Fish Fad – Possibly Hazardous?

A couple of weeks ago I got treated to a Fish Pedicure at a spa in Norfolk. I’m not going to tell you which exact spa, because at present we (three friends and I) are waiting for a satisfactory response to the complaint that one of our party wrote.

Friend number 1, the birthday girl, treated us all to a fish pedicure and we gamely dropped our legs into the tanks filled with fish. If you haven’t yet heard about the Fish Pedicure, then I’ll fill you in briefly: the customer dunks their feet into tanks filled with hundreds of tiny Garra Rufa fish. The toothless fish suck away at the feet and remove dead skin, making the feet soft and smooth. This type of pedicure has become something of a craze throughout Asia and now in the UK.

Things that concern me about this fish pedicure craze:

1) Type of fish. The garra rufa is a silvery, orange-tinged fish that grows up to an inch long. Some of the fish that I have seen in various spas and in the spa that I was at to have my treatment are way bigger than an inch. I’d go so far to say that some of them were coming up for three inches long. Garra Rufa fish they ain’t! A quick bit of internet searching reveals thousand of similar concerns – apparently many places use the cheaper Chin Chin fish so that they’re not so expensive to replace time after time. Chin Chin fish grow much bigger than a Garra Rufa and – get this – they grow teeth. Ugh.

Treatment from Garra Rufa should feel gentle – a mild tickling sensation. Apparently if you feel a pinprick sensation then the fish are most likely biting, and not genuine Garra Rufa. The two friends who had their feet in the tank with the much larger fish could barely keep their feet in the water for more than five seconds at a time – they found the experience too painful. The lady that went in the tank afterwards quickly drew her foot out and said that she had been bitten – her ankle was bleeding! Which brings me on to my next point:

2) Infection and disease. If the wrong fish are being used then does this increase the risk of infection? And what if someone has a skin disease? A fungal infection? The attendant said that the UV lighting killed off bacteria, but…really? She didn’t check any of our feet for open wounds or cuts, blisters, rashes – she hadn’t been trained to. She just made us sign a form saying that we didn’t have any foot complaints. Hmm. I’m obviously not the only one with concerns, because here in the UK the Health Protection Agency is launching an investigation into the risk of infection spreading through open wounds – you can read the BBC coverage HERE. The tanks at the spa were visibly clean, and our feet were sprayed with some kind of disinfectant before we placed them inside – but is that precaution enough?

3) The fact that if the fish aren’t genuine Garra Rufa, the whole treatment is a waste of time and money anyway. My feet came out after twenty minutes looking exactly the same as they had done prior to the fish-feeding. God knows what those fish were doing, but it wasn’t getting rid of skin! Even little tags of skin that had loosened off during the course of the day (steaming, swimming etc) were still there, dangling. I could have flicked that skin off with my little finger, yet the fish didn’t eat it!

Can you tell that I wasn’t impressed? None of us were. I do, however, know plenty of people who have had the fish pedicure and been extremely impressed. There are reports of the fish curing all kinds of things, psoriasis being one. The fish pedicure seems to be such a mixed bag!

It’s not very often that I vent my frustration or anger here on A Model Recommends – if a product is terrible, or a brand is behaving abhorrently, I’ll quietly give feedback to the relevant parties. I’m not for all-out attacks over the internet. But I felt that this was something I really wanted to write about because it deals with potential health risks. I’ll be interested to see what the HPA turn up with on this one – the spa in question hasn’t come back with a positive answer to any of the questions asked, so you’ll have to watch this space!


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  1. ella
    April 2, 2011 / 3:37 pm

    my friend had a similar vent the other day – she was concerned because she had a fish thingy and didnt realise till afterwards she had cut her foot before she had the treatment. the lady didnt check or notice. shes now worried shes a) gunna get some horrid disease and b) has infected the pool for others. she did say her feet felt v soft afterwards but thats by the by!

