Published: Thu, July 05, 2018
Medicine | By Daryl Nelson

'Fish pedicure' caused one woman's toenails to stop growing

'Fish pedicure' caused one woman's toenails to stop growing

If you've been thinking about getting one of those fish pedicures, this might make you think twice: a woman's toenails fell off after getting one.

Fish pedicures have boomed since the first US fish spa opened in Virginia in 2008, Lipner claims in the paper, due to what she calls "unfounded claims" that the treatment leaves feet smoother and less pungent, removes bacteria and fungus and increases circulation.

Fish pedicures involve putting your feet in a tub of water filled with tiny fish called Garra rufa, which eat dead human skin.

Earlier this year, a young woman from NY came to the dermatologists at Weill Cornell Medicine hospital because six of her toenails had begun detaching from her foot for no apparent reason six months prior.

Experts have said that fish pedicures may carry a risk of infection.

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. The woman assumed at first that she had onychomadesis, however, her dermatologist informed her that onychomadesis was not the reason this was happening.

This phenomenon, known to doctors as onychomadesis, usually results in the nail falling off long after an initial event (such as an injury) arrests nail growth. "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.

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And even if spa owners can properly sanitize the fish and tubs, research shows disease-causing bacteria can be readily found in both the tubs and fish used in these spas, she added.

Just how the nibbling fish triggered onychomadesis "is unknown", Lipner said, but "it is likely that direct trauma caused by fish biting multiple nail units causes a cessation in nail plate production".

The case, as far as Lipner knows, would be the first documented instance of onychomadesis ever caused by fish. The most likely culprit, then, was the fish pedicure.

Lipner would not reveal where the woman got the pedicure, but noted the treatment has been banned in at least 10 states, largely due to health concerns.

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

"We will have to wait quite a while to see the outcome", she said.

Verner-Jeffreys did comment that the fish spa phase didn't last long in the United Kingdom.

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