Fish Pedicures: New Trend Linked to Health Hazards

October 13, 2009 Updated: October 13, 2009

NEW YORK—The latest beauty trend, fish pedicures, offered in salons and spas across New York City, has raised significant concerns over sanitation and infection risks. An investigation of the procedure, conducted by State Senator Jeff Klein (D-Bronx/Westchester), uncovered serious consumer health hazards, as well as inhumane treatment of the fish.

Pedicure treatments using fish originated in Turkey, where small fish, called Garra Rufas, were discovered to consume dead skin. Japan then imported the fish to use as exfoliating agents. The practice also spread to Singapore and China, where another type of fish, called Chin Chin, gained popularity due to cheaper prices. Fish pedicures were introduced in United States in 2008—a salon owner in Virginia started to offer “Dr. Fish” pedicures.

“This practice is starting to become more popular in the backrooms of salons around the city,” said Sen. Klein. “Women may think it’s the latest in luxury nail treatment, but it’s not. Fish pedicures are dirty and dangerous, and a serious risk to one’s health. I want to put an end to this hazardous practice before it becomes the next big trend.”

Senator Klein's investigation discovered that fish pedicures are currently being offered in salons across Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Unlike standard pedicure procedures, which have strict sanitation and equipment sterilization standards mandated by state laws nationwide, it is impossible to sanitize or sterilize the hundreds of fish used in the fish pedicure treatment.

The study found that fish pedicures are unsanitary and may lead to the spread of fungal and bacterial infections through small cuts or lesions in customer’s feet. The use of the Chin Chin fish, which can grow teeth, poses additional risk through potential induction of lesions through fish bites. An infection by some bacteria, such as staph, could be potentially fatal.

Dr. Bob Spalding, a podiatrist and author of “Death by Pedicure,” voiced support for banning the practice in order to protect consumers from the health hazards associated with this procedure.

“These fish pedicures add exponentially to potentials for infections through these portals. The active biological 'soup' in the living environment of fish includes Pseudomonas, [and] Mycobacterium fortuitum—both are serious pathogens for individuals with micro trauma. Imagine the E. coli and other fecal contaminates that are introduced into the feet of these clients through the non-chlorinated water in which these fish reside,” he noted.

Klein’s investigation also exposed inhumane treatment of the fish used in salons, since the fish must be kept near starvation to induce adequate consumption of dead skin required for a successful pedicure procedure. The study also questioned whether salons regularly keep the fish in their preferred warm water habitat, since this would incur significant financial expense.

Klein has introduced new legislation to prohibit fish pedicures from being administered in New York state facilities. His proposal includes a $250 fine for the first violation of the ban, and an escalation of any subsequent violations to a class B misdemeanor.

The International Nail Technicians Association does not support fish pedicures. The procedure has been banned in 14 states, including Maine, Texas, Florida, Massachusetts, and New Jersey.