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Vampire Facials

Johhny Depp Dark Shadows
My, what lovely skin you have! Barnabas Collins (Johhny Depp) in Dark Shadows (2012). (Warner Bros./Via Inquirer Movies)

Vampires in novels, TV and film like Damon Salvatore, Lestat de Lioncourt, Angel, Eric Northman, and Edward Cullen are portrayed as sexy and seductive, showcasing flawless beautiful skin. Come to think of it, have you ever seen a vampire with a blemish?

barlow1
Ok, bad example. But you gotta admit, he’s a nice shade of blue. Kurt Barlow (Reggie Nalder) in ‘Salem’s Lot (1979). (Warner Bros./Via Movie Morlocks)

How are we humans supposed to compete with unobtainable immortality and that airbrushed supermodel look? Sure, we can follow the usual suggestions like eating a healthy diet, follow an exercise regime, get the recommended 8 hours of sleep a night—or, we can jump on the media-hyped Vampire Facial train and melt those year away with our own body fluids!

The “vampire facial” went viral when socialite, Kim Kardashian, spotlighted the beauty procedure on Kourtney & Kim Take Miami (Season 3, Episode 8, “Miami VICEs”), which aired on March 10, 2013Kardashian had the procedure done at the Miami Institute for Age Management and Intervention and posted this now-famous picture to her Instagram account that same day:

Screen Shot 2014-08-10 at 4.32.39 PM
pixxie_duzt’s comment takes “vampire facial” to a whole new level. (Instagram/kimkardashian)

It wasn’t until I saw “vampire facials” popping on Google Alerts during July 2014, that I started to formulate some questions on this resurfaced celebrity-endorsed fad. What is a “vampire facial?” Who created this morbid beauty craze? Why did it pop up again, over a year later in the media?

What Is a Vampire Facial?

Let’s start with defining “facial.” According to Wikipedia, it

is a procedure involving a variety of skin treatments, including: steam, exfoliation, extraction, creams, lotions, facial masks, peels, and massage. They are normally performed in beauty salons but are also a common spa treatment.

When I went in search of a definition for “vampire facial”, I came across the procedure’s official website. Initially, what caught my eye on the site was a reproduction of Kardashian’s Instagram photo and a legal notice:

The Vampire Facial ® is protected by US Patent & Trademark Law. Only providers listed on this site know the trade secrets of  the Vampire Facial® and own license to use the name.  Any others using the name “Vampire Facial” (or any variation) violate trademark law, may be doing an inferior procedure, and are subject to prosecution.

My ears perked at the mention of “patent and trademark,” but I’ll get back to that in a bit. The website goes on to explain the actual procedure:

First, the physician (1)  isolates growth factors from the patient’s blood.  Then (2), the provider uses a micro-needling device to create multiple micro-punctures –both driving the isolated growth factors into the skin & creating stimulus for tightening and rejuvenation of the collagen of the face. Then (3), these provider paints the growth factors onto the micro-punctures so that the growth factors soak into the tissue for further stimulation of tightening and skin rejuvenation. The skin tightens, and glows with color, and scaring softens for a beautiful younger and very natural result.

What I found interesting, lower down the page, underneath the video captioned “12 Tiny Needles on the Head Move Up & Down at 8 Thousand Times per Minute!,” was a link to a “Vampire Facelift” article by Wikipedia user, Aatkii. I had only been looking for “vampire facials” at that point; now “vampire facelifts” had been added into the equation.

Vampire Facials? Facelifts? What’s the Difference?

According to the official “Vampire FaceliftWikipedia entry, a vampire facelift is

a name for a non-surgical cosmetic procedure involving the reinjection of a gel-like substance—platelet rich fibrin matrix (PRFM)—derived from a patient’s own blood back into multiple areas of the skin of their face in an effort to treat wrinkles and “rejuvenate” the face. Vampire Facelift is a registered trademark of Dr. Charles Runels in the United States since May 24, 2011. Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) is blood plasma that has been enriched with platelets. When activated, either by thrombin or calcium chloride, PRP takes on the form of a viscous gel (PRFM) containing high levels of several platelet-derived growth factors (cytokines) that may then be injected into the face in much the same manner as other dermal fillers such as Juvederm and Restylane.

