• Article

Saving Face

Medical Spas: How to Avoid an Unqualified Disaster

The number of so-called medical spas and day spas that perform cosmetic-related medical procedures has grown significantly, but many clients have too casual an attitude about the qualifications of the people performing procedures. With little regulation governing this multimillion-dollar business, patients might be taking some risks.

Email to a Friend

Joe Lena/iStock

Like every bride, Katrina Kalanick wanted to look perfect for her wedding. So, in February 2007—about 2 months before tying the knot—she visited a Clovis, Calif., day spa to smooth out the furrow in her forehead. But instead of being injected with collagen, she was treated with industrial-grade silicone. And the “doctor” wielding the hypodermic needle was a scam artist practicing medicine without a license, according to police. Instead of floating down the aisle wearing a serene expression, Kalanick had a significant bulge between her eyebrows.

“This has been a very painful experience, emotionally as well as physically,” the 29-year-old says. “I wish I had researched this, instead of treating it like buying shoes or a new outfit. If my story stops one woman from making the same mistake, it will be worth going public.”

What happened to Kalanick is extreme and somewhat isolated, but she’s hardly the only consumer who signed up to be injected with chemicals, to undergo laser treatments or to receive dermabrasion (exfoliation of the outer layer of the skin) with little or no knowledge of the background of the person who performed the procedure. More than 2,000 medical spas have cropped up in the United States, according to International Spa Association. (A medical spa is any place that combines the use of injectables, such as Botox and Restylane, and lasers or intense-pulse-light [IPL] treatments with typical services, including facials, massages, and hair and nail care. Botox, Restylane and IPL and laser treatments also are available in some beauty salons that are dubbed day spas.) Revenues for these medical treatments reached $1 billion in 2007.

Don’t Take Them at Face Value

Read Now

What’s driving this upturn? For starters, doctors have identified a way to boost their bottom line without relying on softening insurance premiums to pay their bills. In other words, there’s a lot of money to be made without dealing with the red tape. It doesn’t hurt that TV programs, such as “Nip/Tuck,” have drawn large audiences. And, of course, there’s the heavy dose of marketing for new procedures that are said to stop the march of time without going under the knife. Not surprisingly, primary targets are baby boomers, but the word is that it’s about more than vanity. Some 80 percent of baby boomers intend to work past the typical retirement age, according to AARP, and it’s difficult to stay competitive if you have bloodhound eyelids and Shar-Pei jowls. Just don’t let the widening availability of these procedures lull you into making a mistake. You should be very careful when considering a spa for cosmetic procedures.

RISKY BUSINESS? Questions we have about ownership and supervision of medical spas and day spas center on the issues of oversight and personnel training. Take Botox treatments, for example: 3.2 million Americans received injections in 2007 (the most recent year for which data are available), according to American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), but occasionally the wrinkle-relaxing toxin causes an adverse reaction, such as bleeding under the skin or a droopy eyelid. Typically, Botox was administered by dermatologists or plastic surgeons. But doctors of other specialties are incorporating Botox treatments into the services they offer. They assert that the procedure is easy to perform, and they downplay risks. They argue that any concerns raised by dermatologists and plastic surgeons are rooted simply in those physicians’ attempts to protect their turf and keep this highly profitable market to themselves. But we can’t help but believe that your best bet for anything injectable is still a dermatologist or plastic surgeon.

Back to Article