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Fish spa pedicure FAQs

Fish spa pedicures peaked in popularity in 2011.

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

However, the popularity of this treatment declined after concerns were raised that the fish might spread diseases between spa customers.

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.

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

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 (HPA). 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 contract 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 have been made about fish spa therapy. The Garra rufa fish exfoliation is claimed to stimulate blood flow and improve circulation, remove bacteria, reduce foot odour and help with athlete's foot. It’s also claimed feet will be smoother and softer after treatment.

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

Another health claim was that Garra rufa fish treatment benefits people with psoriasis and eczema.

The National Eczema Society took issue with the claims saying the treatment could enhance a person with eczema's risk of infection, which is already high.

The Psoriasis Association also said that people with the condition could find themselves more prone to picking up infections through treatments like this, either because of open lesions on their feet, or because of weakened immune systems due to certain medications they could be taking.

None of these health claims have been scientifically proven and more research is needed before firm conclusions can be made.

WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on June 15, 2016

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