A woman in her 20s decided to get a fish pedicure, which is mostly popular in countries outside of the U.S., including China. However in the following weeks, the woman noticed that her toenails stopped growing, and they eventually fell off. The condition is called onychomadesis, and doctors believe this is the first reported case of onychomadesis caused by fish.
During a fish pedicure, people soak their feet in warm or room temperature water. The water is filled with a toothless carp fish called Garra rufa. Although Garra rufa fish usually only eat plants, when they’re super hungry, they’ll eat dead human skin. Fish pedicure salons capitalize on this, as the fish nibble away at people’s dead skin cells. The procedure is supposed to treat psoriasis and renew skin, according to Gizmodo.
The woman’s doctor, Sher Lipner, assistant professor of dermatology at Columbia University, said that she ruled out all other possibilities of her condition. Lipner underscored that “while the mechanism of action is not entirely clear, it is likely due to the fish traumatizing the nail matrix.”
Although fish pedicures are popular in many places, it’s actually banned in several states in America. And for good reason: there are many health concerns with the fish pedicure process. For one, the fish is used over and over by different people, so they can transmit diseases. The salons supposedly sanitize the tubs and the fish, but it’s hard to know how that is done properly. And while nobody else has complained about their toenails falling off, other people have reported foot infections as a result of fish pedicures. Some common transmittable feet diseases include nail fungus and athlete’s foot.
Luckily for the woman in question, it appears that she will eventually have nails again. However, it can take 18 months to grow a new set of toenails, at a slow pace of around one millimeter a month.
In addition to all of the health concerns and risks with fish pedicures, PETA also notes that the tubs are full of fish feces and that many time fish can die en route to the spas from the sellers. And in all cases, the fish are starved so that they will eat human skin, and some fish have reportedly drawn blood.
Also, Garra rufa fish can carry bacteria like Streptococcus agalactiae, which can eventually lead to more serious problems like pneumonia and other bacterial infections.
Some great alternatives to fish pedicures include regular pedicures or pumice stones.