Associate of Occupational Science in Cosmetology, Nail Technician

Toe Nibbles

What is a fish pedicure?

A fish pedicure, also known as a fish spa, involves patrons dipping their feet in a tub of water filled with small fish called Garra rufaGarra rufa are sometimes referred to as “doctor fish” because they eat away dead skin found on peoples’ feet, leaving newer skin exposed. This is not a traditional pedicure in the sense that we think. No scrubs, massaging, toenail care etc… The service consists of a simple tank or basin with about 100 fish inside that the client places their feet into. Prices are usually around $35 for about a 15 min. session. Not to relaxing if you ask me.

Garra rufa are native to the Middle East, where they have been used as a medical treatment for individuals with skin diseases, like psoriasis. One study has illustrated the effectiveness of fish pedicures in the treatment of psoriasis; however, this treatment was performed in a controlled setting at a medical university in Austria, not at a nail salon . CDC is not aware of any published reports on illnesses resulting from fish pedicures. Nail salon foot baths, however, have caused outbreaks of nontuberculous mycobacterial infections that left infected pedicure customers with boils and scars.

Why have some states banned the use of fish pedicures?

An entrepreneur named John Ho has been credited with bringing the trend to his salon in Virginia called Yvonne’s Day Spa. He said he wanted to come up with something unique while finding a replacement for pedicures that use razors to scrape off dead skin. The razors have fallen out of favor with state regulators because of concerns about whether they’re sanitary. There are also franchise salons available in Delaware, Maryland, Missouri, as well as Virginia.

Each state has the authority to ban fish pedicures. At least 14 states, including Texas, Oklahoma and Florida, have outlawed  them. Virginia doesn’t see a problem. Plus, they have no jurisdiction over skin, unless it’s a face. Ohio permitted the fish pedicures after a review of the regulation and service details.

Most of the bans are based on at least one of the following reasons:

  • The fish pedicure tubs cannot be sufficiently cleaned between customers when the fish are present.
  • The fish themselves cannot be disinfected or sanitized between customers. Due to the cost of the fish, salon owners are likely to use the same fish multiple times with different customers, which increases the risk of spreading infection.
  • Chinese Chinchin, another species of fish that is often mislabeled as Garra rufa and used in fish pedicures, grows teeth and can draw blood, increasing the risk of infection.
  • According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceGarra rufa could pose a threat to native plant and animal life if released into the wild because the fish is not native to the United States.
  • Fish pedicures do not meet the legal definition of a pedicure.
  • Regulations specifying that fish at a salon must be contained in an aquarium.
  • The fish must be starved to eat skin, they live in an environment free of a food source, which might be considered animal cruelty.
A special thanks to Kent Berry, Clary Sage Barista Instructor, for trying a Fish Pedicure, in Mexico, and documenting the experience for us to share with everyone.
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