The medical spa industry is incredibly lucrative, and it is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States. As it has expanded, more and more business opportunities are available, particularly for doctors. However, as with any growing industry, when money is being made, there will be lots of attention from those seeking to profit, which oftentimes brings in entrepreneurs who are looking to make a quick buck.
There are three issues the American Med Spa Association (AmSpa) deals with on a daily basis.
1. In most states, all laser treatments, including laser hair removal, is considered to be a medical treatment. As such, the rules surrounding who can perform the treatment—including what training is needed and what type of oversight and protocols are needed--are decided by each state’s medical boards.
2. Because every state medical board controls its own rules, every state’s laws and regulations dealing with laser hair removal are different. The lack of consistency across state lines can be problematic in a fast-growing industry where entrepreneurs, hedge funds, and investors are seeking to build national brands.
3. The aesthetic industry and the technology employed within it moves much faster than the law. Although state medical boards do their best to keep up with the changing technology, the fact remains that the rule-making process takes time, and often the rules passed to address a certain issue - laser hair removal being one - are out of date within six months, and oftentimes are broadly drafted and therefore don’t specifically address the safety concerns of every individual treatment.
Laser hair removal has been available in medical spas for years and remains one of the most common. According to AmSpa’s most recent industry survey, fully 70% of medical spas offer it in some form or fashion. And the overwhelming majority of the time, results from laser hair removal are predictable and safe, and the incidents of side effects, while they certainly exist, are rare.
The issue that The Dr. Oz Show has astutely picked up on is that, first, not all states treat laser hair removal as a medical treatment, so in some states (New York, for example), pretty much anyone can offer laser hair removal services. Second, even in states where laser hair removal is regulated, because there are so many different treatments and so many different rules, it is often impossible for practitioners to find the rules that are applicable to them, so businesses open and offer services that they shouldn’t be offering (or they don’t have the proper guardrails in place to ensure patient safety). This is a problem that AmSpa is acutely aware of and is dedicated to solving.
In most states, laser hair removal is treated as a medical treatment. This means that medical regulations allow physicians to delegate the task to anyone they feel is educated, experienced and trained, provided the treatment is properly delegated and proper supervision exists. The problem is that, unlike other areas of medicine (plastic surgery, for instance), there is no board or formal specialty for aesthetics, and there is little guidance from the medical boards as to what, precisely, constitutes “trained and experienced.”
Some states (Georgia and Texas, for example) have specific certifications for aesthetic laser treatments, which provide rules and guidance indicating who can safely operate the machines. Most states, however, leave the treatment up to the doctor running the medical practice to delegate to whomever he or she deems qualified.
One state, New York, not only has virtually no regulation dealing with laser hair removal, but the state has actually written into law that laser hair removal is not a medical treatment. So, since it is not a medical treatment, and since there are no regulations governing it, the treatment has been left unregulated and allows essentially anyone to do it. New York is the only state in this position, and AmSpa, like many interested parties, would like to see the rule changed so that laser hair removal is considered a medical treatment and proper safety protocols are put in place.
The bottom line is that this is a confusing and gray area of the law, and entrepreneurs are taking advantage of the lack of clarity. AmSpa is currently in process of drafting model rules for the entire industry and has gathered key opinion leaders from many of the stakeholders to provide input and, hopefully, consistency. AmSpa’s model rules will be published this year. It is our goal - and our hope - that these rules can be universally adopted in every state, not only so that the industry gets some desperately needed consistency, but, more importantly, so that all aesthetic treatments are safe and performed only by those qualified to do so. The public deserves at least this much.