After middle-age, having a pert, rounded bust is wishful thinking for most.
But just in time for the party season, a new - and extraordinary - cosmetic procedure claims to give a temporary lift without chemicals or implants.
Sounds too good to be true? Well, it does come with a downside: you have to have your own blood drawn from your arm and injected into your breasts to stimulate cell growth.
Worse still, some experts warn its results are untested - and could even cause cancer.
The so-called ‘vampire breast lift’ is the sister of the age-defying vampire facelift (in which extracted blood is injected into the face, plumping skin), made famous by celebrity devotees.
One woman who tried the new version was beauty therapist Terry Armstrong, 52. Having shed four stone, she found her cleavage had lost its va-va-voom.
‘I went from size 16 to a size 12 last year, and my breasts suddenly looked empty and flat,’ says Terry, a mother-of-two from Woking, Surrey. ‘I was still a 30FF, but I had to invest in sturdy bras to lift my bust. Despite the weight loss, I felt less confident than ever before.’
Unwilling to try anything as invasive as a boob job, Terry decided to try the vampire lift after a friend recommended it. Compared to surgery, the technique is relatively painless and involves no knives or implants.
Taking no more than an hour, it costs around £1,000 - significantly less recovery time and expense than a £4,000 boob job. Although it cannot increase cup size and the effect tends to wear off after two years, the treatment is billed as ideal for those with a deflated decolletage due to weight loss, breastfeeding or gravity taking its toll.
But the pioneering technique is not without its detractors. Apart from the ‘slight risk’ of infection, consultant plastic surgeon Graham Offer, a council member of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, worries about stimulating cell growth in an area of the body where one in eight women suffer cancer.
‘The idea is that it plumps up the tissue but if there is a latent cancer cell in that area, what’s to say it won’t stimulate the growth of that cell, too? So far there is no safety data on this procedure,’ he says.
Yet Terry could not be dissuaded. In September, she made an appointment with London-based cosmetic doctor Dr Sherif Elwakil, who has been offering this procedure for two years.
Unlike the vampire facial - the procedure made famous by reality star Kim Kardashian after she posted dramatic selfies on social media with blood spots over her face - the breast lift has a far less ghoulish effect.
Once in the clinic, a syringe-full of blood was taken from Terry’s arm and put into a centrifuge - a machine that spins it around at high speed for around 15 minutes until the red and white blood cells have separated. The process produces plasma rich with platelet cells, which stimulate cell growth.
After an anaesthetic was applied to Terry’s skin, this plasma was then re-injected into her breasts.
‘My breasts immediately look more full and rounded,’ she says. ‘There was a little bruising afterwards but it wasn’t sore at all.’
Dr Elwakil, who was taught by the technique’s American inventor, cosmetic dermatologist Dr Charles Runels, explains: ‘When the plasma is injected, it works in the same way as the healing process when you have a cut - stem cells are attracted to the area and become activated to grow new tissue that includes collagen, fatty tissue and blood vessels.
‘It’s great for women who want to restore their cleavage, fix inverted nipples, which are pushed out as the tissue beneath is plumped up, or to increase breast and nipple sensitivity thanks to increased blood flow to the area.’
But some experts say the technique will never be comparable to a boob job. Sultan Hassan, a consultant surgeon at the Elite Surgical clinics, believes that without clinical tests these procedures are irresponsible and urges patients looking for improvements to seek advice from a plastic surgeon.
‘We can offer a range of options, including liposuction, that are safe and clinically tested but aren’t always invasive,’ he says.
Yet considering all her options, married mother-of-two Sasha Dean, 39, decided the vampire breast lift was the perfect solution for her droopy bust - a result of breastfeeding her two children for a total of 14 months.
‘Before having children, I was happy with my full, perky cleavage,’ says Sasha, a property investor from Maidstone, Kent. ‘They were a 32D and I confidently wore low-cut dresses and tops.’
After breastfeeding her first child, now nine, for 11 months, there was a dramatic difference.
‘They were sagging and I had to start choosing clothes differently,’ says Sasha. Breastfeeding her second child didn’t help. ‘My confidence just plummeted,’ she adds.
She considered implants before her consultation with Dr Lakhani, who told her about the vampire lift: ‘As a busy mother, this procedure appealed, as there was no down-time and the fact that it used my own blood sounded natural.’
She had the procedure in September and the effect was immediate. She says: ‘At one point, when Dr Lakhani was injecting, I saw my nipples go from facing downwards to standing straight up as the plasma took effect.
‘My breasts were a little swollen afterwards. But I feel like I have my natural shape back.’
Dr Lakhani, who charges £1,200 for the treatment, has only been practising this technique in the UK since July this year, but believes in its efficacy and safety.
She says: ‘Plasma has been used for years in the medical field - for wound-healing, in dental work and alongside fat transfer in breast reconstruction. There is no evidence of cancer being caused.’
It’s not just mothers who are trying it. Kezia Cox hasn’t had children, but her dislike of padded bras convinced her the vampire lift could boost her 34D chest.
The insurance underwriter from Kings Langley, Hertfordshire, heard about the procedure through a friend on Facebook. Kezia, 25, explains: ‘I felt a boob job was too invasive. This seemed perfect.’
She then had the treatment in October. ‘I felt a bit sick having my blood taken,’ she says. ‘The next day my breasts ached but by the following day, I was fine.’
Kezia isn’t worried by potential side-effects and is enjoying her new, improved figure. ‘Friends have asked if I’ve had a boob job and I tell them I’ve had the next best thing!’
Sasha is talking about having the procedure done again before her summer holiday, if the effects wear off. ‘It’s a real confidence boost and a great alternative to surgery,’ she says.
The experts, however, remain unconvinced.