After reports surfaced questioning the safety of fish pedicures, a worry arose about the truth behind this year’s most popular pampering pleasure.
Critics have suggested that if tanks are not safely maintained and filtered, and foot inspections aren’t thorough, a person could risk contracting fungal infections such as athletes foot and even HIV and Hepatitis C.
The fish pedicure treatments involve a person placing their feet, hands or face into a tank of Garra Rufa fish, affectionately known as ‘doctor fish.’ The fish then gently nibble off any dead, hard skin.
The doctor fish are in fact toothless and exfoliate skin to leave the exposed area smooth. The treatment is also believed to help improve blood circulation.
Health experts have warned that infection could be passed from human-to-human via the remnants of skin from an infected foot, that a fish still could be holding in its mouth, or through the particles of skin remaining in the water.
If a person has an open cut or graze they could also risk contaminating the water if the appropriate pre-treatment checks aren’t made.
Podiatric surgeon Mike O’Neill, from the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists, spoke to BHbeat about his concerns involving the potential for infection.
“What needs to be looked at is how easy it is to kill the spores [caused by fungal infections], do you have to use a stronger anti-sceptic? If they cure the spores, it would kill the fish.
“If the anti-sceptic is not strong enough to kill the fish then chances are it’s not going to be strong enough to kill the fungal infection.”
Dr O’Neill warned that if feet are not inspected closely enough, fungal infection as well as the potential for other more dangerous viruses could have the chance to spread.
“Hepatitis is a strong virus [out of the body], so if someone did have Hepatitis could it actually be passed through the water? I have not seen enough evidence-based researched.”
Silki Soles Foot and Nail Salon, in Poole, said they had surprisingly benefitted from the recent negative publicity about fish pedicures and received an increase in bookings lately.
Manager Sophie Dack-Stainer believes her business has thrived due to them “following the correct regulations” to ensure people are not in any danger.
“We don’t allow anyone in our tanks with Verrucas or fungal infections and all our girls are trained in hygiene. We have to turn people away if they could pose a threat to our fish or potential clients.
“Our tanks are filtered ten to twelve times per hour – our water is probably cleaner than what we drink.”
Other precautionary measures include a biweekly visit from an aquatic specialist to examine the health of the fish, and the temperature and regulation of the water in their tanks.
Sophie hopes new regulations will make less reputable companies who provide fish pedicure treatments to adhere to the correct regulations.
“It shows up people doing it wrong so it’s good. I think the regulation is a good thing, as now everyone will follow the rules.”
After a recent tirade of worried messages about the safety of fish pedicures the government’s Health Protection Agency (HPA) looked into the claims about catching HIV or Hepatitis C.
In a statement the HPA confirmed said: “Fish tank water has been shown to contain a number of microorganisms. Therefore, in a fish spa setting there is the potential for transmission of a range of infections.
“The overall risk of infection is likely to be very low, if appropriate standards of hygiene are adhered to.”
Dr Hilary Kirkbride, consultant epidemiologist at the HPA, added: “Provided that good standards of hygiene are followed by salons, members of the public are unlikely to get an infection from a fish spa pedicure, however the risk will be higher for certain people.”