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Point of View: The Hidden Danger Behind Medical Spas

In this episode, podcast host Estella Weeks interviews opinion writer Emma Smith about the lack of regulations behind medical spas, and why receiving enhancements at these spas can pose life-threatening medical risks.
Mary Allen
(Design by Mary Allen | The Daily Utah Chronicle)


Estella Weeks: Welcome back to Point of View, The Daily Utah Chronicle’s opinion podcast. I’m your host Estella Weeks and today I’m joined by Emma Smith. Emma has been a writer at the Chrony here for how long?

Emma Smith: Oh, maybe like two months.

Estella Weeks: Two months. Okay. She’s a new opinion writer here. Emma, how have you liked that so far? 

Emma Smith: It’s great, yeah. It’s a good opportunity to just talk about a lot of things that I otherwise wouldn’t.

Estella Weeks: Yeah. Awesome. So today, we’re specifically talking about your recent article called “[Smith:] The Cost of Beauty.” We’ll kind of jump into what that means more, but for clarification, what are some of the differences between a med spa and how would they differ from a plastic surgeon’s office? 

Emma Smith: Yeah, so a medical spa, I think of it as kind of between a traditional spa where they have very low-invasive [services] like facials, or massages and then a full on plastic surgeon’s office, where they’ll do a large variety of all the plastic surgeries. So medical spas are kind of somewhat invasive, but not as invasive or not as varied as plastic surgeons’ offices will be. So you’ll find a lot of, like, Botox, laser hair removal and then sometimes they do have invasive things like liposuction, which can lead to some issues. 

Estella Weeks: Yeah, and that’s kind of what you talked about in your article. What are the different qualifications that you know of when working at a med spa than a regular plastic surgeon’s office and what kind of negative implications can that have for clients? 

Emma Smith: Yeah, in general, like [people working at] medical spas are not going to be undergoing the same level of training and schooling that plastic surgeons will. So they’re just not as qualified. Generally, you don’t feel as sure that you’re walking into a place where somebody really has a lot of background and dealing with complications and knowing how everything works. Yeah, I guess, yeah, across states, the standards for training are also going to vary. So a lot of medical spas have better trained people than other places, if that makes sense.

Estella Weeks: And that has to do a lot with, like, regulations, right? And because med spas are specifically state regulated by the state board and not federally, that could kind of have a lot of different implications. Why would some med spas offer services that they’re not necessarily qualified for? 

Emma Smith: Yeah, I think I mean, it’s kind of a cynical view, I guess, but I think that some businesses are just more concerned with profit than health and it’s pretty messed up. But, I think some medical spas are just, you know, they want to open, they want to make money and they know maybe we don’t know this, we don’t have our qualifications the best. 

Estella Weeks: So Utah, specifically, kind of seems to be a hub for beauty-driven businesses. I think I’ve personally known this and seen this a lot with the amount of girls that are going to esthetician school and hair school, beauty school, and it just seems to be a really big profit driven business, specifically in Utah. What is your opinion about why that is? Is that culture-rooted or how is that driven? 

Emma Smith: Yeah, I think, so, there’s some Chrony articles out there, actually, that you can read about a link between maybe LDS church kind of standards, like beauty standards, and this causing a lot of people to get work done. I think also, just when you have a lot of people that are getting work done, right, you’re gonna have other people that see that and want to kind of stay up to that same standard, catch up or whatever. So it kind of creates a feedback loop, where the whole everyone in society is like, “We gotta fit the standard.” 

Estella Weeks: Yeah, and who is it, would you say, marketed towards, primarily? 

Emma Smith: Yeah, I think, so I don’t think anyone’s really immune, like anyone can get marketed to, to be honest. But, I think women especially, because also if you look at the amount of procedures that are done, like women have the majority of those procedures done. I mean, for medical spas, specifically, it’s actually middle aged women, are actually the most common demographic, but there’s plenty of young people like college or high school age that also feel the pressure of beauty standards.

Estella Weeks: And how do you think that would affect, specifically I kind of want to talk about college aged girls or boys, whoever you feel like it’s marketed towards. But I think that there’s a big push for a certain image, for you to have a certain image, especially when you’re in school. What do you think the kind of mental implications that would have on a college girl?

Emma Smith: Yeah, I think, well, I don’t think it makes anyone feel very confident when there’s one standard that is, the vast majority of the time, unrealistic, right? And I think that it’s really a shame because people are going to be taught that this is kind of the one way that I have to look and not value other features or other body types or other things that are also worth seeing as beautiful as well.

Estella Weeks: Kind of going along with the mental health aspect – one of your big pushes in your article is that because med spas are not federally regulated, there can be a lot of negative medical complications that happen. Kind of talk me through what kind of things can happen, or what if a med spa doesn’t take serious measures, like what kind of things could happen to clients? 

