Pulse: How We Spend: Trends: Say “Spaaah”

Medical spas are popping up everywhere. But they aren’t always as fab as they appear

It used to be that a trip to the spa meant having toes polished, muscles kneaded loose and skin rejuvenated. These days, with the boom in “medspas” — spas offering cosmetic medical services — that’s just the tip of the French manicure. And such spas are scattered about our streets and shopping malls like Starbucks. Inside them, you might get a shot of botulism along with your pedi, laser hair removal before your massage, microdermabrasion, or Juvéderm or other injectibles. Their sell is convenience: Come here on your lunch break! It’s quick and easy! Anti-aging is it in spa treatments today, and everyone from esteemed plastic surgeons to beauty-school dropouts is looking to cash in.

“When it comes to these things, it’s buyer beware,” says Brian Buinewicz, a triple-board-certified plastic surgeon and medical director of 3000BC WellMed Spa, in Doylestown, Wayne and Chestnut Hill. After all, these aren’t pedicures we’re talking about. These are medical procedures in spa–treatment clothing, and not just any person — or place — is fit to provide them.

And sure enough, there are problems: -In -Kennett Square, Salon Secrets Day Spa is being sued by a woman claiming that an unsupervised aesthetician gave her disfiguring facial burns by improperly performing laser hair removal. (The spa has denied the allegations in court filings.) And last fall, a woman in Florida went into a coma and died after a medspa liposuction procedure, one the spa was reportedly unlicensed to perform. Not to mention what Buinewicz has seen firsthand — permanent pigmentation discolorations and second-degree burns from lasers, Botox shot into the wrong facial muscles — often because he’s patching up medspa services gone bad.

The legal restrictions on who can perform which procedures vary from state to state and are confusing, so whatever you’re having done, it’s vital to inquire about an establishment’s certifications and training policies. “Clients need to be giving their informed consent,” says Karen Palestini, a member of Saul Ewing’s health law group. “That means every possible risk is explained.” Buinewicz agrees: “You wouldn’t get surgery without speaking to the doctor. It’s the same type of commonsense thing here. This is like any other medical procedure.”

After all, these are medical procedures in spa–treatment clothing.

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