Spot removal mystery shop

We sent mystery shoppers with raised spots to beauty clinics to see if therapists would do the right thing and send them to a GP.

16june spot removal mystery shop hero

Beauty therapists have plenty of ways to remove a dark spot from your skin. But there’s only one thing they should be doing, and that’s sending you to see a GP so it can be checked for melanoma.

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Our mystery shop

We sent mystery shoppers to beauty clinics across the country to see if therapists would offer to treat the raised spots they were shown. They aren’t meant to. The New Zealand Association of Registered Beauty Therapists president Judy West said members were prohibited from removing unidentifiable lesions and skin tags without permission from a registered medical practitioner. However, association membership is voluntary.

Auckland Council’s health and hygiene code of practice states only health practitioners can remove skin lesions and moles.

The risk for the consumer is a beauty therapist may not recognise the spot as a symptom of skin cancer. Given New Zealand’s high skin cancer rate, we think beauty therapists should steer clear of the issue and leave diagnosis to the doctors. A Brisbane research institute study recently found New Zealand had overtaken Australia as having the highest per capita rate of invasive melanoma.

Treatments offered

Our concerns were backed up with seven of the 46 clinics offering a treatment to get rid of the spot. None of the clinics that offered a treatment are members of the Association of Registered Beauty Therapists. Treatments offered included laser, Surgitron (a machine that uses radio waves) and Dermastamp (a skin-needling process). One therapist told our shopper they would be happy to “cut it out”, while another said they had a machine on the way that could simply “electrocute” it off.

All the clinics that said they could remove the spot were in Auckland and were visited by the same mystery shopper. She described the spot on her arm as a mole but on her rounds it was described by therapists and clinic office staff as a scar, skin tag, blemish and “warty lesion”. We sent a picture of it to Dr Amanda Oakley, a consultant dermatologist at Waikato Hospital and honorary associate professor.

Why the concern

Dr Oakley says our shopper had dermal melanocytic naevi, which can be removed after being diagnosed correctly. “However, basal cell carcinoma, amelanotic melanoma and some other, less common, malignant tumours can resemble dermal melanocytic naevi,” Dr Oakley says.

In 2010, the Middlemore Hospital Dermatology Department and Registered Beauty Therapists Assocation surveyed beauty therapists. Of the 79 who completed the questionnaire, 39 percent said they had not received formal training in identifying skin cancer. When asked how they would respond if a client was worried about a skin pigmentation, 90 percent said they would refer to a doctor.

However, 29 percent said they would treat a lesion that had been histologically confirmed as being in the early stages of melanoma. When shown a photo of the spot, 22 percent were unsure whether to treat it.

Dr Oakley says she has attended a therapists conference where attendees were asked if they would treat lesions that had been photographed and displayed.

“I was disappointed in the lack of knowledge of attendees and I didn’t feel confident that they could distinguish skin cancers from harmless lesions,” she says. “They receive very little relevant training. If they cannot confidently name a spot, they should decline to treat it until a doctor has told the client that it’s safe to do so.”

She wasn’t surprised by the results of our mystery shop.

“The concern is that melanoma is a dangerous cancer and must be diagnosed as early as possible. And early melanoma is very difficult to distinguish from a harmless mole or freckle.”

Melanoma NZ chief executive Linda Flay says anyone can buy laser devices that could be used to remove spots.

“We believe the classification of medical devices under Medsafe should take into account the risk of using them. Some people should never be able to get their hands on them. Therefore, a level of regulation is important,” Ms Flay says.

“Removing the lesion itself, or reducing the pigmentation from a potentially cancerous lesion by radio frequency can lead to misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis by a skin specialist and by then it could be too late. No attempts to remove skin lesions should be performed using IPL [intense pulsed light] or laser by the clinic.”

Given the high incidence of melanoma in New Zealand, caution is “absolutely warranted”, she says. The organisation strongly recommends treatment is only carried out after consultation with a medical practitioner.

What they said

Amax Laser Hair Removal

36 Great South Rd, Papatoetoe

This clinic identified the mark as a skin tag and said it could cut it out if our mystery shopper booked in for a 10-15-minute appointment. Amax was given the opportunity to comment but didn’t respond.

Ametrine Rose Healthy & Beauty

433A Hillsborough Rd, Auckland

The clinic said a laser was needed and offered a treatment for $59, discounted from $100. In its response, the clinic said it had “no prior knowledge regarding how beauty therapy businesses could potentially violate regulations with respect to removal of moles”. It went on to say it had “advertised the removal of moles on Trade Me and received many praises thus far”. It said it would immediately stop removing moles and look into formal training.

Beauty Forever

35 Remuera Rd, Newmarket

Our shopper was told her spot was a skin tag and offered numbing cream and laser treatment for $80. Beauty Forever declined to comment on our findings.

The Eye & Face Institute

29 Melanesia Rd, Kohimarama, Auckland

Our mystery shopper was told a CO2 fractional laser would get rid of the spot and treatment would cost $80. The clinic owner said the matter was of “great concern”. She told staff to not remove or offer treatment around spots, warts and moles and to refer clients to their GP. She also planned further training so they could identify types of blemishes.

Laser Clinics New Zealand

Shop 7, Station Sq, 28 Remuera Rd, Newmarket

Our mystery shopper was initially told the spot looked like a scar, then a mole. Another staff member said “skin needling will break down the scar tissue and give it a softer appearance”. In the skin consultation with the manager, she was recommended five sessions of Dermastamp. Laser Clinics did not respond to our inquiries.

Parisian Clinic

Unit 11, 295 Ti Rakau Drive, East Tamaki

This clinic offered to use a laser. “We can do it now if you like.” In his response owner Andre Palmere said “the whole industry needs to be trained properly”.

Q Medispa

47 Quadrant Rd, Onehunga Heights, Auckland

Our shopper was told “We will be getting in a little high-frequency machine and it kind of electrocutes off any dark spots and pigmentations. It just really looks like a skin tag.” Q Medispa didn’t return our emails and phone call.

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