When I first read the headline announcing Miranda Kerr’s use of leeches in facials, this seemed like something that would have Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop-y fingerprints all over it. Turns out I was right: She made the remarks on a panel at this weekend’s In Goop Health summit in California.
“It’s adventurous,” Kerr said at the event. “Health is wealth. They’ve been doing leech therapy for thousands of years.”
Right, but that was before we had access to the wonders of modern medicine and didn’t have to visit our local barber-surgeon for our annual haircut and blood-letting.
Even Paltrow, who has made a second career of peddling ineffective and sometimes harmful “wellness” practices and products wasn’t on board, saying, “Wow! I thought I was bat-shit crazy!”
But if, like Kerr, intentionally covering your face in bloodsucking leeches sounds appealing, there are a few things you should know.
It may be convenient, but you absolutely should not go down to the creek in your parents’ backyard or your local park, pluck a few out of the water and then stick them on your forehead. They may all look like gross gelatinous water slugs, but there are specific medicinal leeches, and those are typically found in Europe — specifically, Hungary and Sweden.
Kerr is correct in saying that leeches have been used for therapeutic purposes for a very long time, but let this serve as a gentle reminder that not all long-held medical beliefs or treatments are valid (see: female hysteria, the four humors, bloodletting as a cure for basically everything).
The New York Times reported that Demi Moore has traveled to Austria for a “leech detox” and Heather Dubrow from The Real Housewives of Orange County even got a leech facial on air, saying, “Supposedly, the leech therapy brightens your skin, tightens your skin and gives you a youthful glow.”
Some of the chemical compounds found in leech saliva — the part that’s left behind when they suck blood — have been used in pharmaceutical drugs to treat hypertension, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, arthritis and some skin problems. But again, this is different from just sticking a live leech on your face.
Leeches are sometimes used to preserve soft tissue and promote healing following facial plastic surgery, assisting with blood clotting and a potentially faster recovery.
Infection occurs in between 2 and 36 percent of patients using leech therapy, which is 1) a pretty wide range and testament to the need for more clinical trials to take place if this is going to become a thing and 2) kind of on the high side. To prevent the spread of infections from patient-to-patient, leeches are discarded after only one use. This didn’t sit well with Kerr, who took the leeches home and put them in her koi pond.
There have also been reports of patients having negative reactions to the leeches, including itching, blisters and local tissue damage — another example of how just because something is “natural” it doesn’t mean you should put it on your skin (see: poison ivy).
Bottom line: There are so many options for facials out there, getting your blood sucked out by a leech really isn't necessary.
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