An expensive pot of anti-wrinkle cream will no longer do - women want a more radical option. First, it was facelifts, then Botox and fillers, now it is platelet-rich plasma therapy, or the ‘vampire facelift’.
PRP has been used as a medical treatment for 20 years: platelet-rich plasma speeds up healing by creating more cells, blood vessels and tissue. It was first used to treat burn victims, but now also for sports injuries, and in orthopaedics and heart surgery.
If the patient’s plasma can heal damaged tissue, can it counter ageing skin? Dr Patrick Treacy, chairman of the Irish Association of Cosmetic Doctors, says the science works. "I did look at it objectively and concluded that it is a safe technique. The fact that the body’s repair mechanism is used to make people look younger is an advantage. With some tweaking, I think it will be a part of a cosmetic anaesthetist’
How does it work? The patient’s blood is taken, and placed in a centrifuge, which separates the red-blood cells from the plasma and platelets.
The platelet-enriched plasma, or ‘liquid gold’, is injected into the chosen area. Repairing kicks in when the new cells, blood vessels and the increase in collagen work to smooth out lines and wrinkles and add volume to the face.
Ita, who trained in Harley Street and is now training other practitioners in Britain.
Ita doesn’t like the term ‘vampire facelift’, dismissing it as a gimmick. She calls it ‘My Cells PRP’ and has been performing the procedure since 2006.
On average, she treats 10 to 15 people a week at her clinic, at a cost of •500 per treatment, which usually lasts up to a year. Apart from the immediate swelling and puffiness, which last a couple of days, there are no other side-effects.
The decision to undergo PRP is not taken lightly. "Most of the people I see have done their research," says Ita. "Thirty per cent of them would be men aged mid-40s and early 50s, whereas the women can be in their late 20s to, literally, 75.
"People think this is only for the rich or celebrities, but all of these treatments are very reasonably priced. If you weigh up what you spend on creams and facials, then I think they are affordable for most people once a year,’’ she says.
I do a quick tot in my head to check what I spend a year on beauty products - cleansers, moisturisers, face masks, etc - and am shocked to find it adds up to about •500.
Nearly everyone is suitable for PRP - only people suffering from skin cancer, blood disorders, or who are on antibiotics or on a high dose of medication, are prohibited as their platelets are of poor quality, and will not get a result.
"I always do a consultation first and would not treat someone if I didn’t think they would get a result,’’ she says.
"For me, PRP is a no-brainer. It is natural, the results are amazing and there is no issue with your body rejecting it as its your blood.’’
I am introduced to a client, Gillian O’Sullivan, 41, who was happy for me to attend her PRP treatment. A weight-management consultant and mum-of-two from Limerick, she looks much younger than her age.
"My eyes were really sagging, I felt old and tired. I would wake up with a crease line and it wouldn’t go away. I did my research and decided to go for PRP, as it is so natural. I know what I put into my body, it is my blood and I know it won’t be rejected,’’ she says.
After her first treatment last year, Gillian was so impressed with the results that it gave her the confidence to go for her first job interview in ten years and she got it.
"I would not have the confidence, before, to go for it,’’ she says. "I was competing with 20- and 30-year-olds, and when I said I was 40, they couldn’t believe it. I felt great.’’
This time, Gillian wants her eyes treated, again, for maintenance and also to have PRP around the small lines on her lips.
Ita leads us into her treatment room. It is white, very clinical, with a large mirror over the fireplace and a hospital-style bed in the middle of the room.
Dressed in a white coat, her hair tied back and wearing goggles, Ita takes out a camera and proceeds to take several close-up shots of Gillian’s eyes and lips, and then a couple of head shots for her records.
Once Gillian lies down, Ita smears numbing anaesthetic cream around her eyes and lips.
"Now we take the blood,’’ she says and sticks a needle into Gillian’s arm, quickly filling the test tube. Ita then places it into the centrifuge, for ten minutes, for it to separate into red blood cells, platelets and plasma. Ping! The tube is ready. "That is the ‘gold’,’’
Gillian takes a deep breath. Then, Ita quickly injects the plasma into Gillian’s skin, counting out aloud. "One, two, three, breathe out, one, two three, breathe out,’’ she instructs softly.
As the needle pierces the skin, small drops of blood appear. Ita wipes them away. Gillian looks calm and relaxed. "It doesn’t hurt,’’ she says. "I know I am in great hands. I trust her.’’
After treating both eyes, Ita examines Gillian’s lips. "Smile for me please,’’ she says, before sticking the needle into her skin. "Take a deep breath in, this is more sensitive but it will be worth doing. One, two, three, breathe out.’’
Again, small drops of blood appear around Gillian’s lips and they quickly begin to swell.
"Smile, relax your face, don’t worry, the swelling will go down in a couple of days. This will reduce the lines around your lips, it will plumb them up, too. Your husband might notice a difference,’’
Thirty-five minutes later, and it is over.
Gillian’s eyes look slightly swollen and her lips are puffy, but she is happy. Jumping off the bed, she examines her face in the mirror before applying a little bit of make-up.
"I am off to celebrate my mother’s birthday now,’’ she says. "It still feels a little bit numb, but I know that will wear off, and the swelling will go down within the next couple of days.’’
It will take six weeks before Gillian will see the final results, a factor which Ita says explains why she is the only person in Ireland practising PRP.
"If you have a filler, it is immediate; if you have Botox, you’ll see the results within five days. With this, you have to wait around six weeks.
"I think people [in the cosmetic industry] don’t want to practice it either. They think, ‘This will take an hour of my time for €500 and you don’t see the effects for a while. Whereas, I can inject a filler for •500, it takes ten minutes, you get an instant result and the patient leaves very happy’,’’ she says.
Dr Patrick Treacy, medical director of the Ailesbury Clinic, agrees. He says it is "very hard" to compete with the filler market because of the instant result it delivers. But Dr Treacy also says people may be put off by the ‘vampire facelift’ tag.
"I think the name is catchy, but actually puts people off, it is the wrong word for it,’’ he says.