Emma Smith: Yeah, so there was a woman named Bea[triz] Amma, recently, who had, she had I think it was vitamin boosting, or like fat dissolving injections put into her, and in all of those sites that she got poked, which was like maybe 100 times, she ended up developing like a bacterial infection that was like eating, basically eating her skin alive. And I’m not saying that that’s, like, always going to happen or something, but that is definitely one of the risks that can be pretty severe that can happen with poor sanitation. There’s also been cases of death before, even in Utah, which I mentioned in my article with somebody that currently works in the Salt Lake area. So that’s especially concerning. Yeah, and just you can have product misplacement, you might walk out with, you know, a lumpy, chin, like cheek or something when you’re trying to not have that happen. So there’s a variety of concerns that can arise.

Estella Weeks: So you talked to a medical doctor here in Salt Lake

Emma Smith: Yes. 

Estella Weeks: And what were his kind of long term fears for how the industry is going right now?

Emma Smith: Yeah, he was nice. He was really on my side with this one. He definitely thinks that medical spas need to be better regulated, because he just thinks that a lot of them lack the training skills and kind of the background knowledge to really know how to handle complications and, you know, administer the treatments properly. Because as a plastic surgeon, he had several years of schooling, and a lot of these med spa workers are physicians who maybe had specialties outside of the medical spa realm, or outside – sorry, outside of the cosmetic procedure realm, like maybe they’re pediatricians or something. And then you have a lot of non-physicians also, who are administering treatments, like nurses, and he also mentioned that, that he found that very concerning, which it was associated with increased risks of complications occurring.

Estella Weeks: Wow. So, kind of going back to girls our age- I think price probably plays a big role in them deciding where to get enhancements done, which could potentially lead to them going to somewhere that is a little more lenient on medical rules. Do you think that if this were to become federally regulated, it would increase prices, therefore making, you know, girls, anyone who’s getting these procedures done go to somewhere that’s maybe a little more under the table and cheaper? 

Emma Smith: Yeah, I think there’s a possibility for that. But I do think that if we have adequate regulations in place, they’re going to kind of weed out those unqualified medical spots for the most part, and at that point, any unqualified medical spa is just an illegal medical spa. So, there might be people that choose to go to those illegal medical spas. But, I think that’ll be something that’s more by choice, rather than our current situation where people are going to medical spas without understanding the risks, and without being kind of shown the risks really. So, I think overall, like we really need regulations, and even if there’s a downside with prices going up a little bit, I think that it’s well worth protecting people’s health.

Estella Weeks: Because these procedures aren’t considered medically, you know, necessary. They’re enhancements. They’re not, yeah. So I think to kind of end off on an educational note, if you are going to get something like this done out of med spa, what are some things you should look for? What are some things you should watch out for kind of overall? 

Emma Smith: Yeah, so I know not everyone’s gonna listen to this, but I think obviously, if you can go to a plastic surgeon because they just are more knowledgeable and more qualified. But if you’re going to be going to a medical spa, I would make sure that whoever’s administering your treatment, whoever’s, like, injecting your face with a pokey thing, right, you want to make sure that they are a physician ideally and have training in, like, hopefully, in some way seemed to have good training in cosmetic surgery.

Estella Weeks: And anatomy.

Emma Smith: And that too. Yes, definitely.

Estella Weeks: That’s probably important. 

Emma Smith: Yeah, that’s pretty, that’s pretty important as well, yeah. But yeah, if you have a non physician like a nurse, no shame against nurses, but they probably don’t have as much experience as somebody that’s a physician. And then obviously, if anything seems shady, then run. 

Estella Weeks: Yeah. Get out as fast as you can. Okay. Well Emma, thank you so much for coming on and talking about this. Everyone, I hope you have a great summer. Thank you for listening to Point of View. My name is Estella Weeks and tune in for more episodes coming this summer.

Transcribed by

Host: Estella Weeks — [email protected]

Producer: Stevie Shaughnessey — [email protected] //  @steviechrony

Guest:  Emma Smith – [email protected] // @emmas_utah_chronicle

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About the Contributors
Stevie Shaughnessey
Stevie Shaughnessey, Home Stretch Producer, Host
Stevie is a junior transfer student at the U who is majoring in communications with an emphasis in journalism, and minoring in documentary studies. In her free time, Stevie likes to take part in many different activities, such as dirt bike riding, snowboarding and photography.
Estella Weeks
Estella Weeks, Point of View Host
Estella Weeks started at the Daily Utah Chronicle as a Podcast Host for the Opinion Podcast, Point of View, at the beginning of 2024. Her love for all things writing and storytelling came from years of journaling and led her to choose communication with an emphasis in journalism as her major. Estella grew up in Draper, Utah and likes to spend her time watching movies just to update her LetterBoxd profile, making memories with her family and friends, iced chais and sunny walks around the park.
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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