What Is PRP And How Is It Used?

What Is PRP And How Is It Used?

It’s not often that we get to talk about vampires, skincare, and sports injuries in the same sentence, but there is one medical treatment that unites these seemingly separate worlds. It’s called platelet-rich plasma (PRP), and it’s been growing in popularity in recent years. But how does it work – and, for that matter, does it actually work at all?

What is PRP?

PRP is obtained using a sample of a patient’s blood. A tube of this blood is then spun at high speed in a centrifuge, a process that separates its different components into distinct layers.

One of these layers is plasma, which contains a high concentration of platelets. These colorless cells have a key function in helping the blood to clot, so they play a crucial role in wound healing

The PRP can be extracted and then injected back into different areas of the body.

How is PRP used?

People have been interested in the potential applications of PRP for decades, across various medical disciplines. Here’s a rundown of just a few.

Bone grafts

The main way in which PRP is used in clinical practice – and the use for which most preparation systems have been granted FDA clearance – is for bone grafts.

Bone grafts can theoretically be performed in any area of the body, but they are commonly used in dentistry when bone loss has occurred in part of the jaw. This may be necessary before receiving a dental implant, for example.

Material from your own body, donor material from another person or animal, or completely synthetic material can be used. It essentially provides a scaffold on which the body can get to work growing new bone tissue. 

PRP is used in this context to help the process along, as some believe it can help speed up bone regeneration.

Sports medicine

For a number of years, sports medicine practitioners have been exploring the use of PRP to help heal soft tissue injuries. This can include injuries to the tendons, ligaments, muscles, or cartilage, and even the early stages of damage associated with osteoarthritis.

The theory goes that injecting a concentrated dose of platelets to the site of an injury might help supercharge the healing process, since these cells are well-known for their role in natural tissue repair.

“Vampire” facials

People are always looking for the next big thing in anti-aging skincare, so it’s not all that surprising that someone had the bright idea of injecting PRP into the face to see if it can reverse wrinkles.

So-called vampire facials using PRP have become a favored treat for celebrities and influencers, with practitioners promising glowing results that only get better with time. It can be pricey, and images of blood-spattered faces mid-treatment may put off the squeamish – not forgetting the small, but very real risk, of bloodborne infections

Hair regrowth

A clinical trial back in 2015 suggested that injecting PRP into the scalp could be beneficial for treating androgenic alopecia. The thinking was that growth factors released by platelets could stimulate stem cells in the scalp to generate new follicles, thereby boosting hair growth. 

Does PRP treatment actually work?

You could go out tomorrow and book yourself a vampire facial, but that doesn’t mean that the evidence base for PRP is rock solid.

As explained by Johns Hopkins Medicine, doctors are allowed to prescribe PRP if they feel it will benefit a patient, but most uses of the treatment are still considered “investigational”. Evidence from scientific studies to back up the different uses of PRP vary substantially. 

The American Academy of Dermatology says that there are lots of unanswered questions about the use of PRP in facials, and very few studies have been conducted. The procedure doesn’t appear to cause harm for most people, at least as long as proper infection control procedures are followed, but there are simply no guarantees that you will get the results you’re hoping for.

In sports medicine, a 2010 review concluded that much of the excitement around PRP was based on animal studies, and that human studies were lacking. Similarly, 10 years later, a review of the literature focusing specifically on the use of PRP in healing bone fractures concluded that its routine use “cannot be recommended” due to conflicting evidence.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in the UK does not recommend PRP for routine use in treating osteoarthritis of the knee, due to a lack of quality evidence, while the American College of Rheumatology specifically warned against the procedure in 2019 guidelines. 

In dentistry, arguably the longest-standing use of this treatment, a 2020 study reported, “Positive impact of PRP on long-term implant survival and success could not be found,” after following a small group of dental implant recipients for an average of 13 years.

And finally, the clinical trial that looked at PRP for hair loss was very small, including only 20 individuals who were all male. More research will be needed to confirm any benefits of using PRP in this patient population.

A whiff of promise?

The overall picture is pretty shaky, but there is one area where the treatment is showing some promise, which has come to light only recently. There are hopes that PRP could benefit those experiencing sustained anosmia – the loss of sense of smell – following a bout of COVID-19.

A 2023 study found that patients undergoing PRP injections into the nose had improved olfactory function after 10 weeks. This followed a similarly positive earlier study in 2022, and a review of the data so far in 2024 found evidence that PRP “is a promising and safe therapeutic option” for these patients. 

Perhaps we’re about to see a PRP treatment with more hard evidence to back it up. For now, if you really fancy getting a facial with your own blood, be picky about the provider you use. And maybe don’t expect miracles.

All “explainer” articles are confirmed by fact checkers to be correct at time of publishing. Text, images, and links may be edited, removed, or added to at a later date to keep information current. 

The content of this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.  

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