Med spas promise a harmless way to enhance your appearance or turn back the clock
, with many clinics offering treatments to smooth wrinkles, erase age spots, dissolve double chins, and tighten lax skin through quick and moderately invasive procedures. But before you schedule an appointment, take note of this: At least 50 percent of medical spas and medical aesthetic practices operate illegally
, according to the American Med Spa Association. That means you could really be putting yourself in danger with that suspiciously cheap Groupon for Botox
or lip injections. Read on to learn more about med spas, and what their directors don't want you to know.
Don't be fooled by the white coats
Med spas are required to have doctors serve as medical directors
, but those doctors aren't required to be on site
in every state. Who is lawfully entrusted to inject Botox and fillers varies from state to state, but in places like Nevada
, med spas may be staffed by aestheticians who complete training in injections and laser treatments, but who are not doctors or nurses. Those who do have medical training may have been trained in completely unrelated specialties. If your spa's medical director didn't specialize in a field related to skin care or cosmetic surgery, he or she might not be prepared to handle an emergency, adverse effect, or undesirable outcome. Protect yourself by always choosing a board-certified physician with a relevant area of expertise.
The doctor may be banned from practicing this specialty
Though Dr. Keith Levitt trained as an anesthesiologist, he served as medical director of Regeneration Medispa and Salon in Seattle, where he performed cosmetic procedures including administering Botox and injectable fillers. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Dr. Levitt opened the clinic after being disciplined by the medical boards
in Maryland, Arizona, and in Washington for illegally obtaining, using, and prescribing controlled substances. He was eventually stripped of his license to practice medicine in Washington and now practices in New Mexico.
Before making an appointment at a med spa, it's a good idea to Google the doctor's name to turn up any red flags.
The provider may have just learned the procedure she's about to perform on you
It's fair to assume that if a clinic advertises a service, the person providing that service will be experienced and skilled. In the U.S., however, it's possible for a provider to attend a one-day training course
covering Botox and dermal fillers and start injecting patients the next day. Finding a qualified provider means asking about how long ago they were trained, how many patients they treat a week, and how they handle complications. Asking to see before and after pictures of prior patients is a standard part of any vetting process.
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Sometimes things go really wrong
You pop into the med spa for a relaxing massage, then on impulse decide to get a few units of Botox to help you look as refreshed as you feel. While the spa setting can make medical treatments seem about a serious as a pedicure, the consequences when things go wrong can be devastating. Unwanted side effects of Botox can last for three to four months, and include drooping eyelids
and injection site reactions. Dermal fillers such as Bellafill can cause inflammatory reactions called granulomas
, and disfiguring lumps that have to be surgically removed
. Laser resurfacing
can cause scarring, burns, and changes in skin color.
Those high-end skin-care products might cause adverse reactions
Near the reception of desk at most med spas, you'll find a retail area stocked with jars and tubes of pricy skin care products, sometimes formulated specifically for the clinic. But think twice before taking any of them home. Skin care products produced by well-known brands are less likely to cause adverse reactions and more likely to work as advertised, according to a 2012 study
published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation
. That's largely because bigger companies tend to do more extensive testing before launching a product in the market. "When you see some of the herbal tinctures and new brands pop up, you have no idea what is actually in those products," says George Cotsarelis, MD, a consulting dermatologist for the study. "Each batch is also probably quite different."
You may end up shelling out more than you need to
If there's a cheaper alternative to a product a med spa offers, don't expect anyone to tell you about it. Amanda Lee of Seattle, Washington, was shelling out $120 per month for the lash-growing serum Latisse, which she purchased from a med spa. When she mentioned this to her dermatologist at her annual skin exam, he offered to write her a prescription for a generic version of the drug, which cut her monthly bill down to $45. "The people at the med spa never mentioned that there was a generic version," Lee says.