MedSpa Overview

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What is a MedSpa?

Spa the very word is inspirational, you might even say aahh-inspiring! Originating from the Latin verb spagere (to pour forth), spas have been around for thousands of years, enabling people worldwide to indulge in rituals ranging from hot spring healing waters and hot air baths to anointing with oils, massage and exfoliation.

From the ancient Romans thermae (large scale spas) to the onsen (springs) of Japan, the Middle Eastern hammam (steam bath) to the Scandinavian sauna, the spa environment has a rich history steeped in rest and relaxation. The United States, a relative latecomer to the spa experience, made its mark as an innovator in the 1850s when upstate New Yorks Saratoga Springs and its natural mineral springs emerged as a fashionable retreat for the rich and famous.

Today spas are no longer just for the upper class. Theyve gone global to the tune of at least $15 billion in earnings annually; more than two-thirds of that was generated in North America. In the United States, the spa industry is the fourth largest leisure industry in the country ahead of ski resorts, amusement and theme parks, and box office receipts. And its growing: the total number of spas in the U.S. rose by 48% between 2003 and 2008 and now stands at 14,600, according to the International Spa Association (ISPA).

The fastest growing segment of the U.S. spa industry is medical day spas. Today there are more than 2,500 such facilities nationwide, compared to only 35 in 2002, says the International Medical Spa Association. And medspas generated $234 million in revenues in 2003, notes ISPA.

A medspa merges two well-established industries, traditional medicine and healing spas. Offerings at medspas run the gamut from facials, massages, aromatherapy, and hair removal to pharmaceutical injections, laser treatments, Botox injections, and other medical procedures. Springing up across the country like dandelions in springtime, medspas are often found in physicians offices, but increasingly also in resorts, hotels, shopping malls and beauty salons. No doubt theres one near you.

Convenience aside, there are several issues you must consider before trying out a med spa. The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) note that checking out a spa before committing to any procedure can help safeguard not only your appearance but your health and safety as well. They recommend obtaining the following information:

  • Is the med spa located within a physicians office? Most of the services offered at med spas are safe with minimal recovery periods, but they do have risks. Medical personnel are generally available in a physicians office if a problem arises.
  • If the med spa is not located in a physicians office, ask for the name of the physician responsible for oversight and book a consultation with him or her before having any injectable, deep peel, or laser treatment performed.
  • Does the spa have a physician on site to help you determine your goals, provide a treatment plan, direct your care, and respond if an emergency should arise?
  • What are the credentials of the physician supervising treatment at the med spa? Injectables (BOTOX Cosmetic and tissue fillers), skin treatments involving lasers, and deep peels should always be done under the supervision of a board-certified plastic surgeon or board-certified dermatologist. Doctors in other specialties designating themselves as cosmetic medicine physicians may lack the comprehensive training that is needed for administering drugs and treatments to the deeper levels of the skin and aesthetic results or to manage potential complications, advise ASPS and ASAPS.
  • Who is performing the injection? Requirements vary from state to state and may include nurses, physicians assistants or nurse practitioners. Be sure the procedure is supervised by a board-certified plastic surgeon or dermatologist, and never allow a non-medical, unlicensed person to perform a medical procedure on you.
  • If youre interested in facial injectables, find out how effective they are and which is the right product for you. Is the product approved by the Food and Drug Administration? Is it approved for this use? A wide range of products are available on the market that are approved by the FDA and are generally very safe and effective. FDA regulations do not prohibit physicians from prescribing approved medications, fillers, and devices for other than their original intended indications; this is called an off-label use and you should be informed if that is the case. If your provider seems reluctant to answer these questions or doesnt answer them to your satisfaction, do not proceed with the treatment. Also, ask to see the manufacturers label for any injectable product before it goes into your body to make sure youre getting what you think youre getting
  • Have you been fully informed of the possible benefit's and side effects of the proposed treatment and have you been apprised of possible options?
  • Have all of your questions been answered and are you fully aware of the risk and rewards of the procedure? All medical procedures, regardless of how simple or noninvasive, carry risk.
  • What if youre unhappy with the result? Who holds financial responsibility for any revisions, or if complications arise?
  • Are you basing your decision on the best treatment option for you, and not on price?

The American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery joins ASPS and ASAPS in emphasizing the importance of patient safety at med spas. There are good and bad med spas out there and we want the public to be aware, ask questions and always make sure there is a qualified physician doing the procedure, says AACS President Steven Hopping, MD, FACS. If not, dont have it done.

As always, if the promises made by a med spa seem too good to be true, they probably are. Injectables are temporary solutions that may buy you some time; they are not a substitute for a surgical face lift. Surgical deep peels and injectables are medical procedures, not facials or other superficial beauty treatments. Do your homework and know what to expect ahead of time.

And finally, Medical care of any kind is not a commodity, advises ASPS and ASAPS. Be sure you have based your decision on the credentials and experience of the practitioner, not on price.

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