Women Diagnosed With HIV After “Vampire Facial” Procedures Popularized by Kim Kardashian

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At least three women were diagnosed with HIV after receiving a bloody "vampire facial" at a New Mexico wellness spa, an alarming Center for Disease Control (CDC) report reveals.

According to the report, the case represents the first documented transmission of HIV via contaminated cosmetic injections — not to mention a grim warning about the dangers that occur when unlicensed and ill-equipped practitioners blur the boundaries between the beauty, wellness, and medical industries.

"Vampire facial" is the colloquial term for what's medically known as a "PRP" facial, PRP being short for "platelet-rich plasma. Popularized in 2013 after the reality television celebrity Kim Kardashian posted a bloody mid-treatment selfie, the practice could be considered a supercharged, somewhat macabre version of the common — and far less gory — practice of microneedling. Practitioners first draw blood from a patient, then use a machine to separate the blood sample's platelets. In some cases, the platelets are applied topically; most often, though, they're then re-injected into a patient's complexion using a series of tiny needles. And to be very clear, the treatment is purely cosmetic, which is to say that there aren't any medical benefits — the practice is mainly touted as a skin-tightening anti-aging treatment.

The case in New Mexico centers on an unlicensed Albuquerque facility dubbed VIP Spa, which the CDC began investigating — and promptly closed down — just a few months after the first known HIV-positive patient of the spa's vampiric service was diagnosed in 2018. According to the report, the government body's inspection quickly discovered that the spa's safety practices were horrifyingly nonexistent.

A "centrifuge, a heating dry bath, and a rack of unlabeled tubes containing blood were located on a kitchen counter," reads the report, adding that "unlabeled tubes of blood and medical injectables were stored in the kitchen refrigerator along with food." The report further notes that "unwrapped syringes were found in drawers, on counters, and discarded in regular trash cans," and there was no sign of a steam sterilizer — the standard means of ensuring that medical equipment has been properly sterilized — on the premises. Worst of all, both needles and blood vials showed signs of reuse.

In short, the place was a medical malfeasance nightmare. Ultimately, investigators determined that VIP Spa had been patronized by two patients with confirmed HIV diagnoses, and nucleotide analyses concluded that the three VIP Spa clients who tested positive for HIV for the first time after visiting the facility had been infected by similar strains — even though they were each previously considered to be at low risk for contracting the illness.

"These are people who had no known risks for HIV acquisition," CDC epidemiologist Anna Stadelman-Behar, who investigated the case, told The Washington Post. "It was a shock to them definitely."

Per WaPo, former VIP Spa owner Maria de Lourdes Ramos De Ruiz, 62, pled guilty in 2022 to five counts of practicing medicine without a license and is currently serving out a three-and-a-half-year sentence.

According to HIV activists, the consequences of her malfeasance are a sobering reminder that HIV isn't a threat reserved for historically vulnerable groups of people.

"People need to understand it's not just certain types of people who contract HIV. It's not, 'Well, that can't happen to me. I'm just going to get a facial, and I'm not one of 'those people,'" executive director of the Southern AIDS Coalition Dafina Ward told WaPo, "It's not a 'those people' disease. And that is the stigma we are working to eradicate."

If you're suddenly finding yourself ferociously pressing cancel on an upcoming vampire facial appointment, we should stress that when provided by licensed medical personnel, PRP treatments aren't considered dangerous.

But that said, through another lens, the VIP Spa incident indeed fits into a broader tapestry of the lines often crossed and confused when the beauty and wellness industries dabble in the medical realm. If you're seeking this or any treatment involving injections — botox, filler, microneedling, and so on — we'd recommend taking some time to confirm that the facility you're due to be treated at is licensed to perform the procedure. If they aren't, steer clear. The risks are real.

More on cosmetic treatments: Celebrities Are Permanently Damaging Their Teeth for a "Perfect Smile," but It's Coming Back to Haunt Them Later