Trendy Treatment or Dangerous Delight?

Fish Pedicures: Delight or DangerCredit: Flickr: Simon Wicks

I'd readily dunk my feet into a pool, a stream - or even a bucket of water.

Ask me to do the same in a tank of tiny carp, and I'd probably say no.

But more and more salons are offering a different kind of spa experience to their clients: fish pedicures.

Since 2008, when the trend started in Turkey but made its way to many Asian cities and also in America, our little fishy friends have played a big part in the spa industry - nibbling at the toes of customers in this odd but profitable spa treatment known as fish pedicures or fish reflexology.

Fish pedicures made a splash, but since then, several studies have showed that this trendy treatment might very well prove to be a dangerous delight.

What is a Fish Pedicure, pray tell?

So, you want a fish pedicure. Well, as a client to a spa offering this treatment, you'll be submerging your toes in warm water with tiny carp (called Garra rufa or Doctor fish) that will busily nibble on your toes. These fish actually nibble on the dead skin of your feet - a kind of fishy exfoliation.

The Garra Rufa fishCredit: The Garra Rufa fishThose who have experienced fish pedicures say that it tickles, but it doesn't hurt - since the fish have no teeth and their nibbles don't actually puncture your skin. Treatments may be as brief as 15 minutes, though most spas offer 30-minute treatments after which the client's feet are given a massage, scrub-off, and for the ladies - a pedicure of nail trimming and polishing.

Clients say that after their session with their aqua-friends in the tank, their feet feel smooth and clean - and free of callusses and dead skin.

The Fish Reflexology Underwater World in Singapore (Sentosa Island) offers a massage by a trained reflexology therapist after your pool time with the little carps is done, leaving you feeling pampered and relaxed even after some giggles on your part.

There are several videos on YouTube showing what fish pedicures are - so I included this one below for you to have an idea what the spa treatment looks like.

A Recipe for Bacterial Infection

However, since the rise of popularity in spas with fish pedicures, several studies and reports have emerged warning about the dangers of this trendy spa treatment.

In America, there are 10 states that ban the use of fish pedicures, according to the Center for Communicable Diseases. According to the study quoted by the CDC:

Nail salon foot baths, however, have caused outbreaks of nontuberculous mycobacterial infections that left infected pedicure customers with boils and scars. [4454]

The reason why fish pedicures have been banned in several of the States in America is because of one or more of the following reasons:

  1. Between uses, the tubs or tanks used by clients cannot be sufficiently cleaned
  2. Salon owners use the same fish multiple times between customers, and the fish themselves cannot be sanitized
  3. Instead of the particular Garra rufa fish specifically used for fish pedicures, the Chinese chinchin fish (another species of the Garra rufa) might be used but this species grow teeth and can draw blood - leading to possible risk of infection
  4. Fish pedicures fall short of the legal definition of what a pedicure should be
  5. According to different states, fish in a salon must be confined in an aquarium
  6. It is considered animal cruelty to starve the fish in order for them to have an "appetite" to eat dead skin of clients' feet and toes

So, with the possibility of people with open sores, cuts in the skin, or even underlying conditions like diabetes, it is no surprise that the CDC warns against fish pedicures.



Leave the Fish Alone

Pumice stone and callusesCredit: Dreamstime stock imagesAnd so, take my advice.

Grab a pumice stone for your calluses or dead skin on your feet.

And don't bother the fish.