An anti-ageing treatment made famous by Kim Kardashian could relieve the agony for women with a painful, intimate skin condition.
A Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) facial – also known as a ‘vampire facial’ – is said to plump and rejuvenate the skin by injecting the patients’ own blood into their face. But now, private clinics are using £1,350 PRP injections in intimate areas to treat lichen sclerosus, which causes patches of dry, broken skin to form around the genitals.
Patients have told The Mail on Sunday of remarkable improvements to the damaged skin following the treatment.
Kim Kardashian, pictured, had a vampire facial treatment which involves a patient’s own blood being injected back into their skin
It is hoped the treatment could provide relief to up to a million British women who suffer the painful complaint. Pictured, Kim Kardashian at the Annual Hollywood Beauty Awards in Los Angeles in February 2019
Despite this, just one high-quality study has tested its efficacy – and the findings were inconclusive. Researchers found no significant difference in genital skin quality between a group injected with PRP, and another with saline solution.
As just 29 patients participated in the study, the scientists concluded that more trials are needed to determine if PRP works for lichen sclerosus.
But experts have echoed the desperate need for new treatments and further research into this disorder which blights about a million British women.
Dr Louise Hayes, consultant gynaecologist at York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, says: ‘Lichen sclerosus has always been a neglected area of research and women are turning to treatments that aren’t yet backed by studies because they are desperate.’
She adds: ‘Hopefully, the increasing interest on menopausal health will help researchers get the funding they need for larger studies of PRP.’
Scientists are unsure exactly what causes lichen sclerosus, but it is thought to be triggered by a fault with the immune system.
It can affect both men and women but most commonly develops in women after the menopause.
Sufferers notice white, irritated, itchy and blistered patches appearing around the vulva, vagina and anus. Skin can tear and bleed.
If left untreated, the skin hardens, becomes tight and can form scar tissue over the entrance to the vagina and urethra – the tube through which urine exits the body, so sex and going to the toilet become extremely painful.
Currently, the only available treatment is steroid cream, which can be prescribed by a GP to reduce inflammation. But this provides only temporary relief from irritation and does not repair damaged tissue.
Currently, the only available treatment is steroid cream, which can be prescribed by a GP to reduce inflammation. But this provides only temporary relief from irritation and does not repair damaged tissue
PRP therapy, which lasts an hour, works by using the body’s healing abilities to regenerate injured skin. PRP facials became a sensation in 2013 after social media and TV star Kardashian had the procedure.
For lichen sclerosus, a numbing cream is first applied to the affected intimate area. Next, a blood sample is taken from a vein in the patient’s arm. The blood is placed into a centrifuge – a device that spins the blood at high force to extract special healing cells called platelets. Plasma, the liquid part of blood that contains essential repair cells, is also extracted.
Both are then injected into each affected area of the genitals and this stimulates the release of proteins and hormones which help new, healthy tissue to grow. Dr Shirin Lakhani, a dermatologist from Kent-based Elite Aesthetics who offers the treatment, says: ‘The treatment tricks the body into believing there is an injury and goes into repair mode. It makes diseased tissue healthy again.’
Susan Wood, 59, from Yorkshire, says PRP therapy has rid her of the stinging and soreness caused by lichen sclerosus. The former teacher first noticed symptoms in 2018 when she began experiencing agonising tearing during sex.
‘I noticed patches of the skin were white and often bled after going to the toilet or sex,’ she says.
After six months suffering in silence, Susan visited her GP, who diagnosed lichen sclerosus and prescribed steroids. These calmed flare-ups, but did not eradicate the sore scar tissue that had formed. Susan says: ‘I muddled through for years because I was told the condition was incurable. Eventually the pain became too much, and thankfully I found out about Dr Lakhani.’
Susan underwent the therapy in May. Within a couple of weeks, the skin looked healthy and plump – and the scars had softened. She says: ‘Sex is not uncomfortable any more because I don’t tear. It’s made a huge difference to my life.’
Dr Lakhani says the therapy has been helpful for 80 per cent of her patients and wants the treatment made available to all – since it is already available on the NHS to help repair joint injuries, including severe arthritis.
Dr Hayes says: ‘I’m aware that PRP works for some people. But it is difficult to know if the effect is somewhat psychological – what scientists call a placebo. So we need large numbers of patients before we can be sure if it works or not.’
Dr Paula Briggs, chair of the British Menopause Society, said it was important to ‘keep an open mind’ about the treatment.
‘PRP is increasingly popular and appears to do little harm,’ says Dr Briggs, who is also a sexual health and reproduction consultant for Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust.
‘NICE [the body that sanctions NHS treatments] will only recommend therapies that are backed by high-quality clinical trials.’
But just because something isn’t NICE-approved, it doesn’t mean it’s useless, she says, adding that laser therapy, though controversial, is very effective for women with incontinence – but NICE says it won’t approve it until it has more high-quality trials.
Susan Wood is convinced PRP should be available on the NHS.
‘This disease can affect your mental health, your identity as a woman and your sex life. But this therapy has given me hope,’ she says.
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