Trademarkia also confirms Dr. Runels’ 2011 trademark. I went searching again and came across an official website for the “Vampire Facelift.” The layout was pretty damn close to the official Vampire Facial site. Same fonts, background colours and it also branded a video featuring an image of Kim Kardashian at the top of the page, all glammed up. It also had a similar legal notice stating the following:

Only providers listed on this site know the trade secrets of  the Vampire FaceLift® and own license to use the name.  Any others using the name “Vampire Facelift” (or any variation) violate trademark law, may be doing an inferior procedure, and are subject to prosecution.

This website went on to explain the vampire facelift procedure:

First, the injector (1) uses HA fillers to create a beautiful shape. (2) Then, the physician isolates growth factors from the patient’s blood.  (3) When these growth factors enter the face (injected by the physician), then muti-potent stem cells become activated to grow new tissue.  This new tissue includes new collagen, new fatty tissue (for smoothness), and new blood vessels (for a healthy glow).

To help explain the difference between a vampire facial and facelift, here’s what Bio Fusion Aesthetic Institute’s Dr. Kevin Aister says in a company post titled, “Ironing Out the Myths of Vampire Facials and Vampire Facelifts” (July 30, 2014):

Although the name may derive from blood-sucking creatures, there’s nothing horror inducing about a Vampire Facial procedure or Vampire Facelift. In fact, blood isn’t even used…at least not in the way you would think. (You can blame that misconception on Kim K who had a blood facial, NOT a Vampire Facial)

He added:

While both procedures use PRP [Platelet Rich Plasma], they differ in how PRP is applied. In a Vampire Facial, PRP is placed topically on the face and impregnated onto the skin with a micropen. Whereas, with a Vampire Facelift, PRP is injected straight into the skin along with a hyaluronic acid filler. The results for both is silky. Although the Vampire Facelift is more invasive than the Vampire Facial, the results are more pronounced. The injection of PRP into the skin helps to rejuvenate deep tissues within the face and add volume to thinning areas. However, the topical application of PRP only works to blunt surface problem areas, resulting in color and texture changes, not changes in volume.

Now we know what a vampire facial and facelift is. The next question, is where did the procedure come from and who is responsible for this morbid beauty craze?

When Did the Treatment Originate?

Interestingly enough, The University of Iowa’s Department of Orthopaedics & Rehabilitation states platelet rich plasma is an old skool solution from the 1980s. Here’s what their “Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) Injection” page has to say:

Since the initial use of PRP in 1987 following an open-heart surgery PRP has been safely used and documented in many fields including; orthopedics, sports medicine, dentistry, ENT, neurosurgery, ophthamology, urology, cardiothoracic, and maxillofacial surgery. This treatment option focuses on promoting the healing potential of the body to heal injuries through concentrating growth factors from the patient’s own blood.

It seems like doctors have just found a new marketable use for an old treatment.

Vampire Facials, Facelifts—and More!

The treatment doesn’t just stop with facials and facelifts. While browsing the official Vampire Facelift site, I noticed a link which read: “Click here to also see the Vampire Breast Lift® Procedure.” Yes folks, the “vampire” beauty train doesn’t stop at the face! Here’s a video:

The link featured on the official Vampire Facelift site opens another official site: Vampire Breastlift. Once again, I was met with similar fonts, background, legal notice and videos as seen on the previous two “vampire” sites.

Vampire Facial, Vampire Facelift, Vampire Breastlift -- Comparison
Left to right: Screencaps of homepages for Vampire Facial, Vampire Facelift, and Vampire Breastlift, taken September 30, 2014. Click on picture to enlarge. (Vampire Facial/Vampire Facelift/Vampire Breastlift)

It also had links to Vampire Facelift and it uses the same ideology as the other two procedures and guarantees to make the girls more perkier than ever! Clearly, this was the work of the same company. Here is the procedure listed for the Vampire Breastlift on its official site:

First, the injector (1) isolates growth factors from the patient’s blood.  (2) When these growth factors enter the breast (injected by the physician), then muti-potent stem cells become activated to grow new tissue.  This new tissue includes new collagen, new fatty tissue (for smoothness), and new blood vessels (for a healthy glow).

