Published: Wed, July 04, 2018
Health Care | By Cedric Leonard

A Fish Pedicure May Have Made This Woman's Toenails Fall Off

A Fish Pedicure May Have Made This Woman's Toenails Fall Off

Indeed, one woman in NY developed an odd toenail problem after having a "fish pedicure", according to a new report of the case. Doctors were able to discover the reason for why this happened, a fish pedicure she received six months prior.

During a fish pedicure, people immerse their feet in a tub of water that contains small, freshwater fish called Garra rufa, which are native to the Middle East, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She had no history of toenail problems.

Animal rights groups say the pedicures are a form of animal cruelty, while at least 10 USA states have banned fish pedicures over concerns about bacteria in the water.

Writing in the journal JAMA Dermatology, she explained that the weird beauty ritual first gained traction after people noticed that wild populations of the toothless fish - a member of the carp family native to Turkey - liked to nibble on human skin, and for whatever reason, preferred munching on unsightly psoriasis plaques more than normal tissue.

After having the fish pedicure, the woman said her toenails stopped growing and then started falling off.

"While the mechanism of action is not entirely clear, it is likely due to the fish traumatising the nail matrix", Sheri Lipner, an assistant professor of dermatology at Columbia University's Weill Cornell Medicine and the woman's treating doctor, told Gizmodo via email.

"I do not recommend fish pedicures for any medical or aesthetic objective", she told Gizmodo.

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Toenails usually grow at about 1 millimeter per month, Lipner said, so a nail can take up to a year to fully grow back. But there were special contraindications for fish pedicures that needed to be considered; recent waxing or shaving, certain skin disorders and cuts on the feet or legs could increase one's risk of infection, she said.

The case, as far as Lipner knows, would be the first documented instance of onychomadesis ever caused by fish.

While Lipner believes that the woman's problems stemmed from the physical impact of the fish biting at the nail, she noted that there have been past reports of infections associated with fish pedicures, too.

The beauty craze has been banned in 10 U.S. states - including NY - because of health concerns.

Here in Canada, the Vancouver Island Health Authority shut down a fish pedicure spa in Duncan, B.C.in 2011, citing concerns the pedicures could lead to the transmission of skin diseases.

Indeed, in 2012, researchers in the United Kingdom intercepted shipments of Garra rufa fish bound for U.K. spas and tested them for bacteria.

"We did have some concerns about the welfare of these animals being transported around the world, often by people with limited experience", he said.

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