Medical spas’ relationship with doctor needs transparency

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DENVER -- A Denver woman thought laser hair removal sounded like a convenient alternative to shaving, waxing or plucking chin hairs.

"You’re trying to go out and do things," Denise Jenkins said.

But during an appointment last year at Simplicity Laser, Jenkins said she noticed a technician beginning to laser her cheek instead of the requested chin area.

"I remember her doing right here and I was like, wait, wait," Jenkins said. "By the time I got to my car, I was like my face is burning. By the time I got home, my face was on fire.”

Jenkins went to an urgent care where a doctor diagnosed a second-degree burn on her cheek.

“It was so bad, it was so embarrassing walking around like that,” Jenkins said.

The Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies medical board oversees the use of lasers in medical spas. Most lasers work by using pulses of light to destroy hair follicles.  The operator of the laser determines the correct setting based on skin type.

"The state does not regulate laser hair removal technicians. Instead, we regulate the physician who delegates the medical service," said Karen McGovern, the director of the board.

The physician is responsible for the technicians, but the way the regulation is written now, the doctor does not even need to be on site during the service.

"We have had circumstances where the physicians who are medical directors for these facilities may not even be in the state at the time of the service provided," McGovern said.

The medical board will review proposals to make the relationship between spas and physicians clearer in its November meeting.  A formal rule-making hearing could take place in February.  One proposal is to include the doctor’s name with the spa’s name and license.

Simplicity Laser boasts 50,000 customers in eight states, including two locations in Colorado.

“We will perform tens of thousands of treatments in a month and it will be less than one tenth of one percent that have a reaction," Simplicity Laser president Erik Adams said. "We do everything in our power to not make a mistake, so when we do, we take that very seriously, but the customer’s got to meet us half way.”

Added Jenkins: "I see it every time I look in the mirror. Every morning I get dressed, every night I wash my face and take make up off. I see it every time I turn my head.”

Jenkins’ case is stalled waiting for arbitration, but both attorneys said they believe the case will be settled. DORA said until state law changes on medical spas, the customer should always have access to the physician in charge.