The Medical Spa A Marriage of Science and Beauty

PlasticSurgery.com Staff Report © 2005-2009

Maureen Gallagher, a top New York City runway and catalogue model for two decades, is no stranger to cosmetic and plastic procedures. So far, she’s had four surgical rejuvenations which keep her working and in the money.

"Some years ago, I found the secret to youth is not pulling facial skin tighter but replacing the fat in your face that naturally dissipates over time," Maureen told PlasticSurgery.com.

But during her most recent facial rejuvenation, Maureen came upon something relatively new at Ajune, (the word is a French contraction for "to youth,") the Center for Beauty Synergy in New York City, and a facility adjoining the surgical clinic of plastic surgeon Dr. Mauro C. Romita. Two weeks before Maureen’s mid-face lift, she had a series of eight rubdowns known as "lymphatic drainage massage" at Ajune, a medical spa in Manhattan.

"I think lymphatic massages reduced the usual swelling by about half," says Maureen.

However, if the word "lymphatic" sounds too far out, you could also spring for a Parafango body wrap or a La Stone Therapy.

New York City: Home To Numerous Medical SpasIn addition to being endlessly relaxing and sustaining, Ajune’s massages and various wraps have a medical purpose: before and after surgery, the various pamperings are said to make surgical procedures go easier, with less swelling and bruising after operations because circulation and metabolism are increased.

The Medical Benefits of the Recovery Spa

In the ever-expanding world of plastic and cosmetic surgery, the medical spa, a marriage of science and beauty, is becoming a major trend. It has become a sort of one-stop beauty and loveliness shop for skin treatments plus surgical rejuvenations that feature, at a minimum, laser treatments, facial peels, microdermabrasion, collagen injections and Botox ®.

Experts at the International Spa Association, the Day Spa Association, the International Spa Association and the International Medical Spa Association reckon anywhere from 500 to 1200 such medical spas now exist in the United States, with more being planned.

"I can’t believe I look better now than I did when I was 28," Maureen said after the most recent procedure. "It helps my job tremendously if I continue to care for my skin after plastic surgery."

Adds Mauro C. Romita, M.D., Ajune’s founder and director: "My approach to the medical spa was to treat all aspects of beauty because surgery is not the only answer to every person’s case. Lymphatic drainage massage, for instance, helps patients heal better from deeply invasive procedures like a full facelift or a tummy tuck because the massage also helps remove the fluid that builds in reaction to surgery. As swelling minimizes, circulation improves, bringing more nutrient-rich blood to the site. The bottom line is, a massage therapist makes a plastic surgeon’s job easier."

Medical Spas Are Popular in Travel Destinationsmicrodermabrasion, skin improves its ability to perspire and clean itself. And that makes you look fresher and more youthful, longer.

"I often jot down for clinicians in the spa what type of aesthetic work should be done before I operate," says Dr. Romita. "The whole idea of a medical spa is doing non-invasive — but effective — treatments."

In Southern California, after 29-year-old Jessica (she did not want to be fully identified) gave birth, she decided it was time to take care of the stubborn fat on her inner and outer thighs which no amount of dieting or exercise seemed to reduce. So she had liposuction at SpaMD in LaJolla, California

"The place gave me a much more private feeling than if I were at a hospital," Jessica says. "To me, most hospitals and many clinics are cold, sterile and smell of medicine and illness. But at the medical spa, the first thing I saw in the lobby was a waterfall."

She also liked the massages that were included in her surgical procedures and plans on going back for more on a regular basis.

Easing Surgical Recovery

The two concepts — the spa and a plastic surgery clinic — go together like love and marriage because more people, like Jessica, want a bit more pampering and soothing aftercare along with their facial and other surgical rejuvenations. Moreover, the concept works from the opposite direction, too. While you’re taking the waters or getting a massage at a spa, why not make an appointment with the staff physician for a little Botox ® or Restylane ®? And go home looking really refreshed? Thus, the concept of medical spas is actually a convergence of two, well-established mega-businesses — the $8.3 billion world of plastic and cosmetic surgery and the $11 billion healing spa industry.

A handful of medical spas are organized under several trade associations like the Day Spa Association and the International Medical Spa Association. Some facilities combine a spa with wellness, diagnostics and anti-aging services while others specialize in cosmetic dentistry, along with the typical day or destination spa amities. The Blue Water Spa, a Raleigh, North Carolina, facility that bills itself as a plastic surgery medical spa, offers the full range of plastic and cosmetic surgery operations.

Other surgical centers install themselves in popular travel destinations spots and offer fun in the sun and surf — providing the surgeon says OK — after the stitches and makeovers.