The real icing on the cake for the “vampire” procedures was a link shared at the bottom of all three “Vampire” websites. It states, “The Same Technology Used in the Face Can be Used to Rejuvenate the Female Genitalia for Improved Sexuality and Decreased Urinary Incontinence,” and takes you to a website called O-Shot (R) Procedure. Scroll down a little, and you come across this disclaimer:

Please Beware! The Orgasm Shot® (O-Shot®) procedure is a very specific method of using blood-derived growth factors to rejuvenate the vagina to help relieve women with urinary incontinence and sex problems. Done in the wrong way, results could be useless or worse. The names “Orgasm Shot” and “O-Shot” were awarded to Charles Runels, MD (the first to do the procedure) and are protected by US Patent & Trademark law.  All physicians qualified & licensed to use the names are listed on this website.  Any physician who uses either name but who is not listed on this website is not certified to do the procedure, is violating trademark/patent laws, and should not be trusted. Also, the advanced techniques of the providers listed here make the uncomfortable process of  “VAGINAL MAPPING”  NOT necessary.

Clearly, these treatments stem from the same source, so let’s take a look at who’s behind this recent resurgence.

Who’s Behind These “Vampire” Procedures?

The most obvious starting point was checking who the sites were registered to. According to DomainTools, vampirefacial.com is registered to Conrad Runels, vampirefacelift.com is registered to Charles Runels and vampirebreaslift.com is registered to Ed Runels.

Conrad Runels has his own website, yet Charles Runels, MD, is profiled on its homepage and about page. Charles also has his own site, identical to Conrad’s, meanwhile, the website listed at the top of the homepage, TempleRepair.com, leads to an identical site also registered to Charles Runels. What’s with all these different—yet similar—websites? Was there a connection between Conrad, Charles and Ed?

I thought they might be brothers; after all, they share the same surname, their websites are very similar and they’re in the same profession. Perhaps it’s a family trade. I sought clarity from Charles and emailed him for answers.

He told me, “My son, Conrad, builds some of my websites and helps others” (August 21, 2014) and in a phone interview with Charles on August 27, 2014, he said, “I have over 100 websites for real, so he [Conrad] built some of them. I’m not trying to hide anything. It’s just sometimes he builds them, sometimes he signs up with his accounts.” And Ed Runels? “That’s me,” Charles stated in his September 30, 2014 email reply.

Dr. Charles Runels

Dr. Charles Edward Runels, Jr., MD, is an Alabama-based doctor, board-certified in internal medicine and author of Vampire Facelift: The Secret Blood Method to Revive Youth & Restore Beauty (2013). Runels states his licensing, training, and processes are a necessity to ensure quality for clients. Doctors that wish to offer the service must pay for specialized training and permission to use his techniques and hyaluronic acid fillers.

How much does the procedure cost? According to Catherine Saint Louis’ New York Times article, “‘Vampire Face-Lifts’: Smooth at First Bite” (March 2, 2011), “Any doctors who want to promote the vampire face-lift must pay Dr. Runels $47 a month to follow his protocol, posted online.”

This little beauty wonder doesn’t come cheap either, usually costing about $1,500 a pop according to Nicole Lyn Pesce’s New York Daily News article, “Kim Kardashian’s $1,500 ‘Vampire Facial’ Is a Hollywood Hit That Promises Younger, Firmer-Looking Skin” (March 12, 2013, 6:00 a.m.)

Once the procedure is completed, the patient can supposedly see improvements with the vampire facelift for up to 3 months and the effects can last from 1 to 2 years. The website for the American Cosmetic Cellular Medicine Association (ACCMA)—an organisation founded by Dr. Runels, as his LinkedIn profile reveals—features a directory of certified doctors, qualified to perform the procedure. Interestingly, the ACCMA’s membership application page also mentions:

Physicians doing the Vampire Facelift (R) use a device proven to the FDA to produce PRP in a sterile and effective way. The use of PRP in the face is supported by research but is not proven by the routes required by the FDA–the Video on this page explains more.

Spiritual Medicine?

