During a fish pedicure people immerse their feet in a tub of water that contains small fish called Garra rufa. Credit Shutterstock
05 July, 2018, 02:26
Fish pedicures have boomed since the first USA fishspa opened in Virginia in 2008, Lipner claims in the paper, due to what she calls "unfounded claims" that the treatment leaves feet smoother and less pungent, removes bacteria and fungus and increases circulation.
Garra rufa, or "doctor fish", pick dead skin from a spa visitor's feet in April 2006 in Hakone, Japan. Toenails can take months to grow back, however, so she may need to wait a year before she can start rocking a great polish.
Having fish eat dead skin off your feet may be a trendy (and ticklish) way to exfoliate, but so-called "fish pedicures" could pose health risks. This nail shedding is called onychomadesis, and it usually results in the nail falling off after an injury stops nail growth.
"I am not convinced at all that the fishes caused the problem", Dr. Antonella Tosti, the Fredric Brandt Endowed Professor of Dermatology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, wrote in an email.
A young woman lost her toenails when they began to separate from her toes.
"This is not uncommon in women with a Greek foot ... who wear high heels and pinpointed shoes", Tosti said, referring to feet whose second toes are longer than the first, like Greek statues.
Lipner is unaware of any other such cases linked to fish spas, whose popularity seem to have drawn from unfounded claims about their health benefits, according to her report.
"This case highlights the importance of skin and nail problems associated with fish pedicures and the need for dermatologists to educate our patients about these adverse effects", the report concludes. In addition, the fish themselves can not be sanitized between each customer's pedicure session, the CDC says.
For the sake of protecting her patient's anonymity, Lipner can't reveal where the woman got her pedicure. They hit their peak in popularity in the U.S. around a decade ago, but have since been banned in at least 10 states, including NY, largely because of health concerns.
Just how the nibbling fish triggered onychomadesis "is unknown", Lipner said, but "it is likely that direct trauma caused by fish biting multiple nail units causes a cessation in nail plate production". In 2011, the Vancouver Island Health Authority also banned it, saying that there were bacterial risks because the fish could not be sterilized.
"We did have some concerns about the welfare of these animals being transported around the world, often by people with limited experience", he said. And though proponents of fish pedicures have argued they can properly sanitise the fish and tubs between uses, research has shown that disease-causing bacteria can be readily found in both the tubs and fish used in these spas.