Fish Pedicures: Are They Safe?

By:    Published: February 8, 2013

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Pedicures are an occasional indulgence for some, and a standard weekly routine for others. There are numerous manicure and pedicure salons in any given city, but a few have started offering a new and usual service: fish pedicures. This new style of pedicure has garnered a lot of attention and criticism. In this article, we’ll explain what’s involved in a fish pedicure and whether the benefits outweigh the risks.

How It Works

A fish pedicure is, like a traditional pedicure, intended to make your feet look and feel smoother. However, a fish pedicure utilizes the unusual practice of placing the client’s feet into a tank filled with small fish. These fish are typically the tiny, toothless Garra rufa fish, which are native to the Middle East. Once dunking your feet into the fish tank or pool, the fish feast on the dead skin of your feet to make them extra smooth.

A practice similar to fish pedicures first emerged in Asia in 2006, reports The Huffington Post. At that time, the toothless Garra rufa fish were used to treat skin diseases. Other research, however, points to the practice being in used in Middle East for hundreds of years. Regardless of where and when it originated, the practice has gained popularity in recent years and is now found in several different countries throughout the world.

Benefits Of Fish Pedicures

In general, the benefits of a fish pedicure are limited. The service basically allows the dead skin to be removed from a person’s feet, making the feet look and appear smoother. However, this is generally the same benefits offered by a regular pedicure. Some people claim the fish pedicure is more effective at removing dead skin cells and can even help treat psoriasis, but this has not been proven in a controlled setting.

At some salons or spas, the fish pedicure may be less expensive since it requires less work on the part of the employees than a regular pedicure. However, the novelty of the practice and the cost of acquiring and maintaining the fish have caused many of these businesses to drive up the prices of a fish pedicure.

Health Risks

Unfortunately, there are several health risks involved with getting a fish pedicure. First and foremost, the practice increases the risk of infection. Any small cuts or abrasions on the feet could expose the body to the micro-organisms and bacteria that may be in the water. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that the water is not always changed in between treatments on different clients. Therefore, blood-borne viruses like HIV and hepatitis may also get into the water and be passed on to another client. For this reason, people with cuts or abrasions on their feet should not get a fish pedicure.

In addition to the water becoming a breeding ground for bacteria, many health experts are concerned about the fish themselves acting as host to a variety of potential disease and organisms. In fact, some worry that the fish may cause antibiotic-resistant infections. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 6,000 fish that were imported to the United Kingdom in April 2011 carried a disease that caused hemorrhaging in the fish and ultimately led to their death.

The NIH reports that certain parts of the population are especially vulnerable to infection from the water or from the fish themselves, including those with diabetes, liver disease or an immune disorder.

Controversy

According to standard practice in salons and spas, any tools used to complete a pedicure must be sanitized in between each client. For a normal pedicure, this includes tools like nail files, foot baths, cuticle clippers and toenail clippers. However, health experts opposed to the practice of fish pedicures assert that there’s no way to sterilize the fish used for pedicures. In fact, to sterilize them would essentially kill them. Meanwhile, the water can be dumped out and the tanks cleaned in between clients (which not all salons and spas do), but that wouldn’t stop a potential infection from a fish itself. For more information on salon cleanliness and sanitation, see 10 Potential Hazards In A Beauty Salon.

The concerns over the risk of infection related to fish pedicures and the lack of sterilization options have stirred up quite a bit of controversy. Another problem is that, were the Garra rufa fish somehow released into the wild, they could disturb or even pose a threat to native plant and animal life. Meanwhile, animal rights groups have pointed out the fact that the fish must be starved in order to get them to eat off dead skin can be considered animal cruelty. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 10 states have already banned fish pedicures due to these issues.

Bottom Line

Due to the lack of scientific evidence to support the claimed benefits of fish pedicures and the possibility of infection, it’s much safer to get a traditional pedicure. However, it’s important to ensure that whatever services you get at a salon or spa meet sterilization standards since even a regular pedicure could potentially lead to infection in an unsterile setting.

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