The Dark Side of Med Spas: Unlicensed Workers and Unapproved Procedures Pose Serious Risks

29 January 2024

The rise of med spas and hydration clinics has led to a $15 billion wellness industry, but with it comes a surge in unlicensed workers and unsanitary conditions, putting consumers at risk.

When Bea Amma visited a med spa in 2021, she never expected to leave with a drug-resistant infection that would leave her scarred and still recovering over two years later. The booming med spa and hydration clinic industry, worth $15 billion, offers a range of services from IV therapy to cosmetic procedures. However, the lack of regulation and oversight has resulted in some facilities using unlicensed workers to administer unapproved treatments in unsanitary conditions. As the number of adverse reactions associated with med spas increases, it is clear that more needs to be done to protect consumers.

Infections and Unapproved Procedures: The Hidden Dangers of Med Spas

Amma’s experience serves as a cautionary tale for those seeking treatments at med spas. After receiving injections of vitamins and fat-melting ingredients, she quickly developed symptoms of dizziness, fever, and painful, pus-filled injection sites. Testing revealed that she had been infected with Mycobacterium abscessus, a bacterium commonly found in water, soil, and dust. Dr. Claire Brown, an infectious disease expert, explains that if equipment is not properly sterilized, this bacterium can be transmitted through cosmetic procedures involving injections.

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Lack of Reporting and Increasing Adverse Reactions

Determining the exact number of injuries caused by med spas is challenging due to underreporting. Many infections go unreported to local or state health departments, making it difficult to track the extent of the problem. However, infectious disease and emergency room doctors have noticed an uptick in adverse reactions associated with these facilities. The lack of oversight and regulation in the industry allows for unlicensed workers to administer treatments, increasing the risk of complications.

FDA Warnings and Unauthorized Procedures

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued a warning about severe infections and skin deformities resulting from unauthorized fat-dissolving injections offered at med spas across the country. These unapproved injections, sold online under various names, are often administered by personnel who lack the proper licensing. The only FDA-approved product for fat reduction is Kybella, which is typically injected under the chin. The FDA’s warning highlights the dangers of unregulated procedures and the need for stricter oversight.

Little Oversight and Enforcement

Med spas fall under the authority of individual states, with no federal health regulations or standard operating procedures in place. While all states require doctors or other medical professionals to be on staff, enforcement of this rule is often lax. The American Med Spa Association, which provides resources to med spas across the United States, aims to ensure compliance with state laws. However, there remains a small number of spas that allow unauthorized procedures and employ unlicensed workers, posing significant risks to consumers.

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Tragic Consequences and Calls for Change

The lack of oversight and regulation in the med spa industry has had tragic consequences. The case of Jenifer Cleveland, who died after receiving an IV infusion at a med spa in Texas, highlights the dangers of improper supervision and administration of treatments. The solution Cleveland received intravenously included total parenteral nutrition, a potent mixture typically reserved for hospital settings. The absence of a physician at the med spa and the failure to properly supervise an unlicensed individual performing the treatment resulted in her death. Cleveland’s family is now advocating for increased oversight to prevent similar tragedies.

Conclusion: The rise of med spas and hydration clinics has brought about a multibillion-dollar industry, offering a wide range of treatments. However, the lack of regulation and oversight has created a dangerous environment for consumers. Unlicensed workers, unapproved procedures, and unsanitary conditions have led to a surge in infections and adverse reactions. The FDA’s recent warning and the tragic case of Jenifer Cleveland underscore the urgent need for stricter regulations and enforcement in the med spa industry. Consumers must be vigilant, asking questions about the credentials of those administering treatments and ensuring the presence of licensed medical professionals. Only through increased oversight and accountability can the med spa industry truly prioritize the safety and well-being of its customers.

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