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Med Spas: The Dermatology Office of the Future?

October 27, 2021 Carla Seipp
October 27, 2021
Sam Moqadam via Unsplash

Clinical settings, especially in recent times, can leave many a consumer with feelings of heightened anxiety or simply a lack of luxury. On the other hand, the demand for professional cosmetic services is booming. Whether it’s an injection of new customers or cash flow, medical spas offering the best of both worlds are reaping the benefits.

According to ISPA, a medical spa is any establishment which “operates under the full-time, on-site supervision of a licensed health care professional. Primary purpose is to provide comprehensive medical and wellness care in an environment that integrates spa services.” According to the 2021 ISPA US Spa Industry Study, day spas still dominate the industry, representing a meaty 79% of establishments. Med spas actually had a slight decline of 1.3% this year, constituting 8.4% of locations, compared to the 9.42% of resort/hotel spas. Furthermore, the study shows that med spas were hit the least by the pandemic, unlike day spas or resort spas.

The average med spa generates $1 million in annual revenue (pre-pandemic), offering services such as fillers, chemical peels, laser hair removal, body sculpting, facials, and more. In terms of customer demographics, on average 17% are millenials, and 70% are under the age of 55, capitalizing on a younger consumer than previous years. While a majority of clients are women, a rising number of men are seeking these services, the so-called Brotox clientele. Enterprises like Ever/Body, which recently received $38 million in Series B funding, saw triple-revenue growth. The global medical spa market is expected to reach $47.14 billion by 2030, with a 13.3% CAGR by 2027.

Fueled by the rise in demand for fillers and injectables (propelled by increased screen time), plus the increasingly blurred lines between wellness and beauty practices, their growth is demonstrating the ongoing desire for more upscale service settings, as well as the normalization of noninvasive cosmetic procedures.

“There's this popularization happening in terms of bringing the medical into a transcendent experience."
By Anna Moine, founder, ALM Consult

In terms of pricing, med spas can actually be just as, if not more expensive, than a visit to a dermatologist’s office, but for those wanting to combine a spa experience with nonsurgical procedures, it could be justified as a 2-for-1. For Michael Lahm, Vice President and COO of spa design and consulting firm TLee Spas and Wellness, the category is still a space reserved for a smaller subset of the spending bracket. “Given the economic issues going on in terms of accessibility, basic economic sustenance, it's still a very rarefied world,” Lahm said.

Medical spas have not been an overnight occurrence; their evolution emulates the rise of concierge doctor services. According to ALM Consult founder and spa strategist Anna Moine: “Something that is experience-driven versus just sterile and methodical has given rise to these different places. Convenience, affordability, immediate gratification, the obsession with perfect beauty and celebrity emulation, that’s why they are becoming more popular, especially in urban settings. I have not read about a huge increase of medical spas, [but] there is a propitious moment for that kind of industry to boom,” she states.

The likes of Alchemy43 marketed themselves with the desire to become the “Drybar of Botox” back in 2017, while dermatologists have been integrating more spa-like amenities and services, as evidenced in the expanded service offerings of the Dr. Dennis Gross practice, including everything from dermatological surgery and facials to fillers. “There's this popularization happening in terms of bringing the medical into a transcendent experience. The spas that brought on medical services had a focus on luxury, comfort, experience-driven. Now these med spas are doing it in a more expeditious manner,” Moine comments. Spaces such as Ject and Facile are even expanding into skincare product lines, putting profits that would have otherwise gone to competitor brands in their own pocket while increasing brand presence beyond the in-person visit.

There have been concerns about the safety and expertise of getting these procedures done in a med spa environment. The differing practice regulations across the United States present a huge challenge. Examples include an aesthetician being allowed to perform microdermabrasion in the state of Maryland, while in the state of Illinois, the same procedure can only be done by a trained physician. The Department of Defense’s aim to increase the transferability of licenses, including cosmetology licenses, for military spouses that move to different states, could create uniformity across the nation.

The lack of regulation around who can operate a laser hair removal device in New York (anyone technically, as a license or training aren’t always required) has been described as “The Wild West.” although a regulation presented in March of this year is hoping to change that. Anyone with an MD signature is allowed to inject Botox, striking up concern as to how qualified any professional without extensive experience is, although for some it has proven to be a lucrative side hustle. Furthermore, the regulation around needing a licensed health care professional present is being taken with a grain of salt. “What you see is a lot of MDs putting their names on the door and then maybe showing up once a month,” Moine states.

Of course this doesn’t go for all medical spas, but it has been an industry-wide cause for concern. Given the recent high-profile case of Linda Evangelista’s disfigurement through a CoolSculpting procedure, it might warrant some growing caution amongst a consumer subset. Enterprises which have high training and qualification standards are hoping to shift this stigma. “All Ject providers are physicians, physician assistants [PAs], or nurse practitioners [NPs], and are licensed and certified to practice medicine in New York. They are experts in injectables, as this is their sole practice,” states Ject founder Gabrielle Garritanos.

Perched in the chasm between dermatologists’ offices and traditional spas, medical spas are indicative of the ambiguous nature of today’s consumer. Even the most functional of beauty procedures, bar those produced under anesthesia, are expected to come with a sensory experience to match. As the divide between spa-ified dermatology practices and “drive through” Botox bars lessens, and with growing business (hopefully) accompanied by increasing safety regulations, injectable and filler procedures may soon become a casual stop on the daily errand run.

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