The Fish with a Foot Fetish

When you are having a bad day, need time to relax, about to go on vacation or simply have a great new pair of sandals to flaunt, there is nothing more satisfying and necessary than a trip to the nail salon. A good pedicure has the power to brighten up your day and your toes. Most individual can attest to having received a pedicure or accompanying someone who has. The average pedicure consists of the client soaking their feet in worm soapy water, a pedicurist trimming, filling and painting the client’s cuticles and nails, as well as scrubbing dead skin off of their feet using a pumice stone. Regardless of which nail salon you went to, in the US, the pedicure process was practically the same, until 2008.


In 2008 a fish treatment pedicure spa was opened up in Alexandria Virginia. Unlike other traditional pedicures in the States, the spa in Virginia replaced the use of a pumice stone or file with living fish. The garra rufa fish, commonly refereed to as doctor fish, feeds off of dead skin allowing them to take the place of traditional, hands on, dead skin removal techniques. The fish, which are native to Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq, naturally live in hot springs. Unlike most plant life, the fish thrive in worm water, which leaves them with a limited food supply. In the wild the fish “suck the dead scaled off other living fish” to survive, which is why they make the perfect pedicurist.

The fish pedicure treatment, which coasts around $45, usually last between 15 and 30 minuets. Unlike the process associated with non-fish related pedicures, the treatment begins with a pedicurist examining the client’s feet, to insure that there are no open cuts. Next the client is assigned an individual foot bath, containing sanitized filter water and around 150 fish. Once the clients feet are in the water the fish immediately begin migrate towards the clients feet and start feasting on there dead skin. Luckily the fish do not have teeth, which leaves many individuals describing the treatment as “very ticklish” or a “tingly, pins and needles massage”.

After the first fish pedicure treatment salon opened up in the U.S people across the country began wanting to experience “doctor” fish for themselves. As news and popularity spread government employed scientists began investigating the treatment and any possible safety hazards. After studying the foreign fish scientists found that the fish could carry bacteria responsible for skin infections. Following their findings the U.S health officials warned people with open cuts or compromised immune systems to stay away from the fish pedicures. Shortly after the American scientists findings British scientists began investigating a bacteria outbreak in April 2011. They found that around 6,000 Garra Rufa fish, originally from Indonesia, were infected with Streptococcus agalactia, “bacteria that can cause pneumonia and serious infections of the bones joints and blood in people of all ages and life- threatening infections in newborns”. The concerns surrounding the fish lead many British officials to ban the use of the fish in some areas as well as worn the public of the potential danger.

Along with the potential diseases that the fish may carry the cleanliness of the fish tank salons are also under attack. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention the fish pedicure tanks cannot be sanitized when the fish are present. Removing the fish and cleaning the tanks thoroughly after every client is incredibly time consuming and officials worry about sanitation issues could occur. More than 10 states banned the practice due to “the inability to sufficiently clean fish pedicure tanks between clients, the impossibility of disinfecting or sanitizing live fish and regulation that specify fish in a salon must be kept in an aquarium”.

The cleanliness of both the fish and the tanks is concerning. Scientists must consider the correlation between the fish and people getting sick and the tanks effecting peoples health. In order for scientists to declare if the fish or the tanks are the cause of people’s ailments they would need to conduct a study in which the fish are cleaned. Unfortunately cleaning live fish is not possible so scientists would need to invent a solution to coat the fish with, that is fish friendly. Once the fish are coated scientists can examine the effects that the clean fish have on people when they are placed in a clean tank versus dirty one. Hypothetically speaking, if the scientists placed the coated fish in clean tanks with people and found that people were not getting infections, scientists would be able to conclude that there is no correlation between the fish and people getting sick, and that there is a correlation between the tanks cleanliness and people getting bacterial infections. After conducting several experiments using the coated fish scientists can then conduct experiments using none coated fish and clean water in order to discover if the fish are the problem or the water.

If scientists are able to create a solution capable of sterilizing the fish and if salons are able to implement a system that insures the cleanliness of the tanks than fish pedicures could return to many parts of the U.S. When considering the adjustments that could be made in order to account for cleanliness there would be no reason to ban the fish pedicure practice from the states, unless of course there is a question of humanity.

Many animal rights activist have raised questions concerning the crammed environment that the fish must live in. Not only do the fish lack tanks with adequate space for them but they are also underfed so that when customers arrive they are quick to begin feasting. Considering the difficult task ahead of scientists to develop a fish friendly coating to protect people, salons need to maintain sanitary tanks and the possible humanity concern, fish pedicures may never again return to the States.


2 thoughts on “The Fish with a Foot Fetish

  1. Ann

    Nice post! A side note on different types of pedicure fish: The CDC (Center for Disease Control) stated that another reason for the 10 states that have banned fish pedicures is the “Chinese Chinchin, another species of fish that is often mislabeled as Garra rufa and used in fish pedicures, grows teeth and can draw blood, increasing the risk of infection.” So not only are the other type of pedicure fish getting contaminated, but these fish can draw blood and transfer it to other clients. Scary!

  2. Megan Margaret Moyer

    I actually saw this on an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians where they went to Greece and had this treatment. It creeped me out that these fish are literally eating our dead skin and living in this water that our feet are soaking in. I know that I wouldn’t want a fish to eat the dead skin off my feet after doing the same to a random stranger. I’m not sure that I’d ever have this done. This also makes me realize how important it is to check that the salon you go to has cleaned all of its supplies and tubs.

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