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Those looking for a novel approach to smooth, pampered feet may wish to try an unusual alternative to the traditional pedicure: the fish pedicure. Before trying this treatment, which, as its name suggests, is administered by skin-hungry fish, it is useful to be aware of the pros and cons attached to it. On the upside, fish pedicure enthusiasts hold that the treatment leaves the feet feeling incredibly smooth, that it is safer than traditional pedicures, that it can be beneficial for those suffering from minor skin conditions, and that the feeding action produces a relaxing sensation. Detractors of the procedure, on the other hand, contend that it may pose health risks to both the humans and fish involved, and that the experience is just plain unsettling.
A fish pedicure is administered by fish of the species Garra rufa, also known as doctor fish, which use their toothless mouths to snack on dead skin. While it is believed that these fish have been used for centuries to treat minor skin ailments in countries such as Turkey, the concept of commercial fish foot treatments did not catch on in Western countries until the early 2000s. During a typical fish pedicure session, a client rinses her feet and then plunges them into a tank of water containing a number of Garra rufa fish. For the next 15 to 20 minutes, the fish feast on the dead skin of her toes, soles, and heels.
Fans of the fish pedicure hold that the treatment leaves the feet feeling incredibly smooth and looking perfectly groomed. They also argue that this type of treatment is safer than traditional pedicures because it does not involve potentially contaminated instruments. The procedure is also said to provide relief to those suffering from minor skin conditions like psoriasis. Additionally, enthusiasts say that the feeding action of the fish stimulates pressure points in the feet, producing a relaxing sensation.
For every positive quality attributed to the fish pedicure by its fans, however, its detractors seem to have an opposing argument. To claims that it is safer than traditional pedicures, for instance, critics answer that it may actually pose a greater risk of infections and skin ailments than a human-administered treatment, especially in instances where the fish habitat is not properly cleaned. In fact, in 2009 and 2010, 14 US states banned fish pedicures due to concern over the potential health risks associated with them.
Environmental advocates also question the well-being of the fish used in these pedicures. In their natural habitat, they explain, Garra rufa are likely to feed on dead skin only if no normal food source is available. By allowing the fish to feed only on dead skin, salon owners may be denying them proper nutrition. Further, during treatments, fish may ingest toxic substances such as nail polish. Last but not least, some detractors simply argue that the concept of allowing fish to feed on one’s skin is unsettling and unnecessary.