We’ve all heard of those popular, ticklish fish pedicures that tourists are crazy about in holiday hotspots like Bali. The ‘healing’ foot spas are said to exfoliate, relax and release good endorphins through swarms of toothless Garra rufa (or ‘doctor fish’) removing dead skin from feet. Sounds harmless, right? Well, think again.
An American woman’s toenails began to fall off after contracting a disease from the fishy pedicure. She fell victim to onychomadesis, which is the periodic shedding of parts or the entirety of a nail.
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The incident was published in a recent dermatology journal by the woman’s doctor who said she noticed her nails had stopped growing before they began to fall off. She waited six months before heading to her doctor who ruled out other causes of the disease such as major illness or side effects of medication.
"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 told Gizmodo.
The fish spa process involves placing feet in lukewarm water and allowing swarms of the Turkish doctor fish to feed on dead and callused skin. It is said to improve blood circulation, stimulate new skin cells and is often used as a medical treatment for conditions such as psoriasis, eczema and warts.
However, while medicinal use may have proven benefits, commercial use has continuously been scrutinized. As the fish are imported they tend to be expensive for most salons to own so they are generally reused between customers.
The fish pedicures have been banned in 14 states around America and Canada due to their risk of spreading infections and even serious viruses such as HIV.
While this case is the first recorded instance of onychomadesis caused by doctor fish and there are only a handful of reports of general infections, the pedicures are not extremely popular around Australia.
While the report could not disclose where the incident took place, the bizarre technique is a spectacle for tourists in areas such as China, Britain and Indonesia and has been long practised in Turkey, India and Southeast Asia.
People with open wounds, cuts or sores as well as active, underlying conditions such as diabetes or AIDS should always steer clear for the safety of others.
If you are on holiday and you just can’t resist the ticklish temptation, then do your research into your chosen treatment facility and ensure they are reputable and clean. Take some time to do this and you might just leave with all of your toenails intact!