SACRAMENTO, CA - Now under a doctor's supervision, Joanna Mello is healing from the laser burns she suffered a few months ago.
The registered nurse wanted some spider veins removed, but instead of going to a doctor, she went to a medical spa, where it was cheaper, but no doctor present.
'Within a few minutes, I had developed severe red marks, and it was very apparent they were burns," Mello said.
The International Spa Association said more than 1,500 medi-spas have opened in the U.S. from 2002 to 2010.
Many are legal.
In California, they're supposed to be run by doctors. Often, a business will pay doctors to lend their names and licenses, but won't actually be there for elective procedures like laser hair removal or Botox.
"Esthetic procedures generate income and there are people who just want to jump on the band wagon and make a lot of money," Dermatologist Suzanne Kilmer, MD, said.
When a doctor isn't around for the procedure, frightening things can happen.
The American Society of Dermatologic Surgery provided pictures of patients who are permanently disfigured.
A bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown this month cracks down on medi-spas starting Jan. 1 by increasing the fines from roughly $1,200 to $50,000 if doctors aren't involved, with prison time also possible.
All that to protect consumers.
"So, it's a medically-owned establishment run as a medical practice ... as opposed to a corporation that just comes in and wants to churn through a bunch of clients. We call them patients," Kilmer said.
"This is probably about three days after I was treated, pink areas with blisters on top," Mello said.
Mello's leg has come a long way. She's glad a crackdown on medi-spas is coming, so fewer patients have to suffer.
"It'll be there for the rest of my life," Mello said. "A good deal isn't always going to be a good outcome."
A defense attorney said the penalties are too strong. Sometimes, businesses don't know they're breaking the law. She feels an education campaign that tells medi-spas what they can and can't do is a better way to go.
By Nannette Miranda