A fish pedicure, also known as a fish spa, involves patrons dipping their feet in a tub of water filled with small fish called Garra rufa. Garra rufa are sometimes referred to as “doctor fish” because they eat away dead skin found on peoples’ feet, leaving newer skin exposed. Garra rufa are native to the Middle East, where they have been used as a medical treatment for individuals with skin diseases, like psoriasis, for years.
The fish and skin treatment first debuted in 2008 outside of Washington, D.C. The flash trend then spread throughout the rest of the U.S., attracting the attention of federal and state regulators.
The California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology (Board) joined nine other states in determining that “fish pedicures” and “fish spas” are not permitted in California under the Board’s health and safety regulations. Performing “fish pedicures” is not consistent with regulation sections 979(a), 981(a) and 980.3, of the California Code of Regulations, Title 16, Division 9, Article 12. Specifically, because the fish and basins being used cannot be properly disinfected, that they would need to be disposed of after each use. Other states have banned the treatment for other health, sanitary, environmental, or animal cruelty reasons.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published a report by U.K.’s Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science, which investigated the types of bacteria associated with Garra rufa. The report was based upon an intercepted shipment of the fish from Indonesia which were headed to salons. Test results showed that those fish carried strains of several bacteria that could cause soft tissue infections for people with open sores, skin cuts, underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, and compromised immune systems as a result of AIDS, cancer, or advanced age.