The offbeat, controversial beauty craze, which has been sweeping the nation since the summer, uses chin chin fish (also called “doctor fish,” or massage fish”) to nibble on dead, scaly skin in place of a pumice stone.
The New Hampshire Board of Barbering, Cosmetology, and Esthetics ruled on Nov. 3 that in the context of fish pedicures, the fish are considered to be nail salon tools and must be subject to sanitization.
Of course, sanitizing fish the same way you sterilize a nail file means killing the fish. Here’s the state licensing agency’s official statement posted on its Web site:
“The Board has determined that fish cannot be utilized as an implement when used in the care for the skin therefore, falls under the sanitation and disinfection administrative rules of the Board. Those rules require that all implements be sanitized and disinfected before and after services on each client. If sanitation or disinfection cannot be achieved, the implement must be disposed of after a service on each client.”
Seems like there is some wiggle room here — that a salon could use fish but would have to “dispose” of each group of fish after their first use as pedicure implements. That solution wouldn’t necessarily mean the cruel act of throwing the fish away, but perhaps exiling them forever to a retirement tank.
But I’m splitting fins here because at $4 a fish, it’s simply unaffordable to spend $400 in aquarium overhead per pedicure, let alone the logistics of handling overpopulation in that golden retirement tank.
Cosmetology board administrator Lynda Elliott says Kim’s Spa & Nails in Derry — the first salon in New England to offer fish pedicures — has been formally notified that they can no longer offer the service.
“The board’s job is to protect the consumer,” says Elliott. “Fish can carry all sorts of parasites and bacteria.”
The state licensing agency says it is concerned with diseases getting passed from fish-to-customer and customer-to-customer with the fish as the transmitter.
“Let’s say one customer has foot fungus and a fish nibbles on it. If 10 other people put their feet in with the same fish, I don’t want to end up with your foot fungus,” Elliott says.
“Also, these chin chins start growing teeth when they get older. They could start drawing blood,” she says.
Yikes. Didn’t know about the teeth part. Lucky I was nibbled by the baby fish.
There isn’t tons of consumer information available on Chinese chin chins, but this prominent Malaysian fish spa offers a side-by-side comparison with therapeutic Garra Rufa fish from Turkey. They claim that older chin chins will peel your skin off and feast on healthy human skin when the scaly stuff is gone.
Kim’s Spa had been planning to also introduce Garra Rufa fish, which have been widely acclaimed for their effective treatment of eczema, psoriasis and other skin ailments. That’s now on hold. The adult Turkish fish apparently have no teeth.
“It’s heartbreaking,” says Delores Nichols, director of spa services at the New Hampshire salon, “This was something we all were looking forward to doing. And we’re hopeful that the fish pedicures will be back.”
According to Nichols, only 20 people had tried the fish treatment before the state intervened.
She adds that Kim’s Spa is now gathering testimony from scientists about the hygienic safety of chin chin pedicures. The salon intends to appeal the state’s ban at the next cosmetology board meeting on Dec. 8.
As for the 500 chin chins who are potentially out of work, Nichols says they are acting hyperactive.
“Everytime we walk near the tank, the fish swarm to where we are,” she says. “They will jump out of the water toward my hands.”