredient is human blood - your own. Before your first treatment, your blood is harvested, then it’s processed, and injected back into your face. Yes. You read that right.

The technical name for the process is an autologous plasma injection. The Vampire Facial doesn’t just take blood out of your arm and shoot it into your face, first they agitate the blood with sterile beads, then they use a centrifuge to separate the blood, then they extract the blood serum (the bits of your blood that aren’t red or white cells, or clotting factors), filter it and freeze it. (Post continues after gallery)

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I lack the advanced degree (or, to be honest, post-Year 10 biology education) it takes to understand the causal mechanism by which vampire facials are supposed to work. A cursory search through medical journals suggests the jury is still out on whether or not it does work, although when combined with seriously hectic laser treatments, treatments of this nature do seem to promote faster healing.

Vampire Facials are meant to be one of the only cosmetic therapy treatments that can improve crepey skin. At 26, crepey-ness isn’t an issue for me yet, so I was trialling one of its other benefits: reduced under-eye darkness. I’m pale as a ghost and have had deep purple circles under my eyes ever since I was a little girl, so for me, they’re not exactly an ‘aging’ issue. But still, I figured lightening my Touche Eclat bill couldn’t be a bad thing. And besides, I really, really wanted to take a Kim K-esque selfie.

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So, I fetched up to the Cosmedical clinic and had enough blood harvested for three treatments - the number recommended for optimum results. Nine hours later, when my blood was finished cooking, I came back for the first treatment cycle.

Sally, the registered nurse who performed my treatment, told me she wasn’t sure why Kim Kardashian’s face was covered in blood post-facial. She suspected they just splashed the stuff around and did some dermal needling. This, she said, would do nothing for anyone. Me? I was going to have my blood injected straight into my under eye bags.

Preparing with ice and gas.
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If you’re squeamish, you might want to look away right now. Because this next part is exactly as un-pretty as it sounds. After having my skin thoroughly numbed with a topical anaesthetic, and an icypole, I was given some happy gas to help me deal with the fact that I was about to get HALF A DOZEN NEEDLES INJECTED UNDER MY EYES.

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The gas was fun. I liked it a lot. What came next… not so much. The needles themselves weren’t horribly painful - no worse than a flu shot -  but after each injection, Sally had to firmly massage the serum into my face and that felt sickly sore, both sharp and achy at once, even through the gas.

The whole process lasted around 20 minutes. When I looked into the mirror after the injections were done, this is what looked back:

My body reacted immediately and viscerally to the injections. This wasn’t a disaster or unexpected  - in fact, it’s what’s meant to happen.

My face pulsing from the swelling, I was placed under a yellow healing lamp for another 10 minutes.

The healing lamp.

After that, I wandered home, wearing a very, very big pair of sunglasses. I felt hot and foggy. I have never been more aware of my face.

The extreme swelling lasted three days, during which time I looked like a baby bullfrog. For about four days after that, I had deep bruises under my eyes, as if I’d lost several rounds in the ring. Reactions ranged from abject horror (my boyfriend, my male boss), to pity (strangers on the street; male friends) to morbid curiosity (my coworkers and girlfriends).

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Even though the treatment was painful, the downtime was definitely worse. It was stressful to feel as if my face was not my own, and the reason why I looked so strange was too convoluted to explain to everyone who saw me. So I cleared my social schedule and wondered what I’d gotten myself into.

Because my reaction was so extreme, I had to know if the treatment would work. Despite misgivings from friends and family, I went back. Twice. I had to rearrange my appointments half a dozen times, to factor in the downtime. It turns out I’m a very social person, and four day blocks out of public eye were hard to schedule.

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In the end I managed it, although the six-week gaps meant the conditions for my treatment were sub-optimal. Typically, you’re meant to go back once every two to four weeks. (Post continues after gallery.)

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Aside from the obvious ones, the results of Factor4 treatment take several weeks to show, so it was another month after my final treatment that I went back to get before and after photographs.

Personally, I hadn’t noticed any difference. My partner was adamant nothing had changed. But that’s not what the pictures showed.

The before shots are along the top, the afters are along the bottom. In both sets of photos, I was wearing no makeup, standing in the same spot, under the same light:

There’s no denying, my dark circles aren’t nearly as pronounced as they used to be.

So, was it worth it? Personally, I could have done without all that down time. I’ve never been particularly insecure about my dark circles, so if I weighed up the nine days of looking wounded with the improvement, I probably wouldn’t do it again.

Perhaps if I truly hated the dark circles, or was using the treatment on a less visible area (the hands and neck are both popular treatment sites), it would be something I’d consider revisiting. Although at $300+ per treatment, I’d have to be pretty cashed-up.

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Finally, even though everything was sterile and performed by well trained professionals, all injection-based treatments come with some risk of infection.

In some ways, I found the experience of looking different more valuable than the end result of looking a little fresher. Having something visibly unusual about your face elicits such strong reactions, especially from strangers. I certainly feel a deeper understanding of the daily annoyances that dog people who don’t look totally “normal."  So in that sense, it was worth it for the story.

Have you ever tried an out-there beauty treatment? How did it go?

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Would you ever consider facial injections?

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