The next time fish-pedicure enthusiasts dunk their feet in a vat of squirming, skin-nibbling, toothless carp, they may get more than they bargained for—especially if those fish just feasted on diseased skin. Health officials, fearing the spread of infections, have now launched a major investigation into this allegedly fishy beauty technique.
In the UK, fish pedicures are booming, which is great for beauty clinics because the procedure costs upwards of £50 ($81 U.S.). Visitors place their feet in a tank full of Garra rufa fish—a variety of Turkish toothless carp—and sit back while the fish eat away their dead skin. These foot-fetishistic fish have been nicknamed “doctor fish,” and though more and more UK citizens are dunking their feet, the UK’s Health Protection Agency (HPA) has a hunch that this procedure may be doing more harm than good.
Over the past six months, several environmental health officers have contacted the HPA about the dangers of fish pedicures, leading to the present investigation, which hopes to discover whether fish spa pedicures spread infections. Quoting an HPA agency member, BBC News reports:
“Alongside colleagues in environmental health, Health Protection Scotland and the Health and Safety Laboratory, the HPA will examine the most up to date evidence of any possible risks associated with Garra rufa fish pedicures and will publish guidelines that will be available UK-wide.”
If commercial fish pedicures are banned, the UK would be following the lead of 14 U.S. states that have already outlawed the procedure. In the U.S., the major concern was how spas reuse the fish on many customers—a practice they’re forced to do because Garra rufa fish are pricey.
But salons are defending their practices by pointing out that diseases don’t stand a chance in their UV-lit, filtered tanks. And their position is buffered by the little fact that there are as yet no known cases—at least to the HPA’s knowledge—of fish-spa-induced infections in the UK. Despite this fact, just the thought of dunking one’s feet in the same vat of fish as countless other people is enough to make them squeamish.