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Are Medical Spas a Safe Choice for Cosmetic Procedures?

May 2, 2024

Tufts Medical Center’s Director of Laser and Cosmetics, Farah Moustafa, MD, FAAD, explains what and who to watch out for when choosing where to have a cosmetic procedure.

Farah Moustafa, MD, FAAD and patient

We all want to look our best but with so many products and procedures available it can be overwhelming to understand what treatments are right for you and where you should go to receive them. Just last month, the CDC issued a warning of a botulism outbreak from counterfeit Botox which effected nearly 2 dozen people in 11 states who received injections from unlicensed or untrained individuals in non-healthcare settings. 

Tufts Medical Center dermatologist Farah Moustafa, MD, FAAD, explains what and who to watch out for when choosing where to have a cosmetic procedure.

Q: Why is a board-certified dermatologist the best choice for cosmetic procedures?

A: Board certified dermatologists, like those here at Tufts Medicine, undergo extensive training to provide patient care. This includes a minimum of 4 years of medical school and 4 years of training in dermatology followed by rigorous testing to for board certification. Dermatologists are trained to understand not only how to safely administer treatments, but also the science of how these medications work. We truly understand the biology and pharmacology of medications given either via prescription or administered in the office. Unlike those without this level of training—often found at medical or so-called “skin spas”, we know how to make safe choices for the patients and identify and treat side effects if they do arise.

Q: What is a medical spa?

A: A medical spa is a term used to describe facilities that provide procedures typically done in a doctor’s office in a day spa setting. They are often staffed by nurses and nurse practitioners or physician assistants who provide aesthetic treatments for patients including facial injections, IV treatments and laser treatments such as laser hair removal.

The laws vary by state, but many require a medical director. These are usually physicians – although they may not have formal training in the procedures offered and they are often off-site from where the procedures are taking place, meaning there is little oversight for what is being done in these facilities. Many of the personnel providing treatments have very limited training in the procedures offered in the form of a weekend training session.

Q: What are the risks of a medical spa?

A: Because of the differences outlined above, and as we saw with this most recent botulism outbreak, you risk receiving suboptimal care and there is very real potential for increased adverse events compared to a traditional medical setting.  Risks are a result of improper oversight, providers who are not properly licensed to do certain procedures, hygiene issues and inadequate training. The types of risks that we have seen include permanent scarring, serious infections and hospitalizations.

Q: What kinds of cosmetic treatments can dermatologists perform?

A: Dermatologists are THE experts when it comes to hair, skin and nails. We treat thousands of conditions that arise in these areas. Many of the treatments are done in the office/clinical setting, including neuromodulator or botulinum toxin injections. When you have these done in a clinical setting by a board certified dermatologist, you’re ensuring you have the safest experience possible with an expert who is taking your health seriously.

Learn more about our Cosmetic Enhancement services

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