5 Treatments Derms Say You Should Never Buy on Groupon

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If you want to incite the ire of a group of board-certified dermatologists, say the word Groupon around them. The good stewards of hair, skin and nails do not mince words when it comes to procuring medical treatments on the local discount marketplace. “Don’t Groupon your face,” cautioned Portland dermatologist Gretchen Vanderbeek, MD. 

This is the main sentiment expressed by most of the doctors we interviewed, and we agree with their expert opinion, but we wanted to know exactly which procedures are completely off limits or if maintenance treatments like chemical peels, microdermabrasion or laser hair removal are considered ok. Here, the experts weigh-in and sound off on the dangers of bargain cosmetic treatments. 

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1. Laser Skin Resurfacing Treatments
Warwick, RI dermatologist Caroline Chang, MD says “I would not use a Groupon for laser treatments. Lasers are high-powered devices that, in the hands of an unqualified medical professional, can cause severe risks such as permanent scarring.” 

Ontario, Canada dermatologist Dusan Sajic, MD says laser treatments are definitely on his no-no list: “I like to classify absolute no-no’s based on if the treatment can burn or permanently scar, disfigure, cause infection or cause life-threatening problems or organ threatening problems. Anything ablative, whether fractional of not, actually burns and damages the skin in a controlled manner. This includes radio-frequency microneedling and Fraxel and Halo lasers. All lasers and IPLs can cause burns, but these are particularly worrisome. There are also specific skin types like darker skin tones that have a much higher risk for burns or discoloration. Many of my patients need pre-treatment with specific and very tailored skin care like hydroquinone for preventative measures. Not only are you safer getting this done in a board-certified dermatologist office, but should there be a complication, these are the skin experts you want by your side to treat it. Like with any complication, timing is everything.”

Bloomfield Hills, MI dermatologist Linda Honet, MD says to never ever use Groupon where there’s a needle or powerful device like a laser involved. “The best that can happen is that it doesn’t work or last,” she says. “The worst that can happen is that you may have less than desirable results or permanent side effects or complications that are tough to reverse or fix. Don’t gamble on your health or cut costs. Seek the care of a knowledgeable, well-trained, skilled core physician like a board-certified dermatologist. Remember that full price means full care. Ask any dermatologist if they would ever do a Groupon cosmetic treatment on themselves, and the answer will be a swift, horrified 'No!’”

Bannockburn, IL dermatologist Heather Downes, MD agrees. “Burns and scars from lasers and IPL devices are a major cause of lawsuits. The only time I’ve seen burns or scars from laser treatments was in patients who were lasered by someone who was NOT a board-certified dermatologist.”

2. Microneedling
Germantown, TN dermatologist Purvisha Patel, MD says to scroll past the micro-injury inducing microneedling offers, too. “I would say anything that requires knowledge of anatomy and science, pass on. Especially procedures where blood is involved, from injections to microneedling to lasers. These procedures should be performed in a medical setting where MDs are present. If you can bleed or the skin gets poked, disrupted or starts bleeding, this treatment needs to be done in a medical setting which is likely not the place that places Groupon ads.”

“It’s important to not let yourself be fooled into thinking that a laser or an injectable such as a filler or toxin is not a medical procedure,” says New York dermatologist Jennifer Silverman Kitchin, MD, “because they most definitely are medical treatments. And they are treatments with real risks. If you are considering any type of invasive medical treatment for your skin, such as lasers, injectables, peels or radio-frequency microneedling, you should see the only true skin expert, a board-certified dermatologist.”

3. Laser Hair Removal
Oklahoma City, OK dermatologist Kimberly Jerdan, MD says to be wary of the laser hair removal membership offers: “I would say no to laser hair removal with a Groupon. Laser hair removal should be tailored to the patient’s skin type and type of hair, and you never know what kind of laser the facility has, and whether it suits your skin or hair best. I’ve seen many burns or permanent scarring this way. Also, when done well with people who understand the science of the wavelengths, one shouldn’t have to continue treatment for more than six to nine months. I’ve seen many patients get scammed with a ‘monthly laser hair removal fee’ that they’ve been doing for two years! It should be tailored to the patient, not the number of sessions.”

4. Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) Therapy for Skin and Hair
One of the biggest regenerative medicine trends has finally made its way on Groupon and Chantilly, VA dermatologist Brenda Dintiman, MD says to stay far, far away from PRP coupon deals: “Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) has very specific blood collecting tubes to collect and spin to separate the platelets. No shortcuts or substitutions can be made, or the patient is put at risk for infections such as hepatitis B and C and HIV; which has already reportedly happened in a clinic in New Mexico. When the price is so low on a Groupon, you can be sure that they are cutting safety corners and patient safety is not their first priority. There are other ways to save money, but not when it comes to healthcare and cosmetic procedures like PRP for hair loss and microneedling!”

Beverly, MA dermatologist Vladimir Ratushny, MD adds: “I would avoid any invasive medical procedure advertised on venues such as Groupon. You should always look at the credentials of the individual doing the procedure and select an expert such as a board-certified dermatologist to trust with your skin and hair health. PRP involves drawing up blood and one has to be very careful with any blood products. As a board-certified dermatologist that does hair transplantation, I have the training to ensure patient safety and outcomes.”

5. Botox and Fillers
"Just say no to injectable treatments," says every single doctor we interviewed, including Washington DC dermatologist Thomas Adrian, MD. “Whenever anyone asks me why I don’t do Groupons, I tell them that I don’t do Groupon Botox, I just fix Groupon Botox.”

Dr. Dowes notes, “These Groupon offers typically come from med spas who do not employ board-certified dermatologists or plastic surgeons, but rather estheticians, nurses, and other providers who have not been residency- or fellowship-trained in cosmetic dermatology. I spoke to one med spa owner who told me she purchases Botox for her medspa at half price through a reseller who imports it from other countries. This is illegal. And it is impossible to know if the Botox is authentic. Botulinum toxins and fillers can only be LEGALLY purchased at full price through their respective U.S. manufacturers such as Allergan and Galderma. How else could these med spas afford to offer such low Groupon prices for these injections?”

Glendale, AZ dermatologist Tony Nuara, MD cautions, “Most cosmetic injectables carry a National Drug Code (NDC) number. They are prescription medical devices and as such should really only be done by a qualified physician. For the life of me, I still don’t understand how it is legal for spas to do this. If they were selling prescription medications, the authorities would be all over it.”

Dr. Sajic says a bad result isn’t the only reason to avoid injectables on the coupon app. “Injection into an artery can cause blindness. It is crucial that one picks a doctor who knows anatomy exquisitely and who goes to conferences very frequently to brush up on it. While this has been mostly reported with fillers, there has been one reported case of platelet-rich plasma causing blindness!” Flushing, NY dermatologist Winifred Chu, MD says, “If not performed by a board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon who are physicians specially trained in facial anatomy, serious complications can occur which includes but not limited to infections or vascular occlusion leading to skin necrosis and blindness.”

Know Before You Buy
New Orleans dermatologist Mary Lupo, MD said it best when she cautioned, “Good cosmetic treatments are not cheap and cheap cosmetic treatments aren’t good.” But there are some reputable doctors who have used the site to get new patients in the door. The good doctors we spoke to said if you really want to Groupon your treatments, research your practitioner and make sure he or she is legit. Dallas dermatologist Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand, MD says, “I think asking who is performing the procedure is critical. Is it a board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon? Some colleagues offer Groupon to gain new patients, but I personally don’t. It is important for the public to do their homework before buying.”

“Groupon can be perfectly fine for any cosmetic treatment, as long as it is performed by someone with adequate training—namely, a board-certified dermatologist,” advises Milford, MA dermatologist Dennis Porto, MD. “The issue is that very few dermatologists use Groupon because we are already very busy with the huge number of patients who seek the care of an expert. Thus, Groupon is often a place for those who are less qualified to find unsuspecting patients seeking a bargain. This isn’t always the case, however, so just check to make sure the treating physician is a board-certified dermatologist and you can rest assured. These dermatologists are identified with a 'FAAD' after their name.”

New York dermatologist Ritu Saini, MD says she's advertised on Groupon, so it goes to show you can't rule the site out entirely if you research what it is exactly that you are buying. “About nine years ago I did a Groupon for a chemical peel and skin consultation," adds Saini. "Every single treatment and consultation was performed by me. It was actually very helpful for uninsured patients. So, I think it's not the Groupon that's the issue, it's more critical to know exactly the type of facility it is and who is performing the treatment.”