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The med spa industry is largely unregulated

As of 2022, there are more than 8,800 med spas across the U.S., according to the American Med Spa Association — but experts say the industry operates with little oversight.

“There are states [that] simply don’t have the resources or the time to be looking at the medical spas and ensuring that they’re doing things correctly,” Alex Thiersch, the chief executive of the association, told NBC News.

While he says many of these spas are compliant with state laws, there are some that allow unauthorized procedures and employ unlicensed workers. “There is a bit of an underbelly to this industry, where you’ve got folks who should not be doing the treatment that they’re doing.”

Amma says her doctors’ theory is that the vials the med spa were using for the injections were contaminated with mycobacterium — a bacterium that’s been known to contaminate medications and products, like medical devices, and is multi-drug resistant.

While Amma’s been unable to secure support from attorneys to file a lawsuit against the med spa where she received her injections — in part, she says, since the spa is uninsured so there’s no money in it — she hopes sharing her story will help prevent similar cases from occurring.

In 2022, she started posting about her diagnosis and treatments on TikTok — with one video, where she opens with “I’m 25 years old and over $1 million deep in medical bills,” garnering about 1.8 million views on the platform.

Today, Amma says her total medical debt is much closer to over $2 million.

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How to protect yourself

The FDA has issued warnings about the dangers of receiving unapproved fat-dissolving injections, like Aqualyx, Lipodissolve and Kabelline.

The administration says it has received reports of brutal side effects, such as permanent scarring, severe infections and skin deformities, cysts and “deep, painful knots,” as well as reports of med spa personnel who weren’t licensed to administer these injections in the first place.

The only FDA-approved fat-dissolving injectable drug is Kybella (the brand name for deoxycholic acid), but the administration advises folks to consult their health care professional before the injection — which it also notes is only approved for use under the chin. Amma says she was injected with the Kybella, B12 and C compound over 100 times in her arms, stomach and lower back.

Experts recommend that people ask questions and ensure there’s a licensed medical practitioner on site before undergoing treatments at a med spa. It’s also important to find out who is administering your treatments and verify their credentials.

And don’t forget to protect yourself financially — in case something goes wrong.

Amma’s still on intensive antibiotic treatment and says she can’t even look at her pile of medical bills that are continuing to rack up. “I can’t pay off my hospital bills, I can’t pay off my copays,” she says on the Doctor Mike podcast.

Amma, who hasn’t been able to work, explains she can’t worry about her finances right now, since her primary focus is protecting her health and being cured. However, she does have a GoFundMe — and she says the donations have helped her cover some of her medical bills, food and rent.

But crowdsourcing your medical bills should be a last resort. Look into getting a good health insurance plan, or save for unexpected costs through a Health Savings Account. Give yourself a bit of cushioning for a situation that goes awry or any surprise health-related expense.


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About the Author

Serah Louis

Serah Louis


Serah Louis is a reporter with Moneywise.com. She enjoys tackling topical personal finance issues for young people and women and covering the latest in financial news.

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