The Dark Side of Med Spas: Unregulated Industry Leads to Infections and Tragedies

7 January 2024

The booming med spa industry is facing scrutiny as reports of infections and fatalities linked to unlicensed workers and unapproved procedures continue to rise.

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 more than two years later. The med spa industry, worth $15 billion, has experienced exponential growth in recent years, offering a wide range of services from IV therapy to cosmetic procedures. However, this rapid expansion has also led to a lack of oversight, with some facilities employing unlicensed workers and using unapproved products in unsanitary conditions. As a result, more cases of infections and adverse reactions are being reported, raising concerns about the safety of these establishments.

Rise in Infections Linked to Med Spas

The exact number of injuries and infections at med spas is difficult to determine, as many cases go unreported. However, infectious disease and emergency room doctors have noticed an increase in adverse reactions associated with these facilities. Bea Amma’s case is a prime example. After receiving injections of vitamins and fat-melting ingredients, she developed an aggressive infection caused by Mycobacterium abscessus, a bacterium commonly found in water, soil, and dust. This bacterium is often associated with cosmetic procedures involving injections if the equipment is not properly sterilized.

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Federal Warnings and Unauthorized Procedures

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued a warning about severe infections and skin deformities caused by unauthorized fat-dissolving shots offered at med spas. These shots, sold under names like Aqualyx and Lipodissolve, are unapproved by the FDA. Reports indicate that some consumers received these injections from personnel who were not properly licensed to administer them. The only approved product for fat reduction is Kybella, which is injected under the chin to eliminate a double chin. The FDA also cautioned against the improper mixing of products and poor sterilization practices at med spas and IV clinics, as these can lead to serious patient illnesses.

Lack of Oversight and Regulation

Med spas fall under the authority of each state, and while they require doctors or other medical professionals on staff, enforcement of this rule is often lacking. There are no federal health regulations or standard operating procedures for med spas, leaving each state responsible for oversight. However, some states lack the resources or time to ensure that med spas are operating in compliance with state laws. The American Med Spa Association, working with around 4,000 med spas across the country, aims to provide legal and business resources to ensure compliance. Nonetheless, the industry still faces challenges from unlicensed workers and unauthorized procedures.

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Tragic Consequences and Calls for Change

Tragedies have occurred at med spas, highlighting the urgent need for increased oversight and regulation. Jenifer Cleveland, who received an IV infusion at a med spa in Texas, passed away shortly after the treatment. An investigation revealed that the solution she received intravenously included total parenteral nutrition (TPN), a concentrated mix of electrolytes typically used in hospital settings. The absence of a physician and the administration of TPN at a med spa raised concerns among medical professionals. Cleveland’s family is calling for increased oversight to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Conclusion: The med spa industry’s rapid growth has brought about an increase in infections and adverse reactions, highlighting the need for stricter regulation and oversight. While the majority of med spas operate safely and comply with state laws, the few establishments that allow unauthorized procedures and employ unlicensed workers pose a significant risk to consumers. The implementation of nationwide standards of practice and increased enforcement can help ensure the safety of individuals seeking treatments at med spas. As the industry continues to evolve, it is crucial to prioritize consumer safety and hold med spas accountable for their practices. Only then can individuals like Bea Amma and Jenifer Cleveland be protected from the devastating consequences of unregulated med spa procedures.

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