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The hidden risks of beauty procedures

The headline-grabbing news about the fake doctor in Florida who injected a woman’s buttocks with flat-tire sealant and cement in an attempt to give her curves certainly ranks high on the list of stories that make your stomach turn. (The woman almost died after the materials migrated.)

While posing as a doctor and practicing medicine without a license are clearly illegal -- injections of foreign substances are considered the practice of medicine -- many beauty procedures these days fall in a murky gray area between medicine and cosmetology. In Massachusetts, it’s perfectly legal for a non-physician to perform medically risky treatments like laser hair removal, deep chemical peels, and laser removal of acne scars and moles.


“I’ve seen several patients who have had moles removed by cosmetologists that later turned out to be skin cancer,” said Dr. Jeffrey Dover, a Boston dermatologist in private practice. “Their lives were shortened because the beautician missed the melanoma.”

Several years ago, Massachusetts state legislators convened a med spa task force, which Dover served on, to come up with a set of rules to regulate these quasi-medical procedures and define the training necessary to deem someone competent. The task force, composed of physicians, nurses, and cosmetologists, came up with a working piece of legislation in 2008 that still hasn’t passed the legislature.

It would essentially allow the Department of Public Health to license medical spas similar to the way it licenses health clinics and nursing homes.

That would also enable the state to keep track of how many med spa clients are burned, scarred or otherwise injured from those who don’t have adequate training. Those statistics currently remain unknown since no one in the state is collecting them.

At the moment, state residents have no way of knowing whether the med spa they frequent -- to get their wrinkles smoothed out or their age spots removed -- is subjecting them to the sorts of health risks that could make stomach-turning headlines one day.


Dover’s advice? See a licensed physician if you’re having any procedure that involves lasers or chemical peels to remove skin, acne, or moles.

Deborah Kotz can be reached at dkotz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.