Many people think of a med spa as a type of one-stop shopping for all their personal cosmetic needs. In theory, a med spa - short for medical spa - is a cross between a doctor's office and a day spa, with all procedures carried out under the supervision and authority of a licensed medical doctor. The reality, however, is far from that.
Not all medical spas cater to the same clientele.
If you want to have a facial using the latest French products or a full back massage, then looking in the phone book and finding your nearest med spa is your best bet. If you want anything more invasive, from having a laser hair treatment to trying out the latest chemical peel, it's best to do your homework.
Better Safe than Sorry
Visiting a med spa should be fun, relaxing and productive, and not result in a visit to the emergency room, infection or permanent scarring. While the non-invasive treatments carried out at most med spas have less risk of complication than full-on plastic or cosmetic surgery, serious injury could still occur. Ask these questions before you book an appointment:
Is there a doctor in the house? Med spa regulations vary from state to state. While medical treatments are, in theory, supposed to be carried out only with full medical supervision, often the doctor is not even on-site, let alone in the same room. And in some cases, unlicensed personnel with only the most rudimentary training in a specific procedure will be working on you. Make sure there is a licensed full-time medical director and nurse on-site - preferably in the room with you, or at least in a supervisory position overseeing qualified medical personnel. It's advised that the doctor be either a licensed plastic surgeon or member of an affiliate group such as the American Society of Aesthetic Medicine.
Is staff experienced in specific procedures? A med spa may have ten years of experience overall - but only two weeks' experience in the procedure you want to have carried out. Find out who your practitioner will be and ask how many times he or she has carried out the specific procedure you want - in the last year, month and week. Find out how often serious side effects occur - this should happen with less than one percent of the treatments provided. Ask and check credentials about training and background. Go somewhere else if staff appear insulted by your questions.
Is the consultation up to standard? It's no use visiting a med spa where personnel are condescending to their clients and questions are either brushed off or not allowed. Real med spas encourage their patients to ask as many questions as they need to until they feel entirely comfortable, and will give them up-to-date information to take home and leaf through in private. Consultations should be one-on-one with a medical professional, not a secretary, and should leave you feeling satisfied with the outcome, confused or not uncomfortable.
What is the equipment like? The equipment should not only be up-to-date, well-maintained and sterile, but there should be the right choice available for different skin types - different types of FDA-approved lasers. There also be resuscitation equipment on hand, especially if the spa offers procedures such as varicose vein removal and deep chemical peels. The equipment should not only be clean but the entire facility should be hygienic, with proper hand-sterilizing facilities available for both personnel and guests. If the facility can not afford to invest in quality equipment, you can't afford to invest in them.
Are clients satisfied overall? Find out if patients return for repeat visits because they are so satisfied with the med spa's reputation and practice, or if they vow never to come back again. Some med spas draw people in with seemingly cheap prices, but for some reason nobody ever returns. Find out why. Ask if the med spa can provide contact details of satisfied patients if you are interested in one specific procedure. A confident doctor would not mind doing this - or will have patients contact you.
Is the price? Beware the bogus scams. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is - and if the price is way out of your reach, what's the point? Med spa websites that make impossible promises or offer prices that are significantly cheaper than other places in the same area are usually not to be trusted. And remember, over-eager med spa personnel who want to sell you a series of treatments usually don't have your best interest at heart (unless you're impossibly ugly, that is). In most cases, their main goal is to make money.
Do's and Do n'ts in Choosing the Right Med Spa
Now that you know the basics, you may think it's all plain sailing from here on in. But many people still get roped in by unbelievable promises, and make decisions they later regret. Here are a few do's and do n'ts to follow, to make sure you get the best treatment at the right price ...
DO take your time in finding a med spa that's right for you, where you feel comfortable, and where the staff are fully trained, certified and licensed. Time spent now will save you hours rectifying mistakes later.
DON'T go for the lowest-price option. That usually means something fishy is going on if a price is way too low. You're talking about your body, not just buying a new dress or fancy pair of shoes. You really can't afford to risk your health, can you?
DO make sure the clinic or facility in question is devoted to med-spa procedures and aesthetics in general. You don't want to be seen by a chiropractor who is making a bit of money on the side by running a third-rate med spa. Or by a proctologist with no training in dermatology who is making money by doing facial skin procedures.
DON'T be embarrassed to leave if something doesn't feel. Often, our gut instinct is all we have. Rely on it. If something seems more than a little suspicious or a bit out of kilter, there's probably a damn good reason. Go with your intuition and go somewhere else.
DO make sure that all medical procedures are performed by medical personnel, not unlicensed or non-medical staff. Check state laws to see if procedures such as giving injections and more info doing deep chemical peels must be preformed by a doctor, or if nursing staff can carry them out under a doctor's supervision. And if you see an untrained secretary giving injections or doing a chemical peel, don't be afraid to report them. You may be doing someone else in future a big, big favor.
DON'T go to someone's home, a hotel room or a temporary rented space for a medically related treatment. You would never have your tonsils taken out on your doctor's kitchen table, would you? Be wary of locations in shopping mails or adjacent to nail salons that are outside a proper medical facility. Even if they are legit, there may be no resources available if something goes horribly wrong. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons as well as the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery recommends only visiting a med spa located within a physician's office.
Choosing the right med spa, in the vast majority of cases, is a bit trickier than choosing the right place to have a haircut - and the consequences of choosing the wrong one can be much more dire than a broken fingernail. Do your homework carefully and make sure you make the right choice. Your health, safety and permanent appearance may depend on the choices you make.
The treatment effectively slows hair growth, it doesn't guarantee permanent hair removal. Sun exposure decreases the effectiveness of laser hair removal and may increase the risk of complications following treatment.
If you're planning to undergo laser hair removal, you should avoid other hair removal methods such as plucking, waxing, and electrolysis which disturb the hair follicle and interfere with laser hair removal. Since hair regrowth is still possible, multiple treatments may be necessary to prolong the duration of hair loss. Because each person's pattern of hair growth is unique, it is difficult to predict exactly how many treatments will be needed to completely get rid of unwanted hair or the exact cost of doing so.