The fish pedicure, or fish spa, is a unique spa treatment that uses fish to help eliminate dry, dead, flaky skin on the feet. While it might seem a bit weird and offbeat, there are people who swear by fish manicures.
The fish have been used for years in Turkey to help patients with psoriasis. Whether it works or is worth the money is up for debate. While spa owners tout the fish’s’ ability to create soft feet, the medical community has its doubts.
Here’s the lowdown on fish pedicures so you can decide for yourself.
Just What is a Fish Pedicure?
A fish pedicure uses the same foot bath as a traditional sap pedicure. The difference is that the tub, rather than being filled with cleansing agents, is filled with up to 100 small fish known as Garra rufa, or “doctor fish.” These “doctor fish” actually feed on dead skin cells found on the feet, but leave the healthy, underlying skin alone*.
Native to the Middle East, the Garra rufa live in warm waters with little plant or aquatic life, so the fish learned to feed on whatever food was available, including dead skin**.
They tiny fish have no teeth, making is nearly impossible for them to eat the healthy skin beneath the dry skin.
Fish Pedicure Video
Why Some Love Them
Proponents of the fish pedicure swear that their feet have never been softer or smoother. The pedicure is done in a specially designed “tank” that resembles a pedicure tub. The tub is filled with warm water, which, according to manufacturers, is continually filtered for the safety of you and the fish. Then approximately one hundred fish are added and they begin to nibble away.
Since the fish don’t all feed at the same time, you don’t actually have all 100 feeding on your feet at once. After 15 to 30 minutes, depending on how much dry skin you have, the fish are removed and you receive a standard pedicure. This is said to leave the feet soft and smooth***.
While it may be disconcerting to have fish nibble at your feet, people who’ve experienced the pedicure say that after you get over the initial “tickling” or “fine vibration” feel on your feet, it’s actually very relaxing.
For maximum benefit, treatments should be done on a regular basis every few weeks to remove every bit of dead skin. After that’s been achieved, receiving a fish pedicure every 6 to 8 weeks will keep feet soft, smooth and healthy.
It’s not Always Legal
Despite its “cool” or “ick” factor, depending on which camp you’re in, many states in the US have made fish pedicures illegal. Others have strict regulations in place to safeguard client safety as well as safety to native wildlife. According to the CDC, plans are in place for the following reasons*.
The tubs the pedicures are performed in can’t be properly cleaned and disinfected between pedicure clients.
You can’t sanitize fish. Most states require that the tools used to perform pedicures, such as clippers, files and pumice, be sterilized between uses.
Since you can’t sterilize fish, spas may be breaking the law. If someone with an infection or foot fungus gets a pedicure prior to yours, the fish may spread that infection to your feet. Also, fish don’t use a bathroom, so if they decide to go, it will be in the water your feet are soaking in.
There is a species of Chinese fish called Chinchin that looks quite similar to the Garra rufa. Unfortunately for spa customers, these fish have teeth and that can tear flesh making you susceptible to infection.
What do they do with all those fish if the pedicure thing isn’t a hit? They dump them in local lakes and rivers. Because “doctor fish” aren’t native to North America, they can disrupt the local food chain and pose a threat to the native plants and animals.
To make the Garra rufa eat skin during a pedicure, they have to be starved (apparently, flaky foot skin isn’t their preferred meal). Some animal rights advocates scream, “Animal cruelty!” with this issue.
It’s important to note that the CDC has NOT received any complaints of infection as a result of the fish pedicure. The bans have come from state health departments trying to take a proactive stance.
Ultimately, the decision to immerse your feet with fish is yours. Obviously if you are diabetic or have disorders that affect your immune system, you should avoid this type of manicure fish pedicure. Otherwise, having your toes tickled by “doctor fish” might be exactly what you need to have smoother, softer feet.
Have you ever had a fish pedicure?
Do you think it’s cruel?
Give us your thoughts below