Scarred for life: 8News exposes medical spa safety concerns

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Medical spas, often referred to as med spas, offering laser services seem to be popping up everywhere here in Virginia. You may have even seen deals on Groupon and Living Social.

These medical spas advertise lasers treatments for cosmetic fixes such as hair removal or skin resurfacing. But 8News has discovered just because it says ‘med spa’ on the sign doesn’t mean there’s a doctor in the house.

“There’s no doubt in my mind, they could have killed me,” says Daphne Carroll after a laser facial treatment left her scarred for life.

She now uses makeup to cover up the skin damage and suffers from permanent nerve damage.

She’s not the only one growing skeptical of such procedures.


“One my third appointment I had a very strange reaction, it looked like burns,” said a Glen Allen woman, who has asked to remain anonymous. She shared with us photos of bad reaction she had on her legs after a laser treatment at med spa in Henrico.

“They really hurt and itched,” she says.

“I showed her my legs and she said, ‘I don’t know what that is.’ The facility was owned by a doctor, run by a doctor but the doctor was never there.”

Even scarier is that the technician didn’t know what to do.

In Northern Virginia, a young man suffered second and third degree burns on his back after a laser treatment to remove unwanted hair went seriously wrong. His mother took him to what was supposed to be an upscale med spa in McLean.

According a complaint sent to Fairfax County Supervisors and State Delegate Mark Keam, the person operating the laser had zero training, yet they were in “charge of cleaning the spa.”

“Unfortunately for my constituent, the person who was operating the machine was a janitor,” explains Delegate Keam. He was surprised to learn Virginia is lax when it comes to lasers.

Unlike our neighbors in Maryland, here in Virginia, there’s no state regulations for meds spas using lasers, and no license or training requirements for the person operating the laser.

“Virginia is the wild, wild west,” says Keam.

Dr. Suzanne Kitces Peck with Richmond Dermatology and Laser says these are powerful devices that can cause blistering, swelling and discoloration.

“It is very concerning that people spend more time and energy in finding a person who is going to color their hair or nails than a person who is going to laser their hair away,” Dr. Peck said. “Side effects can occur with any laser; you can treat a patient five times with the same laser five times and in the sixth time they have a negative reaction.”

If something does go wrong, Peck says you want a trained technician and medical professional nearby.

“You want to be in a place where instantaneously someone can look at you and start treating you, because a week without treatment can be the difference in getting the skin back to normal or the skin starting to scar,” says Peck.

Delegate Keam has proposed House Bill 957, which would require doctor oversight and technicians be licensed with the board of medicine.

But there’s pushback from med spas. One med spa technician who simply goes by Laura told a room full of lawmakers, “you have a lot of people out there who have taken certified laser classes and are performing this procedure properly. It would really harm a lot of people if they had to have to have a name of the physician on the beauty salon door.”

Lawmakers, the Virginia Board of Medicine and the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (DPOR) are working together to come up with a compromise.

As for consumers right now …

“Unfortunately, the current state of Virginia law is buyer beware,” Keam warns.

If you are considering laser treatment at a medical spa, experts advise you ask questions. Find out if there is a doctor on site.Ask about the technicians; are they certified? What kind of training do they have? And ask about the age of the lasers, some of the newer equipment has safeguards with cooling technology.

If you don’t like the answers, there’s always the dermatologist. You may pay a little more for a procedure, but you’ll know they’re medically trained to do the procedure.

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