There’s no better place to confess indulging in weird or off-the-wall beauty treatments than in the presence of Gwyneth Paltrow at the Goop Health Summit. Miranda Kerr did just that over the weekend when she sat on a star-studded panel of beauty and lifestyle experts—including Cameron Diaz, Nicole Richie, Tory Burch and Paltrow herself—and spoke about her experience with leech therapy.
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“I’ve had a leech facial,” said Kerr. “I kept the leeches, they’re in my koi pond. You’re not allowed to reuse them, and if you don’t take them home, then she kills them, and I didn’t like that idea.” The model and KORA Organics beauty brand owner also admitted to using leech therapy on her tailbone.
Surprisingly enough, Paltrow, the queen of bizarre beauty treatments (including bee sting treatments and vaginal steaming) confessed that even she hadn’t tried leeches yet. “Wow! I thought I was bats—crazy!,” she said.
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So what’s so special about leeches? Although the Food and Drug Administration approved them as “medical devices” in 2004, their primary use in medicine has been in reconstructive surgery and microsurgery to help severed veins regain blood flow. Leech therapy has been around for a very long time, but the use of leeches as an anti-aging treatment is a rather recent, celebrity-driven trend (Demi Moore and The Real Housewives of Orange County’s Heather Dubrow are also fans). The idea is that when leeches bite their prey, they feed on the blood while simultaneously injecting numerous substances with a variety of bioactive peptides.
We asked Greenwich, CT, dermatologist Lynne Haven, MD, if leech facials are effective and if they can really make a difference for your skin. According to Dr. Haven, there are far better ways to anti-age than employing the use of blood sucking leeches. “Historically, leeches have been used because they have an anticoagulant, so they’ve been used for bloodletting, or to increase blood flow to a skin flap or graft,” she says. “If you’re a normal, healthy person there is no medical reason to use a leech. And I think that leech facials don’t make any sense.”
If you’re looking for the best anti-aging treatments, Dr. Haven says you’re likely to achieve better results with some tried-and-true skin care services that don’t involve slimy, blood sucking creatures: “I would not recommend a leech facial, some people can have an allergic reaction to the anticoagulant they produce called hirudin. There’s really no proven benefit and we have so many proven techniques, therapies and topicals with science behind them, that there’s really no reason to follow this fad. For overall anti-aging, I would prefer a fractionated laser, topical retinoids, antioxidants and other proven treatments that have been shown to really make a difference in lines and wrinkles.”