During my research, I also became aware of an interesting spiritual dimension to Runels’ procedures and products. For instance, the quote at the top of conradrunels.com—”EVERY WOMAN & MAN IS SCULPTOR AND PAINTER OF THE BODY-TEMPLE”—also appears on its about page, and TempleRepair.com’s about page, too, elaborating it as a quote from Henry David Thoreau’s novel, Walden (1854), yet the body-as-temple analogy is probably more recognisable by its appearance in the Bible, specifically with passages like:

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Indeed, other spiritual analogies also crop up in Runel’s work. His company, Temple Repair Skin Care, sells “Blessed Cream“, tagged, “After 3 years of research, and 21 years of working with patients (with a few prayers along the way), Dr. Runels presents, Blessed Cream (R).” A picture in the site’s slider says, “Anoint” your face with Blessed Cream®”.

Another picture in the slider shouts back to Runels’ well-known treatment: “Developed by the designer of the Vampire Facelift®, Charles Runels, MD”, adding it is “The perfect compliment to both Retin A and to the Vampire Facelift®.”

Blessed_Cream_Anoint_your_body_with_Blessed_Cream_(R)_-_2014-08-19_13.46.20
Excerpt from Blessed Cream’s homepage slider. Screenshot taken August 19, 2014. (Temple Repair Skin Care/Blessed Cream)

Spirituality seems to be a major, long-standing component of Runels’ work. For instance, here’s how Amazon user, H. Anlar, summarised Runels’ book Anytime…for as Long as You Want: Strength, Genius, Libido & Erection by Integrative Sex Transmutation (2004), in a review titled, “Tells You Nothing That You Don’t Already Know…” (March 4, 2009):

The book tells you this: Jog, don’t drink, don’t smoke, read the bible and squeeze your penis if you want to delay ejaculation. For goodness sake, I can’t understand how it gets raving reviews. This didn’t need to be a book, he cook have said what he did just in a few pages, a leaflet or something.

I sought further clarity on the spiritual dimension given such prominence in Runels’ work, so asked him to “expand on the spiritual references on [his] medical sites” and “how . . . they coordinate with [his] profession as a doctor” during my August 27 phone interview. He said,

Well, I think that most people realize what every idea of a spirit is. Her body is necessary at least on this plane, to be present on this planet and so in that sense it is a sacred house for your body. Call it temple, call it a body, call it whatever you want. But it’s the most viable thing you have to live in and I think it deserves to be thought about as a sacred thing.

Adding,

Well, that’s what you do as doctors. You’re not so much in charge of people’s souls, you’re in charge of that physical thing they walk around in. So that’s sacred, if you’re taking care of something sacred then that’s a very honourable and sacred thing to do.

Self-Promotion

Runels has his hands in all sorts of cookie jars; patents, trademarks, 100 websites, beauty creams, and writing books. He is also the owner of a marketing company called Gladius Marketing Inc that specializes in creating websites for clients. Having a marketing background and now knowing he owns a website design marketing firm, I have to say I was expecting more of a professional layout for his sites.

They seem to be relying heavily on influential videos for new potential clients. Don’t get me wrong, all the procedural information is supplied for the consumer, which is a necessity. I just figured having photographs showing before and after pics like most plastic surgeons use as a selling point, would be beneficial.

I know from personal experience years ago, the pictures of the doctor’s patients is what sold me on the work I had done.  After all, if your business is making people look good, it makes sense to show the new and improved you as a testimonial. This is standard marketing 101 and what people leaning on the fence need to see.

Now, where his sites seem lacking, it is made up for in his promotional media exposure. Runels pulled off a clever marketing campaign in February 2014, when he partnered with The Oscars and provided a voucher for $2,700 to “help a woman’s sex drive.”

According to Brad Brevet’s Rope of Silicon article, “The 2014 Oscar Swag Bag: Free Hair Transplants to Vaginal Rejuvenation & Lollipops” (February 28, 2014, 12:41 p.m.), the voucher was included in extravagant swag bags, valued at $85,000. BBC News also highlighted Vampire Facelifts in its report, “‘Vampire Facelifts’ and LA’s Other Pre-Oscar Beauty Tips” (February 27, 2014; updated 07:48 GMT).

Meanwhile, the O-Shot was also featured in a Cosmopolitan (UK) article called, “Could Surgery Give You an Oscar-Winning Orgasm?” (July 2014).

