ABC 7 – KGO San Francisco
They are popping up all over the Bay Area — medi-spas and cosmetic clinics which often advertise special offers or promotions for laser hair removal and other procedures. But are you really getting a deal? And at what cost? Michael Finney looks at the numbers.
It can be pretty tempting: a guarantee that you won’t need to shave or wax anymore. But do you really know what you’re in for when you go to a laser hair removal company? A former employee reveals some of the strategies she says one company uses to get your money.
Ann: “It really was — just get their money.”
“Ann” is a former employee of American Laser Centers, a laser hair removal company with several locations here in the Bay Area.
Ann: “Once I found out how they were doing things, I wanted nothing to do with it.”
Ann says she believes she was terminated because she raised concerns over what she saw outlined in the company training manual, like its “no refund” policy.
American Laser Centers denies it has such a policy, saying it “gives customers refunds almost every week.”
The manual also outlines instructions on pointing out “imperfections” to potential clients during consultation; and on the company’s “upselling” requirement.
Ann: “Meaning once they got the patient in the room, they were required to try to get them to do another body part, sell them product.”
For many consumers, it all comes down to price. So we asked four Bay Area dermatologists for their prices on common laser hair removal treatments, and compared those to American Laser Centers’ price list.
Here are the prices for six under arm treatments (which is a typical package): Two of the dermatologists charged more, but two charged less. Even when compared to the most expensive price on our list, American Laser Centers offered a $100 per-treatment savings.
Seth Matarasso, M.D., Dermatologist: “If you can save $50, $100, that’s a significant amount of money. But in the long run… Yes, you might save money, but are you compromising your health?”
Dermatologists like Dr. Seth Matarasso say consumers need to weigh any possible savings against the potential risk.
Dr. Seth Matarasso: “Is it worth putting your health and well being in jeopardy?”
Another key concern other dermatologists also have is that many of these cosmetic clinics do not have licensed physicians on-site for either the consultation or post-treatment.
Vic Narurkar, M.D., President of the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology and Aesthetic Surgery: “The hardest part of practicing medicine is not necessarily the technical aspect of performing a procedure, but judgment. Is this person appropriate for that procedure?”
Ann: “I’d even asked what happens if a patient gets burned. Well, just send them to a hospital. And I thought, `Who pays for that? Do we pay for it? Does the consumer pay for it?’”
Under current law, non-physicians such as physician assistants and registered nurses are allowed to perform certain procedures.
Candis Cohen, California Medical Board: “Non-physicians may perform certain types of medical type procedures as long as they have an arrangement with a physician who is doing the supervising. The supervising physician does not have to be on-site.”
American Laser Centers says its “patients are treated under the auspices of licensed California physicians.”
American Laser Centers has two doctors for its four Bay Area locations. One is in Humboldt county; the other is based in Utah.
But under two proposals making their way through the state legislature, the law could be changed, so that a doctor would have to be physically present at the site where treatment is performed.
Dr. Vic Narurkar: “There are certain procedures that can be delegated appropriately with an on-site supervising physician. The whole thing is about training and managing the patient’s expectations.”
Additional consumer protections can’t come soon enough for Ann.
Ann: “They’re coming in and making money off the people of California and someone should do something.”
The two bills we mentioned are Senate bills 1423 and 1474. S-B 1423 is tentatively scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee Monday.
Copyright 2006, ABC7/KGO-TV/DT