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A trip to the spa used to mean rejuvenating facials and relaxing massages, but in the past decade the industry has grown to encompass treatments that take the phrase "skin deep" to a new level.
Medical spas are a hybrid of skin care facilities and doctor's offices. They provide invasive procedures such as Botulinum toxin injections, liposuction, electrolysis, laser treatments and makeup tattooing.
The marketing firm Marketdata Enterprises released a study in November that tagged the number of medical spas in the United States at 2,100—up from 224 in 2002. Spa associations place the number even higher, and since most states don't license them in a single category, statistics are hard to verify.
Several factors are fueling the trend: aging baby boomers trying to turn back the hands of time; people battered by the economy looking for a cheaper alternative to plastic surgery; doctors, frustrated by shrinking insurance reimbursements, looking for a way to expand their pool of self-pay patients.
It's unfolding in a field with spotty regulation at best, raising concerns about potential hazards such as burns, bruising, infections and even an occasional death.
In light of that, some states have toughened regulation. Mary Broz-Vaughan, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation, said medical spas in Virginia fall into a no man's land of sorts.
The Virginia Department of Health doesn't regulate medical spas as it does hospitals, nursing homes, home-care agencies and abortion clinics. Virginia does regulate esthetics spas—where services such as facials and chemical peels are given—and nail and cosmetology salons, but there's nothing in the code that defines a medical spa.