It’s no secret that Beauty by the Geeks are big fans of natural beauty products. From coconut oil in moisturisers to seaweed in face masks, we like to think we’d give anything a go if it’s got a little savvy science behind it! But another natural (not-so off-the-shelf) beauty treatment has popped up on our radar – Leech therapy! Whilst a little unconventional, we want to know if leeches mainlining your blood like its happy hour at Wetherspoons could actually benefit skin. So without further a-do, on with the science!

In medieval times, leeches were used medicinally to restore the body’s “humors” (bodily fluids): blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. Whilst today we all know that the human body is slightly more complex than this, it would appear that those medieval doctors might have been on to something. Medicinal leeches have been found to secrete saliva that contains 60 different proteins.

Several of these proteins, the primary example being Hirudin, act as anti-coagulants, which means they act to stop the blood clotting. Such proteins also act as vasodilators meaning they dilate the blood vessels. Hirudin also inhibits platelet aggregation, which acts to stop platelets forming scabs for wounds. Also, when the leech is isolated to one region, it promotes blood flow, which combats diseases and conditions associated with poor circulation.

Interestingly, the anti-coagulating effects of the Hirudin in leech saliva has been put to use in surgery. Leech therapy has been used to in both plastic surgery and small limb reattachment to stop initiation healing of stitches so alterations can be made shortly after surgery!

So far the uses of leech therapy, whilst ingenious, are not what we’d call a relaxing beauty therapy. There are a growing number of people, celebrities amongst them, who have tried leech therapy for cosmetic purposes: the ‘leech face lift’. Demi Moore hit the headlines after admitting to having had this controversial beauty treatment, and for a woman who looks staggeringly good for her age, the interest in leech therapy only increased.
BUT, before you head to the river to collect leeches….

A ‘leech facelift’ uses both leech enzymes and blood… OK, we hear the cries of disgust, and despite being self-professed open minded individuals, we must admit that there are only several things less appealing than having blood and leech juice being put all over your face!

Leeches don’t just supply a variety of proteins – their saliva also contains a host of lipids (fats). Lipids are essential active ingredients in a range of skin care products, but how do leech lipids match up to these? Phosphatidic acids and free fatty acids represent the largest proportion of lipids in leech saliva. In particular, topical free fatty acid application has been shown to influence the lipid makeup of the skin, and topical lipids are known to be good skin conditioners and moisturisers (after all, it’s usually these fatty acid components of oils that bestow them with moisturising benefits!). However, we’re not sure how this all adds together in the context of leeches suckling on our skin, and there’s not an awful lot out there about the exact effects of leeches and their saliva on the beauty side of things!

So how far would you go for Beauty? If you can stomach the idea of leeches nibbling on your blood and then being used in facemasks, then at least it looks like you’ll be able to sell your story to the glossy mags! As far as the science is concerned, the circulation-stimulation side of things looks promising, but there are more conventional alternatives out there to leech therapy! Here at Beauty by the Geeks, we’re a little fussy about what we’re prepared to put on our skin, and parasitic guests seem a little too dark age for us, but each to their own!

For other great skin and anti-ageing treatments take a look at:

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