What’s a Medspa?

Many day spas now offer medical treatments like Botox. Want to try it but nervous about who’s doing the procedure? That’s what some doctors are banking on.

By: Drew Bratcher

Photograph courtesy of Nova
The number of “medspas” in the United States has nearly tripled in the past two years, according to the International Spa Association.

A medspa is a hybrid between a doctor’s office and a day spa. Imagine a physician’s office with soothing wall colors, art prints instead of body charts, and herbal tea.

While regular day spas now offer treatments like Botox and microdermabrasion, clients at medspas can get these procedures, along with chemical peels, laser hair removal, and Restylane injections by or under the supervision of a physician.

The boom of medspas is due in part to the willingness of people to spend money on their looks. It also can be traced to savvy plastic surgeons and dermatologists who see medspas as not only a way to provide more care for patients but to provide services that don’t involve insurance and that may lure new patients.

“For every one person who has a facelift, ten people get Botox, and a hundred people get skincare,” says George Bitar, whose Bitar Cosmetic Surgery Institute partnered with Lofty Salon & Wellness Center in 2005.

The settings can be more clinical than spalike. That’s comforting if you’re getting laser resurfacing. But having a facial at a medspa isn’t always as soothing as at a day spa. You usually won’t find robes or a relaxation lounge. And a medspa facial can be twice the price, even though, like a spa facial, it is done by an esthetician.

Not all medspas are created equal. “There are those that exist in a shopping mall that have off-site medical directors where you have technicians providing service,” says Julius Few, a plastic surgeon and spokesperson for the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. “Then, you have medspas that are on the premises of a plastic surgeon’s practice. They’re on-site, and the staff is supervised by a medical doctor directly.”

Eager to tap into the market, some physicians who hadn’t done cosmetic work before—for example, gynecologists—have opened up shops.

“Whoever’s running your medspa needs to be involved in aesthetic medicine, and not just as an afterthought,” says Philip Schoenfeld, an ear, nose, and throat doctor board certified by the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

Hannelore Leavy of the International Medical Spa Association stresses the importance of selecting a medspa based on the expertise of the medical supervisors and therapists. Here are a few medspas affiliatied with physicians in our Top Doctors list:

Bella Cosmetic Surgery, Clinton; 301-877-7737; bellaplasticsurgery.com. Medical director: Dr. Michael Chiaramonte, plastic surgeon.

Botticelli Med Spa, McLean; 703-790-5454; magassy.com. Medical director: Dr. Csaba Magassy, plastic surgeon.

Dermatology & Clinical Skin Care Center, Bethesda, 301-530-8300; Germantown, 301-444-0153; dermskin.com. Medical director: Dr. Roberta Palestine, dermatologist.

Lofty Salon & Wellness Center, Vienna; 703-242-0609; loftysalon.com. Medical director: Dr. George Bitar, plastic surgeon.

Papillon Medi Spa, Rockville, 240-747-5660; papillonmedispa.com. Medical directors: Drs. Adam Tattelbaum, Bennett Yang, Barry Cohen, Frederick Watkins, plastic surgeons.

Renu Med Spa, Chevy Chase; 301-652-7368; renudc.com. Medical director: Dr. Philip Schoenfeld, otolaryngologist.

Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery, downtown DC; 202-628-8855; skinlaser.com. Medical director: Dr. Tina Alster, dermatologist.