By LIZA McCLELLAN, M.D.
Daphne Carroll went a medspa to buy makeup but said she couldn't refuse the free consultation for a laser facial. Little did she know that impulsive decision would change her life.
The consultation, which included a free laser treatment for a spider vein in her cheek, convinced Carroll to go for the full facial. But the 42-year-old said she awoke the next morning with second-degree burns to her face.
It was "the most horrible experience of my life," said Carroll, who five years later still suffers from facial pain and twitching. She said she has seen 13 specialists, including a neurologist, dermatologist and even a plastic surgeon, all of whom agree that the damage is permanent.
Carroll, who lives in La Vergne, Tenn., said the spa personnel misled her about the risks of the facial, which was more akin to surgery than a simple spa treatment.
"All possible side effects were downplayed, and the consent form did not say surgery," she said. When she called the spa to speak to the supervising physician, she said she learned he was rarely on site and had little experience with laser treatments.
Carroll's experience is not uncommon, according to the International Spa Association, a trade group that estimates "thousands" of complaints are filed against medspas in the United States every year.
In January 2013, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a new bill into law that raises penalties against medspa owners who operate without a trained doctor on staff. Under the law, offenders can be jailed and also fined up to $50,000 for illegally owning or operating a medspa.
But experts said consumers should take steps to protect themselves.
"Know who is performing your procedure and even ask to meet the supervising physician," said Dr. Valerie Callender, a board-certified dermatologist and owner of a medspa in Glen Dale, Md. "We perform a detailed history and physical exam, and a board certified dermatologist is available at all times."
Callender said she also encouraged spa consumers to ask questions about their treatments, and to be wary of grandiose promises and claims.
Carroll has not taken any legal action against the spa that she claims burned her face. She has instead dedicated her life to warning other women about the dangers of medspas.
"I try to comfort them as much as I can," she said. "Often they are just as much a comfort to me as I am to them."