The Dark Side of Med Spas: Unlicensed Injections and Dangerous Complications

5 January 2024

The booming med spa industry is facing scrutiny as reports of infections and complications from unapproved procedures continue to rise.

Bea Amma’s visit to a med spa in 2021 turned into a nightmare when she developed a drug-resistant infection that left her scarred and still recovering after two years. The med spa industry has exploded in recent years, becoming a $15 billion wellness industry offering a range of services, from IV therapy to cosmetic procedures. However, with the rapid growth of these facilities, concerns have arisen about the use of unlicensed workers and unapproved products in unsanitary conditions. This article delves into the risks associated with med spas and the lack of oversight in the industry.

The Rise of Med Spas and Hydration Clinics

The number of med spas and hydration clinics has skyrocketed in recent years, turning into a multi-billion dollar industry. These facilities offer a wide range of services, including IV therapy, skin care, and cosmetic procedures. However, along with the industry’s growth, concerns have emerged about the use of unlicensed workers and unapproved products in unsanitary conditions. Federal health officials and med spa owners’ representatives warn consumers about the potential risks associated with these facilities.

The Hidden Dangers of Unlicensed Injections

Bea Amma’s experience highlights the dangers of unlicensed injections at med spas. Seeking treatments to boost her energy and burn body fat, she received injections of vitamins B12 and C, as well as a compound called deoxycholic acid. However, within 24 hours, Amma experienced dizziness, fever, and painful, infected injection sites. Testing later revealed that she had been infected with the aggressive bacterium Mycobacterium abscessus. This bacterium is often linked to cosmetic procedures involving injections if the equipment is not properly sterilized.

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Lack of Reporting and Increasing Adverse Reactions

It is difficult to determine the exact number of people who have been injured at med spas, as many infections go unreported to local or state health departments. However, infectious disease and emergency room doctors have reported an increase in adverse reactions associated with these facilities. The lack of reporting and oversight makes it challenging to track and address these issues effectively.

FDA Warnings and Unauthorized Procedures

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warnings about the use of unauthorized procedures and products at med spas. Last month, the FDA highlighted severe infections and skin deformities reported by consumers who received unauthorized fat-dissolving shots. These shots, sold online under various names, are unapproved by the FDA. Some consumers received injections from personnel who were not properly licensed. The only FDA-approved product for fat reduction is Kybella, typically used to treat double chins.

Little Oversight and Enforcement

Med spas fall under the authority of each state, with no federal health regulations or standard operating procedures in place. While state laws require doctors or other medical professionals to be on staff, enforcement of this rule is often lacking. The American Med Spa Association aims to provide legal and business resources to med spas, ensuring compliance with state laws. However, the industry still faces challenges, with unauthorized procedures and unlicensed workers posing a significant risk.

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Tragic Consequences and Calls for Change

Tragic incidents, such as the death of Jenifer Cleveland at a Texas med spa, highlight the urgent need for increased oversight. Cleveland received an IV infusion at a med spa and suffered a cardiac arrest shortly afterward. The Texas Medical Board suspended the medical director’s license due to a failure to properly supervise an unlicensed individual. Cleveland’s family is calling for stricter regulations to ensure the safety of patients.


The med spa industry’s rapid growth has brought about significant concerns regarding the use of unlicensed workers and unapproved products in unsanitary conditions. Reports of infections, complications, and even deaths have raised questions about the lack of oversight and enforcement in the industry. The FDA’s warnings and the need for nationwide standards of practice emphasize the urgent need for change. Consumers must be vigilant, ask questions, and seek treatments at reputable med spas with licensed medical professionals to ensure their safety. The industry must come together to address these issues and prioritize patient well-being.

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