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Fish pedicures may be a fun way to exfoliate rough heels, but experts are now warning that the procedure may pose an infection risk. These pedicures involve dunking your feet in a tub of water filled with tiny fish called Garra rufa. These fish will eat dead human skin when no plankton are around, so they leave your feet feeling soft and smooth.
As CNN reports, a new dermatology report focuses on an unnamed young woman who got a fish pedicure. All seemed fine at first, but a few months after the pedicure, she noticed her toenails were shedding and separating from her toes. This nail shedding is called onychomadesis, and it usually results in the nail falling off after an injury stops nail growth.
Dr. Shari R. Lipner, an assistant professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medicine, wrote a report on the young woman’s case in JAMA Dermatology. According to Gizmodo, Lipner can’t reveal where the woman got her pedicure in order to protect the patient’s identity, but she said the patient has no other medical history that would cause her nail shedding. And although there’s no way to test for fish-pedicure-induced toenail loss, she told CNN, “I think we’re fairly sure that it was the fish pedicure.”
But other experts aren’t convinced that the pedicure is to blame. “I am not convinced at all that the fishes caused the problem,” Dr. Antonella Tosti, the Fredric Brandt Endowed Professor of Dermatology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, told CNN. He explained that people who have feet where their second toes are longer than their first toe, called a Greek foot, may have nail loss when wearing high heels and pointed shoes.
But while there’s no way to know for sure what caused the patient’s toenail issues, there have been some concerns about fish pedicures in the past. There were reports of a patient with a Staphylococcus aureus infection after a fish pedicure. Additionally, the fish are sometimes recycled from person to person, and a bacterial outbreak among the fish was reported in a 2011 investigation by the U.K.’s Fish Health Inspectorate. While experts still don’t know exactly how fish pedicure-borne infections happen, it could be due to lingering bacteria from the last person to put their foot in the fish tank.
All in all, it’ll probably be best to stay away from fish pedicures and fish spas, or at least make sure they’re clean and safe before you dip your feet in. According to the CDC, more than 10 U.S. states have banned fish pedicures entirely.