But the bottom line in all medical spas seems to be offerings the techniques required to beautify, soothe and care for skin and some cosmetic procedures like the ever popular Botox ® and favorite fillers like Restylane ®. Thus, many dermatologists and cosmetic doctors are rapidly adding skin specialists who offer aesthetic skin treatments that sound almost good enough to eat. For instance, Ajune in New York City offers, among other spa and aesthetic services, The Ajune Classic Ginger Massage, the Godiva Chocolate Body Wrap and a Shea Butter Body Emulsion. Or, if you’ve already had lunch, you might want to consider The Rainwater Body Polish, The Pacificia Pebble Pedicure or the Green Tea Wash.

"The medical spa concept is growing so rapidly because younger patients are having cosmetic procedures in their 20′s instead of waiting until they are showing some serious aging in their 40′s," says Wendy Lewis, a New York City plastic and cosmetic surgery consultant who advises patients in search of exactly the right plastic surgeon for a particular procedure.

Medical Spas Bring Vacation and Recovery Together"More plastic surgery patients want to feel pampered and get away from sterile places associated with sickness," says Eric Light, president of the Strawberry Hill Group, a consulting firm which has helped set up many U.S. and oversees medical spas during the last three decades. "The emerging trend we are seeing in American cosmetic and plastic surgery is starting to look more like what is offered at spa and wellness centers in Europe," he says. "For many Americans, the notion has become a question of, not so much fixing the damage of aging, but preventing the damage from happening for as long as possible."

Examples of leading medical spas on the cutting edge of the trend, according to Light, include New York City’s Juva; the Blue Water Spa in Raleigh, North Carolina; the WellMax Center at LaQuinta in Indian Wells, Calif.; the Greenbriar Resort in West Virginia and the Millennium in Newport Beach, Calif.

"About seventy percent of our patients come in for cosmetic procedures and end up being evaluated for diet, nutrition, lifestyle changes and hormone balancing," says Richard M. Foxx, M.D., director of the Medical and Skin Spa at Aqua Serena in Indian Wells, Calif.

Kathleen, 48, (she also asked not to be identified) works in contract sales for housing developments and owns a condo in Indian Wells, Calif., where she frequently entertains clients. She travels weekly from her home about 100 miles away in Bakersfield and frequently uses the fitness center and spa near her vacation dwelling.

The medical spa...is becoming a major trend."That medical spa is in a lovely setting and not at all like making an appointment at a doctor’s or dermatologist’s office," she says. "I stopped in to see what the medical side was about, started with some Restylane ® and Botox ® and then started having glycolic facials. I work in an industry dominated by men so I need to maintain my appealing looks. And it works. People usually notice the changes in my face right away."

Medical Spas Inside Hospitals?

While many patients turn away from medical settings, others embrace them. So one of the most recent developments is the medical spa set in a hospital.

"Our cosmetic and plastic surgery patients appreciate the security of having their procedures done in a hospital, rather than a clinic or the surgeon’s office," says Barry L. Eppley, M.D., D.M.D. a professor of plastic surgery at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. His medical spa, OLOGY (Greek for "study") was so named because so many things in medicine end with the suffix "ology." Dr. Eppley’s facility offers Ayurvedic (Sanskrit for "life" and "knowledge") spa treatments with aesthetic skin and facial treatments like one known as "Shirodara," (warm oil dripped onto the forehead and then massaged into the scalp) and another called "Vichy shower hydrotherapy" (getting a warm shower while reclined on a table,) along with the more commonly known and used laser treatments, fillers and other cosmetic surgery procedures.

"Spa treatments have been medically shown to have health benefits, including lower blood pressure, reduced stress, decreased healing times, less pain and decreased need for medication," says Dr. Eppley.

Hospitalized patients at the Clarian West Medical Center in Indianapolis, OLOGY’S home, can also order massage, relaxation therapy and other delights, at their bedsides. Inpatients at the Hackensack University Medical Center Hospital in Bergen County, New Jersey, can also use the many services of its day spa, BEYOND. Yet another hospital-based medical spa is offered at the Condell Medical Center Inner Spa in Libertyville, Illinois,

"The post-op period is the most uncomfortable for plastic surgery patients," says Julio S. Gallo, M.D., a surgeon at The MIAMI Institute which offers cosmetic surgery and dentistry, dermatology and wellness counseling.

"When patients leave the clinic, they travel down a hallway, take an elevator up a floor and walk into their five-star suite at the Four Seasons on Miami’s Brickell Avenue," says Dr. Gallo.

If you’re interested in any type medical spa, check on the following items, suggests Pradeep Sinha, M.D., Ph.D. at the Atlanta Institute for Aesthetic Facial Surgery:

"Is the facility affiliated with a licensed physician or medical director? Not all medical directors, even if they are M.D.s, are plastic surgeons," says Dr. Sinha. "Be sure to ask."

"And, be wary of places that do not include an evaluation or a first meeting with the surgeon as part of the process," says Dr. Sinha. "Be sure and inquire about the equipment in the facility and make sure it’s top of the line."

The growth of medical spas makes you think of Italian actress Sophia Loren’s advice about eternal beauty. She once said: "Nothing makes a woman more beautiful than her own belief that she is beautiful."