“Vampire Facial” Trend Leaves Three Women With HIV

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This marks the first documented HIV transmission through cosmetic services using needles.

© Csaba Deli - stock.adobe.com

blood sample © Csaba Deli - stock.adobe.com

Three women were diagnosed with HIV after receiving “vampire facials” at an unlicensed spa in New Mexico that reused disposable equipment, according to the results of a CDC investigation published last week.

The investigation lasted from 2018 to 2023 and 59 clients at the VIP Spa in Albuquerque were initially identified as at-risk for exposure from the facials.

“In fall 2018, on-site inspection of [VIP Spa] revealed multiple unsafe infection control practices,” the report reads. “A centrifuge, a heating dry bath, and a rack of unlabeled tubes containing blood were located on a kitchen counter. Unlabeled tubes of blood and medical injectables (i.e., botox and lidocaine) were stored in the kitchen refrigerator along with food. Unwrapped syringes were found in drawers, on counters, and discarded in regular trash cans. An autoclave (steam sterilizer) was not found on the premises.”

The case proved challenging for authorities because the spa owner did not have an appointment scheduling system that stored client information and so investigators from the CDC and the New Mexico Department of Health (NMDH) compiled and cross-referenced names from consent forms and handwritten appointment records with names on the state’s HIV registry.

The NMDOH was notified of the first case in the summer of 2018. The woman, who had recently received one of the facials, had no previously known HIV risk factors.

During a “vampire facial” (a platelet-rich plasma microneedling facial) a client’s blood is drawn from their face and separated into plasma and cells. The plasma is then injected into the client’s face to reduce the appearance of imperfections like wrinkles or acne scars. The procedure has gained popularity in recent years with celebrities such as Kim Kardashian touting the benefits.

VIP Spa closed in 2018. Maria Ramos De Ruiz, the spa owner, pled guilty to five counts of practicing medicine without a license in late 2022 and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison, according to KRQE News, a local Albuquerque news station.

Members of the NMDOH investigative team advertised local HIV testing events to community centers and local businesses and health alerts were sent to health providers in New Mexico. As a result, 198 additional former VIP Spa clients have been tested. Free HIV testing is still available and encouraged.

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