Speaking of marketing, Vampire Facelift isn’t aggressive with their social media on their website or they simply forgot to include it. Vampire Facelift can be found on Facebook along with 7,443 likes and so can Vampire Breastlift with 2,029 likes. They are also on Twitter, but the account hasn’t been active since March 25, 2013.

Résumé Gap

For all his work, there is a notable gap in his résumé. I mentioned Runels’ LinkedIn profile before: while researching this article, I noticed a hole between 1999 and 2011 in his profile. Nothing was accounted for. When I asked him to clarify this gap during our August 27 phone interview, he said,

I did some research with hypertension medicine. I did some research with Glucomol, vaccines, pulmonary medicine, and wrote a couple of books. So I mean I just don’t fit everything on LinkedIn. But I haven’t really looked at LinkedIn much in the past 3 months or so.

Before seeking Runels’ say, I thought there might’ve been another motive for omitting this period from his career overview: Healthgrades revealed a number of “Board Actions” and a “Sanction” invoked against him, on his “Experience” page. I also turned up an US FDA investigation going back to 2004.

To his credit, Runels didn’t shy from answering questions about these investigations and actions taken against him in our August 27 phone interview. Not only did he address the charges, but the latest “Board Action,” dated January 31, 2013, listed on Healthgrades, mentions his “License Reinstatement without Restrictions.” A transcript of our phone interview, providing further elaboration, will be published shortly.

The Rise of “Vampire” Procedures

The major question left nagging me was why now? Why is the Vampire Facelift gaining speed in the media again? Was the introduction of the O-Shot and the Oscar promotion influencing consumers? After looking into the matter there seems to be a number of reasons that contributed to the build up from March 2013.

There were early signs the vampire facial had entrenched itself in popular consciousness. On June 3, 2013, Vogue Italia released a video of a behind-the-scenes photoshoot with supermodel, Gisele Bundchen, for the magazine’s June 2013 cover.

Charlotte Cowles’ NY Magazine article, “Gisele Gets a Vampire Facial, Butt-Cupping in Italian Vogue” (June 3, 2013, 5:05 p.m.), asked, “Does this mean Kim Kardashian can now claim to be an inspiration to [photographer Steven] Meisel?”

Meanwhile, George Stark’s Daily Mail article, “No Pain No Gain! Gisele Bundchen Pokes Fun at Hollywood’s Wackiest Beauty Crazes… in New Vogue Italia Shoot” (June 6, 2013, 08:13 AEST; Updated 20:39 AEST), saw light-hearted mockery:

They are bizarre Hollywood beauty treatments that have been tested by the likes of Jennifer Aniston and Kim Kardashian.

And it appears supermodel Gisele Bundchen, 32, may have been poking a little fun at them as she recreated the procedures for a shoot in Vogue Italia.

In a new behind-the-scenes video for the health and beauty issue of the fashion bible, Gisele is seen trying out what looks like vampire facials and cupping, amongst other treatments.

Vogue Italia (2013)
Gisele Bundchen strikes a familiar pose. (Vogue Italia/Steven Meisel/Via Daily Mail)

Mocking or not, it’s clear many people took the treatment seriously. According to Christine Brookes’ WhatClinic.com blog post, “From Varicose Veins to Vampire Facials: Top Cosmetic Treatments of 2013 Revealed, and What’s Trending for 2014” (December 2013), “Kim Kardashian’s famous ‘vampire facial’ sees 807% increase in last quarter alone,” adding:

Interest in platelet-rich plasma transfers, used in ‘vampire facials’ has risen eightfold in the last quarter, with Kim Kardashian tweeting pictures of the procedure, which involves drawing the patient’s own blood, separating the layer that is filled with platelets and then injecting back into the face. Although it has been used to treat sports stars’ injuries – such as Kobi Bryant and Tiger Woods – for some time, only recently has it been used for anti-ageing purposes. The high price tag (one treatment costs an average £538) hasn’t put people off.

The celebrity “endorsement” angle suggests a major influence for the sale increase world wide. Renee Ghert-Zand’s Times of Israel article, “Bar Refaeli Gets Vampire Facelift” (December 29, 2013, 10:36 p.m.), drew attention to a photograph the supermodel posted on her Instagram account, the day before, revealing she’d had the same treatment as Kardashian.

