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Fish spa pedicure FAQs

Can you catch infections from fish pedicures? Read our FAQs
By
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Farah Ahmed

The availability of fish spa therapy is growing in the UK. In March 2010, the country’s first specialist fish therapy outlet opened in Sheffield’s Meadowhall shopping centre and there are now hundreds of outlets nationwide.

They provide a treatment in which tiny scavenger fish are used to clean and exfoliate the skin.

Fish spa therapy: What is it?

During a treatment customers place their feet in tanks of warm freshwater containing dozens of toothless Garra rufa fish, which are about the size of minnows. They are also known as doctor or nibble fish. They suck and gently nibble away at dry and dead skin. The end result is said to leave your feet feeling refreshed and healthy.  

Where did it begin?

Garra rufa are found naturally in the river basins of the Northern and Central Middle East, mainly in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

The pedicures are popular in Asia but have already been banned in some US states for health and safety reasons. The RSPCA also has concerns about the use of fish in foot spas.  

Health concerns

The risk of infection associated with Garra rufa fish pedicures is likely to be very low, according to experts from the Health Protection Agency. In October 2011 it issued updated advice on fish spas following an investigation.

Fish tank water may contain a number of microorganisms. So there is the potential to catch a range of infections, either from fish to person, water to person or person to person passed on by the water or the fish.  However, the HPA says the overall risk of infection is likely to be very low, if the spa operates good standards of hygiene.

However, it advises people with weakened immune systems or underlying medical conditions, including diabetes and psoriasis, against using fish spas. It says people with these conditions are likely to be at an increased risk of infection. 

People with cuts or infections on their feet should allow them to heal before seeking fish spa treatment, and it is advised to wait at least 24 hours after having a leg wax or shaving before having a fish spa treatment.

Health claims

A wide range of claims are made about fish spa therapy. The Garra rufa fish exfoliation is said to stimulate blood flow and improve circulation, remove bacteria and reduce foot odour and help with athlete's foot. It’s said feet will be smoother and softer after treatment.

It’s also said the fish can stimulate acupuncture points, helping to regulate the nervous system, relax the body and release fatigue.

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