    • April 2, 2011 / 3:46 pm

      Eeew! That’s terrible that they don’t even notice when you’re putting your feet in! x

  2. Stacey
    April 2, 2011 / 5:59 pm

    I really find this a ‘fad’ craze that has been taken by over-zealous business boffins who have ran with it. Seeing the impact it has had on young, impressionable people, along with those who always want the latest beauty trend, it seems there are some ‘salons’ which have bought cheap equipment (including tanks, fish etc!) and set up shop in order to make a quick buck.

    I have never been for one of these ‘treatments’, nor will I ever. I’m not a die hard vegetarian or animal rights activist, but there’s something about using fish in tanks to suck your feet that I am *very* uncomfortable with.

  3. April 2, 2011 / 7:56 pm

    Brilliant review, I was only thinking about this treatment the other day wondering if it was a good idea to go for it or not. I would never have known about places using different fish…with teeth none the less! This all seems a little less like the amazing treatment its made out to be. I think I would have to do some serious research into the place before having it done just to ensure the fish are right and that its sanitary. Thanks for sharing this info xx

  4. April 2, 2011 / 7:58 pm

    The whole fish hing sounds freaky! Even worse when you dont feel like it’s properly done…. Good post!

  5. jsc
    April 2, 2011 / 9:54 pm

    The whole experience sounds really unpleasant. I have to assume
    the chemicals needed to kill whatever nastiness is on everyone’s feet would kill the fish too. Even nonpublic swimming pools have a mild amount of chlorine that would have to effect the fishies-no matter what kind they are.

    • admin
      April 2, 2011 / 11:09 pm

      That’s a good point – hadn’t thought of that! I wonder how long the fish live for and whether they are slowly poisoned by skin and chemicals?!

  6. Angie
    April 3, 2011 / 12:06 am

    Great review, I was never tempted to do this as the thought just creeped me out for one thing. But also it doesn’t seem hygienic or particularly animal friendly to me. I have posted this to my Facebook to spread the word as I know a few people who are tempted to get this treatment. Thanks!

  7. April 3, 2011 / 1:01 am

    Sorry to put even more of a dampner on things….but what about serious diseases likes HIV…that are passed through blood? As soon as I saw these fish pedicures popping up all over the place I worried about diseases!

  8. Pip
    April 3, 2011 / 7:25 pm

    Hey, I have had a fish pedicure, and it was wonderful, just very very tickly and my feet were much softer after, but I did do some research before I went. I also went first thing in the morning and saw the tanks being cleaned!! I really liked the experence but I would like to make sure I am not going to get some disease which will mutilate my newly soft feet!

  9. Sue
    April 3, 2011 / 8:48 pm

    Dallas and Washington in America, and Singapore, have banned them already. Also, there are NO therapeutic effects reported from Chin Chin Yu fish – only Garra Rufa will improve skin complaints.

  10. April 3, 2011 / 8:51 pm

    Thanks for bringing this up! I was considering taking my mum to get a fish pedicure as a Mother’s Day present, so I’ll be sure to ask whether they’re genuine Garra Rufa fish!

  11. April 9, 2011 / 1:09 pm

    I totally agree I think its creepy! Infection and diseases are definitely a concern but even just putting my feet into a pool of water that has had not only other people’s feet but also their dead skin floating around in it totally grosses me out! Silly fad!

    LOVE your blog as always! xxx

  12. Becky
    May 12, 2011 / 11:12 am

    I have been very concerned about the disease risk involved in this ‘treatment’ surely as the lady mentioned above HIV what happens if someone is infected, can it be spread by this method? I am beauty fad crazy, always 1st in line to try or buy latest thing, however, this just totally freaks me out. Be interested to hear what the spa have to say?

    This blog is my fav, your fantastic xxxx

    • May 12, 2011 / 11:30 am

      @Becky yes, I’d be interested to know too. Spa emailed back to say no health risks, but I know that the health authority are looking into it, so surely there’s some risk?! x

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