Tag Archives: fish pedicures

Are Fish Pedicures Dangerous to Your Health?

Back when fish pedicures were a growing fad in the United States, my feet took a dunk at a New Hampshire nail salon. I chronicled the experience for the Boston Herald business section and for a New Hampshire Magazine humor column.

Here’s the New Hampshire Magazine cartoon by the talented Brad Fitzpatrick that ran with my column:

For the uneducated, fish pedicures are when schools of flesh-eating fish (a species called “Garra rufa“) put licensed nail salon workers on the unemployment line. The fish feast on your dead skin – leaving your feet refreshed – and don’t require a tip.

Shortly after my articles, fish pedicures were banned in the United States, though CNN reports that this service was quite popular in England for some time.

Now, the JAMA Dermatology medical journal published a July 3, 2018 case study of a young woman suffering from onychomadesis, a complete halt in nail growth.  Although author Dr. Shari Lipner states the exact cause of her nail loss is unknown, she concludes “it is likely that direct trauma caused by fish biting multiple nail units causes a cessation in nail plate production.”

The CNN headline will certainly put a scare into any future customers.

Those are my toenails in the fish tank picture at the top of this blog – and those toenails are still growing like weeds years later.

Are fish pedicures dangerous to your health? I’m not a doctor, but I can unequivocally state the practice wasn’t harmful to me.

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The best fish pedicure cartoon I’ve ever seen — EVER

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Granted, the genre of fish pedicure cartooning is still in its infancy given the trend’s relative freshness.

But that shouldn’t diminish the significance of the mega-talented Brad Fitzpatrick’s latest cartoon that illustrates my “Last Laugh” column in the January issue of New Hampshire Magazine.

Brad captured the spirit of my foot with such gusto that I might commission him to do an oil painting of both feet.

He apparently loves the picture, too, because he has created a “Making of the Fish Pedicure Cartoon” video condensing his three hour labor of love into eight minutes.

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In other news, fish pedicures are still BANNED in New Hampshire.

I cannot believe that incoming U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen doesn’t even mention this issue on her Web site.

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Fish Pedicures Now BANNED in NH

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Just got word that New Hampshire, the state that doesn’t care if you wear a motorcycle helmet or not, just cracked down on fish pedicures.

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.”

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Are fish pedicures cruel to the fish?

Fish pedicure photo courtesy of CultureSchlock.com

Fish pedicure photo courtesy of CultureSchlock.com

Despite producing some of the most heartless, insensitive and tacky advertising campaigns, I’m glad that the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) group is around. In a world where baby seals are still clubbed to death and rabbits are injected in the eyeballs, PETA’s radicalism keeps animal abuse issues in the public eye.

So I’m wondering, was I in any way exploiting dozens of lovable chin chins when I recently plunged my feet in their tank for a fish pedicure?

Nope, says Scott Dowd, a freshwater biologist at Boston’s New England Aquarium. These kind of fish would normally eat dead skin (of other fish) in the wild and are not in any danger of overeating.

“They’re pretty much on an all-protein Atkins Diet,” he told me during an interview for a Boston Herald story. “Fish bellies can expand quite a bit. Their digestive systems process the best stuff first. If new food comes along, they poop out the partially digested food to make room for the new food.”

Dowd maintains “there is nothing cruel or inhumane about using these fish in this way.”

“These fish are only limited by the amount of people willing to let themselves be grazed,” he says. “And it’s fair to say that if these fish are the lifeblood of a spa operation, then the owners will do everything they can to take care of them.”

I once experienced a similar revelation while on an extended dogsledding expedition with the Voyageur Outward Bound School in Minnesota.

My initial instincts told me that chaining dogs to hundreds of pounds of camping equipment was pretty heartless stuff. Until I met these dogs. They are like triathletes who feel unfulfilled if they are not pulling 15 times their weight. Trying to walk them on a leash posed significant challenges to avoid being dragged around like a rag doll.

And the law of the dogsledders is that the dogs always eat first.

PETA, of course, remains unconvinced. They’re not fans of leashes — and it’s only a matter of time before they start harnessing leather straps on random pedestrians to make their point (followed by the typical post-media buzz PETA apology).

The organization also considers fish tanks and aquariums to be a “death sentence” for the fish. That’s whether or not the fish are working as pedicurists or just hanging out.

ANIMAL RIGHTS POSTSCRIPT:The fact that the Rev. Al Sharpton, the shameless racial riot inciter, is endorsing PETA’s “Kentucky Fried Cruelty” campaign does not boost its credibility. They should stick with Pamela Anderson and Elizabeth Berkley’s lettuce bras.

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***BONUS LINKS***

Like heartwarming stories about animals who don’t consider dead skin to be a delicacy? Experience our “Dramatic sloth rescue in parking lot paradise.”

Love to contemplate the political clout of the nail care industry? Scrutinize our investigative report, “Did pro-Obama manicures sway the 2008 election?” or review the foreign impact: “The mysterious connection between Soviet spies and nail polish.”

What’s it like to be lunch? Read the gripping first-person account, “My First Fish Pedicure,” a story that may force you to re-evaluate your relationship with your feet — and the people you love the most.

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