Although a fish pedicure may sound like a toe-tickling unique experience, you could potentially lose your toenails — seriously.
A new report published in JAMA Dermatology cites a case of a woman who was experiencing “abnormal toenails” for more than six months.
As doctors ruled out nail disorders or injury as the culprit, the 20-something woman revealed she had gone for a fish pedicure months before she noticed her toenails were beginning to separate from her toes and fall off.
Fish pedicures are a bizarre beauty trends which has been gaining popularity. It involves submerging bare feet into a tub of water filled with Garra rufa fish, also known as “doctor fish.” The fish are starved so that, despite not having teeth, they begin to nibble away at the dead skin on the foot, without breaking skin.
Doctors diagnosed the unnamed woman with onychomadesis, a condition in which the nail stops growing and begins to shed. Although often due to injury, it has been linked to infections, as well as certain medications and autoimmune disorders.
Unable to attribute the woman’s symptoms to any injury or illness, doctors ruled fish pedicures to be the cause.
Some dermatologists, including the author of the report, Shari R. Lipner, M.D., Ph.D at Weill Cornell Medicine, speculate that the fish could have caused injury to the toenail, but still maintains that the findings are unclear.
While this may be the first case of onychomadesis associated with fish pedicures, dermatologists note that there are some serious hygienic risks involved in the treatment.
Fish tubs (and the fish inside) can’t be properly sanitized, and after feeding on multiple feet, the fish have been known to transmit infections, such as Staphylococcus aureus and Mycobacterium marinum. This risk has caused 10 states in the United States to ban the practice, and similar restrictions have been enacted in Europe.
“I would be highly surprised if you found any dermatologist who recommends Garra rufa pedicures,” Lipner warned. “I think we can pretty definitely say that getting a fish pedicure is not the way to go to treat skin and nail conditions.”