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By now you're probably familiar with, or at least have heard of the "vampire facial," a skin treatment that essentially uses your own blood to help facilitate a glowing, youthful complexion. What you probably haven't heard of is that there's a similar treatment for hair loss, and yes, it requires your blood, too.
It's called platelet-rich plasma, aka PRP, says Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Here's how it works: "Our blood is made of two main components, red blood cells, and plasma," he says. "The plasma contains white blood cells and platelets, which are rich in growth factors."
Growth factors, in a sense, play the role of messengers, signaling skin cells to function. In fact, they've been used in medicine to treat a range of health issues, including arthritis, signs of aging, etc. The good news for anyone with thinning hair, says Zeichner, is that growth factors can "help stimulate the activity of the hair follicles and promote new hair growth."
The use of PRP is "a great treatment option for hair loss because it has a number of scientifically based articles showing its efficacy increasing hair count, hair thickness, and the growth phase of the hair cycle," says Neil Sadick, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City and the director of the Sadick Research Group for understanding and treating hair loss.
In her Washington, D.C., practice, board-certified dermatologist Tina Alster combines PRP with other clinically proven solutions for hair loss, including oral supplementation (like Best of Beauty winner Nutrafol) and topicals like Rogaine.
As with most procedures, there is a careful process involved in using PRP for hair regrowth, beginning with a standard blood draw from the patient's arm. Next, Zeichner says, “the tube of blood is put into a machine called a centrifuge, which spins the blood tube to separate out the red blood cells from the plasma." The plasma, which is rich in platelets, is then injected directly into the scalp at the level of the hair follicles.
The process is meticulous — with injections beginning across the scalp, approximately at every half inch over the area of thinning hair — but typically, the entire procedure takes less than a half-hour.
It might sound scary (blood draws and needles?!), but for the most part, there's no real risk associated with PRP. "Most patients get injections without any numbing, as there is minimal discomfort," says Zeichner. "However, cool air or ice packs may be used to minimize pain." In the event there is any discomfort, Tylenol after the procedure is also recommended. Bruising can occur but usually resolves within a week or two.
Minimal downtime, if any, is needed, while Zeichner adds, "I personally recommend a warm shower, as the hot temperature will enhance blood flow and circulation throughout the scalp," he says. This means going a day (or two) without your typical hair maintenance (coloring, processing, blow-drying, etc.).
Anyone experiencing hair loss is essentially a good candidate for PRP treatments, but those with early hair loss tend to respond best, says Sadick. "PRP is best used for patients with androgenic alopecia, which is a genetically determined type of hair thinning that typically occurs along the top of the head," adds Zeichner. In women, this might look like a widening part with normal hair thickness at the back of the head.
For best results, consistency is key. Treatments are typically performed once a month for the first three to four months, and then every three to six months thereafter, depending on the individual patient's response and results. Following this protocol, anticipated results can first be seen within two to three months, says Sadick.
"The first result that patients usually note is decreased hair shedding, followed by early regrowth and increased length of hair," says Sadick. "The general consensus is that receiving treatments every three to six months on a long-term basis are optimal for continuing to stimulate the growth factors and stem cells that are associated with regrowth and stopping hair fallout."
Like we said, it's important to keep in mind that PRP can, and should, be a part of a multifaceted program to treat hair thinning and loss. Your dermatologist may prescribe you spironolactone or finasteride to help promote hair regrowth as well if you are post-menopausal, says Zeichner.