Ahwatukee skin care specialist Sarah Neumann

Ahwatukee skin care specialist Sarah Neumann has seen an alarming increase in injuries sustained by customers of unregulated “med spas.”

Alarmed by a growing number of injuries from “medispas,”  East Valley dermatology specialists are warning consumers about the dangers of uncertified treatments and providing tips on how to avoid these injuries. 

“I saw it popping up and getting more popular and riskier probably a decade ago, but more recently it’s gotten some notoriety in the media because people, like celebrities, have had botched injections. We had the nurse injector in Maricopa who treated a ton of women’s lips who got herpes infections, bacterial infections,” said Sarah Neumann, MMS, PA-C, and owner of Ahwatukee Skin & Laser and Sun City Dermatology.

“We started to see more kind of pop-up shops, medispas, and injectors doing it out of their home with the invention of Groupon, when pricing became people’s motivation, versus the validity or the qualifications,” Neumann added, noting:

“Could there be more regulation? Absolutely. “Does it take time? Yeah. So now it’s really about buyer beware, do your own research and make sure that you’re protecting yourself.” 

A medispa, short for medical spa, is a hybrid of a conventional spa facility and a medical center. Services offered include typical spa treatments, such as facials and massages, as well as specialized medical treatments, such as Botox and laser treatments, that would typically not be found at a traditional day spa. 

According to the American Med Spa Association, certified medispas are not required to have a doctor on-site, although customers should consult with a physician assistant or nurse practitioner if they have questions or concerns.

But Neumann said many medispa workers are unlicensed while other unlicensed practitioners have begun running businesses out of their homes. 

“I mean, how do you feel sure that you’re going to be in decent hands?” said April Allen, a nurse practitioner at Ahwatukee Skin & Laser. “They should have a license. So, if they aren’t a nurse, if they’re not a PA, an MD and or any of those certifications, if you’re putting hyaluronic acid in someone’s face, you’re doing it illegally. Period.” 

Allen has worked in both critical care and dermatology, including seven years as an intensive care unit nurse. A nurse practitioner at Ahwatukee Skin & Laser for about a year, she has also run her own injection business for a few years as well. 

Allen said social media has fueled the rise of these injuries. 

“The ones that are probably at the highest risk are the younger people. The 20-year-olds are the scariest ones, late teens, early twenties, and it’s because they see all this stuff on Instagram,” Allen said. 

One of Ahwatukee Skin & Laser’s current patients, Suzanne Jameson, who has been struggling with facial injuries she received from a medispa over a year ago. 

After receiving a gift certificate for a medispa in Tucson, Jameson said she was excited to spend a relaxing day getting a facial before spending the day at a meeting. 

“I had a great big board meeting I had to go to, so I thought, ‘Oh cool, we can all use my gift certificate and have a facial,’” she said. 

“I was given a facial massage, felt a sharp pain and immediately after I had a mark and a lump on my cheek.”

A few days later, Jameson said the area was worse so she contacted the business and went back to have them look at the area. They treated the area witha cream and a device to help penetrate the ski.

That led to an infection. 

“The infection led to scarring and I’ve been to see numerous doctors,” she said.

“I found out about Sarah, and had her check the area,” Jameson explained, adding that Neumann “even requested additional testing that the opther providers hadn’t.”

“She is incredily knowledgeable,” Jameson added.

Neumann, a 20-year veteran practitioner, and Allen both explained that the best way to avoid these kinds of injuries is by asking questions and using common sense. 

Allen provided some example questions for consumers to ask medispas and salons, including, “If you have an emergency, who do you call? What kind of training have you done in the event of emergencies? What products do you get, where do you get them from? None of these questions should be outrageous to ask.” 

If an injury does take place, Neumann and Allen both recommend immediately contacting the medispa where the services were provided. They should have protocol in place to minimize the injury or send you to a physician in the injury requires care outside their expertise.

If they refuse to discuss the injury, they said this is a major sign the medispa is not properly licensed or staffed.  

“The last thing you do is run away from that patient. You commit to making sure that the outcome is what they wish, whether it’s negative or positive, you have to stay by them, and you have to have the tools to fix it,” Neumann said. 

The two also advised against going to the emergency room, unless it is severe, with Sarah explaining that they are constantly receiving calls from emergency room workers who are unsure how to treat these injuries.  

“Your emergency room isn’t going to know what to do, like they don’t know what’s in it. They don’t know what hyaluronic acid is,” Allen said. 

Neumann and Allen recommend visiting a certified dermatology or plastic surgery office to receive treatment and urge consumers to use common sense when shopping for cosmetic treatments. 

“We’re not trying to drum up business on a scare tactic,” Allen said. “This is a safety issue, and I think people take this for granted a lot and they think that nothings going to happen to me.”

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