Risks, Benefits, Safety and Ethical Concerns
A fish pedicure consists of immersing the feet in a basin of water filled with fish. These fish, Garra rufa, sometimes referred to as doctor fish, eat the dead skin on the feet, revealing smooth, callus-free skin and cleaner cuticles.
The procedure has become popular because the fish are able to exfoliate and soften the feet in a non-painful way. The fish pedicure tickles but doesn’t hurt. However, these pedicures pose both health and environmental risks, and are in fact banned in many US states and parts of Canada and Europe.
There are several reasons why fish pedicures can be considered risky or dangerous. Here are the safety concerns of fish pedicures:
- It is difficult to disinfect the ponds between clients as the fish would have to be removed and the fish themselves cannot be disinfected.
- Some Garra rufa can be confused with another species of fish, the chinchin, which can grow teeth and bite, causing pain and increasing the risk of infection.
- There have been reports of
staph infections after fish pedicuresas a result of pathogenic bacteria in fish. Onychomadesis can occur after a fish pedicure, that is, when the toenails turn black and fall off. This is most likely caused by trauma to the nail due to pressure from the fish.
- In at least one case,
mycobacteriosis, a bacterial infection resulting in a rough patch on the skin, has been reported after a fish pedicure.
- There is a low risk of transmitting blood-borne diseases between clients if a person has an open cut that is bleeding in the pelvis.
The purported benefits of fish pedicures include reduction of calluses, smooth skin on the feet, and exfoliation of dry skin and rough areas. However, a pedicure performed by a human from a trusted salon will do the same, as will the home use of a pumice stone or foot scrub. The risks of fish pedicures outweigh the benefits.
A study found a
At least 14 states have banned fish pedicures, including:
- new York
- New Jersey
They are also banned in Mexico, parts of Europe, and parts of Canada.
There are also ethical concerns associated with fish pedicures.
- Because the fish are not native to North America, many will die in transit.
- If released into the water, they introduce a non-native species that can disrupt the ecosystem.
- Garra rufa will only eat dead skin if it is starving, so that the fish are not given other food.
- In some parts of the world, Garra rufa are overexploited to provide enough pedicures.
Fish pedicures in a salon involve stepping into a basin of water filled with Garra rufa, a fish native to the Middle East. The purported benefits are smoother feet and potentially less psoriasis, but safety and ethical concerns – including the potential for infection and poor hygiene between clients – outweigh the benefits.