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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Smith: The Cost of Beauty

Until regulations improve, the federal government remains complicit in the deaths and injuries that occur in medical spas.
Mary Allen
(Design by Mary Allen | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

As medical spas increase in popularity, reports of health complications associated with these businesses increase alongside them. Bhupendra C. K. Patel — an accomplished plastic and reconstructive surgeon and an adjunct professor for the University of Utah — wrote in an email interview there has been “increasing reports of non-compliance, complications, infections and other problems” associated with the rise of medical spas.

Medical spa customers deserve to receive treatments in the safest manner possible. But current regulations fail to keep customers safe. It is unacceptable for medical spas to put consumers’ health and happiness on the line. The federal government must improve regulations to promote medical spa safety. 


While most plastic surgeries are not offered at medical spas, medical spas offer treatments such as Botox injections, laser hair removal and CoolSculpting.

While many medical spas promote an image of safety and wellness, the vast majority of cosmetic complications occur at medical spas. Patel wrote, “Many surgeons have seen burns to the skin from the use of lasers by Spa-employees.” Indeed, burns — alongside discoloration and product misplacement — are the most common complications.

Customers seeking beautifying treatments should not be subjected to the physical and emotional distress that ensues when a treatment goes horribly wrong. 

Salt Lake City ranks second on the list of the most beauty-focused U.S. cities and has an exceptionally high number of medical spas and other beauty businesses. This problem holds special weight for U students and other Utah residents.

If medical spas are thriving in our backyards, we deserve assurance that they will not bring harm to our communities. 

Infection and Death 

In 2020, Beatriz Amma contracted a severe flesh-eating bacterial infection following a medical spa visit for fat-dissolving and vitamin-boosting injections. Negligent medical spas cause irreversible harm to individuals. Current regulations allow this harm to continue. The government must create better safety standards for medical spas. It must ensure that no medical spa will disobey these regulations without severe punishment.

A 2020 study found that complications from cosmetic procedures attributed to medical spas ranged from 60-100%, indicating that regulations on medical spas are not strict enough. And Utah’s medical spas are not exempt.

In 2016, a woman died following a liposuction procedure that occurred at a Utah medical spa. Complications are thought to be correlated to the length of the procedure, with a longer procedure being more risky. The patient was filled with excessive amounts of drugs and fluids over a nearly eight-hour period. And the physician who administered this treatment — Jennifer Allen — currently owns and works at a medical spa in Salt Lake City

This is not the only case where a medical spa doctor with a bad past has continued to work in the medical spa industry. It is absolutely unacceptable for these physicians to continue practicing in the medical spa industry. Regulators must ban these workers from continuing their practices.

Patel wrote, “Most medical spas cannot perform properly sterile procedures when invasive procedures like liposuction or incisional surgery are concerned.” He said that a surgical center or hospital, rather than a medical spa, is the “safest place for a patient to have surgery.”

Until regulations ensure that medical spas uphold stricter standards, they should not be performing invasive procedures that can lead to infection or death.

State to Federal

Medical spas are regulated by state medical boards, not the federal government. Therefore, regulations vary considerably across different states. Some states especially lack adequate regulations. Patel described this lack of consistency as “idiotic.”

State medical boards are stretched thin. They often lack the resources to ensure that medical spas are following regulations. This is incredibly concerning, as some medical spas ignore basic safety regulations and put every customer at risk.

The federal government must assume the responsibility of regulating medical spas so that regulations are sufficient and consistent across each state. Every individual deserves safety, especially when they are undergoing a medical procedure, regardless of whether it’s elective. The federal government must also ensure the non-compliant medical spas which flourish under current state-board oversight are held accountable.

Federal health officials have warned that some non-compliant medical spas put customers at risk through inadequate sanitation, hiring unlicensed workers and generally straying from state regulations. Patel said there “have been increasing reports of the use of unapproved substances to dissolve fat,” which can lead to dangerous side effects. 

Patel said, “Non-compliance seems to be more common in some states than others,” but said he suspects nearly every medical spa in the country could be in violation of some regulations due to the limited oversight.

Many profit-driven businesses disregard the safety of customers. Medical spas that disregard safety are deplorable. They must be held accountable for their actions. Federal regulators must monitor medical spas closely so that exploitative and dangerous medical spas are identified and prevented.

Training Troubles

Oftentimes non-physicians, like registered nurses or aestheticians, perform treatments at medical spas. However, complications like burns are more likely to occur when nonphysicians perform treatments. Patel said nonphysicians “do not have the detailed training in anatomy, physiology [and] techniques” to treat complications when they arise.

“One should only get treatments by fully qualified physicians” to achieve the best results, Patel said.

But non-physicians aren’t the only ones to see complications. Many physicians become medical directors of medical spas without having adequate training in aesthetic medicine. Oftentimes, the physicians are not even on-site when complications occur: a 2023 study found that 81% of medical spas did not have a physician on-site, and only 65% of these facilities informed patients of this risk.

State boards rarely give medical spas concrete guidance regarding what training requirements qualify an individual to administer treatments. Allowing inadequately trained workers to perform procedures is completely inappropriate and endangers patients. 

The federal government must ensure that medical spas are monitored closely, are compliant with regulations, have qualified workers, follow adequate safety standards and have consistent regulations across states.   


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About the Contributors
Emma Smith
(she/her) Emma Smith is a creative writer and a passionate Opinion Writer for the Daily Utah Chronicle. She grew up in Michigan and moved to Utah in order to pursue a double major in Philosophy and Economics with a minor in Ecology. She loves hiking, movies, singing, playing guitar and practically any cat in sight.
Mary Allen
Mary Allen, Design Director
(she/her) Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Mary is thrilled to be here at the University of Utah studying graphic design. She feels very lucky to get to rub shoulders with the talented people that make up the team here at the Chronicle and is learning a lot from them every day. Other than making things look cute, Mary’s passions include music, pickleball, Diet Coke, wildlife protection, and the Boston Red Sox.

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