Recently, I was appalled to read about carp-based pedicures , procedures in which approximately 100 fish (Garra rufa) nibble at your feet, removing dry skin and calluses. The theory, which goes back to Turkey hundreds of years ago, is that extremely hot water limits the amount of food sources the fish have to feed upon, forcing the fish to feed on whatever food source is available – i.e., the dry skin on your feet. According to Cynthia Gomez, a contributing writer for eHow.com , the fish do not actually bite your feet, as they lack teeth. Instead, notes Gomez, the fish “nibble” at your feet for 15 to 30 minutes with an suctioning intensity great enough to replace pumice stones and exfoliating wands. In addition, according to U.K. fish spa owner To Chan , the fish release an enzyme called dianthanol, which is believed to further improve the regenerative process. The skin is left behind smooth and clear – and typically for just $30 to $50 per session.
The procedure is altogether painless, as customers have noted to MSNBC reporters that the fish feel “ticklish” and “kind of like [my] foot is asleep.” Still, despite the lack of pain and discomfort, there have been several health concerns associated with the procedure. Since 2008, a total of fourteen states have banned the practice, including Texas, Washington, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, mainly due to regulations that demand all instruments used in pedicures be sanitized or thrown away after use. As Washington Department of Licensing spokeswoman Christine Anthony puts it, “There is just no way to sanitize live fish.” Many fear that infections carried by the fish could be passed through small nicks in the skin. Further, it is difficult to ensure that the water is completely devoid of other customers’ debris after each procedure. Although some salons supply machines that automatically sanitize the water five times each hour, such as Aqua Sheko in London , some legislators believe it is still not enough to ensure sanitary conditions.
Despite these concerns, there have been no reported incidences of infection or harm from the procedure. Further, while U.S. states are banning carp-based pedicures by the minute, they have been thriving for years in countries such as Turkey and Japan, even with “full-body” carp procedures offered in the latter. Now the craze has continued into western Europe , where progressive Brits have been trying the fish on for size. As a medical student, I cannot recommend anything that could potentially do harm to anyone. However, as a potential customer, would you try the procedure? What are your thoughts on the risks versus the benefits of the procedure?