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Bar Refaeli’s Instagram feedback seems much friendlier than Kim Kardashian’s. We think. (Instagram/barrefaeli)

The then 27-years-old Refaeli’s rationale for getting the treatment, according to Ghert-Zand, was “preparation for her live appearance on the “X-Factor” televised musical talent contest, which she hosts.”

Its resurgance was catalogued alongside other beauty treatment fads in conjunction with its use by celebrities. For instance, Alice Audley’s report for The Telegraph, “The Blood-Curdling Experience of My Vampire Facial” (July 22, 2014, 7:30AM BST) is framed not only testing out the procedure, but also highlights the celebrity connection; its subheading reads: “If it’s good enough for Rupert Everett, it’s good enough for Alice Audley, who tries the latest trend in the quest for eternal youth”.

Laura Mitchell’s Express article, “Vampire Facials, Breast Slapping and Nipple Tattooing: 10 Strangest Beauty Trends” (July 28, 2014) also links the procedure with trends, singling out Kim Kardashian, Dannii Minogue and Anna Friel as recipients. The vampire facial only made it to the 3rd spot on the list and was beat out by the Thai Face Slap Massage and Geisha Facial.

What makes these unusual? Well, I think the Thai Face Slap Massage is a given. You pay about $350 US to have someone slap your face to improve circulation, tighten pours and eradicate wrinkles and if you are super lucky, some minor bruising. The Geisha Facial is even better! You pay about $175 US to have someone smear nightingale bird poop on your face! Talk about a shitty job.

Why Do People Get “Vampire” Procedures?

On March 11, 2014, the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS) published an interesting article called, “Annual AAFPRS Survey Finds ‘Selfie’ Trend Increases Demand for Facial Plastic Surgery Influence on Elective Surgery,” which chronicled results from an annual poll of a select group from organization’s 2,700 members. It discusses the rise of the “selfie” culture and its effect on cosmetic procedure demand:

The study revealed that one in three facial plastic surgeons surveyed saw an increase in requests for procedures due to patients being more self aware of looks on social media. In fact, 13 percent of AAFPRS members surveyed identified increased photo sharing and patient’s dissatisfaction with their own image on social media sites as a rising trend in practice.

The article also quotes Edward Farrior, President of the AAFPRS:

Social platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and the iPhone app Selfie.im, which are solely image based, force patients to hold a microscope up to their own image and often look at it with a more self-critical eye than ever before. These images are often the first impressions young people put out there to prospective friends, romantic interests and employers and our patients want to put their best face forward. 

Consider the medium that put “vampire” procedures on the map: Kim Kardashian’s Instagram selfie. Whereas previous generations may have seen this self-obsessed culture as too vain, now we revel in it. Indeed, the culture was immortalised in “#SELFIE”, a single released earlier this year by DJ duo, The Chainsmokers. Vanity has gone mainstream.

The vampire facials and facelifts may have originated in 2011, but based on my research, I think it’s fair to say it’s sweeping the nation because of our own self-absorbed culture, fuelled by social media. Influential celebrities flogging this procedure with bloody images on Instagram, and for what? To get the most “likes.”

Everywhere you look magazines, blogs and websites are jumping on the trendy “vampire” media bandwagon by featuring this procedure, rehashing it or showing someone getting it done and usually linking it to celebrities.

Sure, I am guilty of doing that right now, but at least I was on a quest. I think the one thing we need to take away from this is don’t let “selfies” dominate your life! Be happy in your own skin and the next time you are watching a vampire flick and obsessing over their flawless appearance, your first thought shouldn’t be I need a “vampire facelift” to look that good, it should be damn! How long did they spend in the make-up chair?

Stay tuned for Erin’s exclusive, no-holds-barred interview with Dr. Charles Runels, where she delves into his intriguing career and finds out why he slapped the “Vampire” tag on his procedures in the first place.

Written by Erin Chapman

Erin is Vamped’s Co-administrator. She has 2 turtles; has 15 piercings and 5 tattoos; loves turtles and walking around in bare feet. She has a degree in marketing and sales and has been in the industry for over 11 years. She lives in Vancouver, Canada.

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Interview with Charles Runels, Vampire Facelift Inventor