You’ve likely seen videos of fish pedicures or seen signs advertising them the last time you were abroad. Kim Kardashian famously got one in Greece, screeching on camera while tiny fish nibbled the dead skin off her feet. The idea is familiar to American audiences, but not as commonplace in our daily lives—fish pedicures are actually illegal in a number of states, including Texas, New York, New Jersey, and California. It might seem gross-but-innocuous, but before you plop your feet into a little tank, there are some things you should know.
What exactly is a fish pedicure?
Per the CDC, little fish called Garra rufa snack on dead skin during the treatment. Garra rufa are native to the Middle East and have been used there in medical treatments for people with skin diseases like psoriasis.
Pedicures can be legally defined, and most beauty and care treatments are strictly regulated state-to-state. According to Law Insider, a pedicure is “the treatment or beautification of feet and toenails by the shaping and polishing of toenails, and the puncturing, removal, or exfoliation of skin or tissue from the feet.” The fish are only doing that last part, which typically comes included with other safer, legal pedicures.
Why are fish pedicures illegal in so many places?
Here are some of the reasons a state could ban the fish pedi:
- Tubs can’t be sufficiently cleaned between customers when the fish are in them.
- The fish themselves can’t be disinfected or sanitized.
- Because of the cost of fish, salons may use the same fish multiple times with different customers, which increases in the risk of spreading infection.
- The fish in question may not be Garra rufa, even if they’re labeled that way—in fact, they might be Chinchin, which have teeth and can draw blood.
- Fish pedicures don’t meet the legal definition of a pedicure.
- Some states have regulations specifying fish in salons must be in an aquarium.
- The fish have to be starved to get them to eat skin, which can be considered animal cruelty.
What does a fish pedicure feel like?
You may still be wondering what it feels like to get a fish pedicure, which is a fair question, though the enduring memory of Kim Kardashian’s squeals should be a clue that having fish swim around your feet and nibble on them feels kind of how you’d expect it to.
One blogger, La Jolla Mom, described her experience by saying “it tickles, but not more than a regular pedicure does.” She said after 10 minutes of having 50 or more fish circling each foot, her feet “did feel ever so slightly cleaner.” Bear in mind your feet also get “ever so slightly cleaner” when you have a normal pedicure, too.
Another writer detailed for Bustle how “the fish attacked” and she “freaked the F out” and started screaming and crying before pulling her feet out of the tub. She re-submerged them, but only lasted 15 minutes of her allotted 20.
It should go without saying, but if you’re worried about a fish pedicure being gross or stressful, it’s probably not worth doing it just for the thrill or social media content. And with the potential for infections, animal cruelty, and bleeding, and this seems like a pretty simple stunt to avoid.