The pros and cons of medical spas — mostly cons

Botox injections

Botox injections, once available in medical environments, are now often preformed in medical spas, which are subject to a much lower level of regulation. Image: Vancouver Laser & Skin Care Centre/Flickr/CC BY-SA

Medical spas, or medi-spas, are a fairly recent phenomenon on the American consumer-scape, but one that seems to be catching on in a big way. But how safe or unsafe are these new businesses that combine pampering with mildly-invasive cosmetic procedures that were once performed only in a medical environment?

Medical spas gaining popularity

Medical Spas differ from traditional spas by offering services — such as facial injections, laser therapy, mini facelifts, chemical peels and non-surgical fat reductions — that were once only performed by dermatologists and plastic surgeons. Often, these establishments will perform the procedures on the client’s lunch hour.

The spas are gaining popularity. According to the International Medical Spa Association, there were about 800 medical spas in the United States in 2007. Today that number is closer to 4,500.

Pros of medical spas

Medical spas are more convenient than going through a dermatologist or plastic surgeon. Doctors often require appointments weeks in advance, whereas a medical spa can often book you tomorrow. Sometimes procedures can even be done on a walk-in basis. Generally you will save a little more money at the medical spa, too, although they are by no means cheap.

But consider the following risks.

No license required

According to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery Association, most states do not require medical spas to be licensed. The procedures themselves may be regulated, and can only be performed by people with medical credentials — often a nurse or certified technician — but the facilities themselves are generally not subject to state inspections. That means unsuspecting clients may have to a dire pay a price before regulation is imposed.

Dr. Timothy C. Flynn, president of the American Society for ASDSA, said, “It takes a kind of tragic event to get policy makers to pay attention.”

Not a medical facility

If something does go wrong, the client is not in a certified medical facility, equipped to deal with medical emergencies. The products being used may also not by approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration.

The consequences can be dire. A woman in Maryland died last September of an infection that was a complication of a liposuction procedure performed at a medical spa. Burns from such procedures as laser hair removal are common, says Dr. Mathew Avram, director of the Dermatology Laser & Cosmetic Center at Massachusetts General Hospital. Some clients have also suffered temporary paralysis from an overdose of Botox, according to a piece on MarketWatch.

Check credentials

If you do decide to have a procedure done at a medical spa, at the very least find out who will be performing the procedure and check their credentials. Doctor credentials can be searched at or For nurses, try


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