August 24, 2022/Skin Care & Beauty

Fish Pedicures: This Trend Is More Than a Little ‘Fishy’

Animal safety and bacterial infections are concerns

Feet in large fish tank undergoing a fish pedicure.

How badly do you want smoother, fresher-smelling feet? For the promise of glowing, baby-soft footsies, would you place them into a cool basin of pint-sized, flesh-eating fish?


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Though not a new phenomenon, the “fish pedicure” is a growing trend in the spa world. But in terms of health and medical safety, this is a skin trend that you probably want to pass on.

Dermatologist Shilpi Khetarpal, MD, explains what the fish pedicure is and why you shouldn’t try this funky foot trend.

What is a fish pedicure?

Well, it’s kind of what it sounds like. Here's how it works: A patron places their feet in a water tub containing carp-like fish called Garra rufa (or “doctor fish”), which are native to the Middle East. In turn, the fish go to work snacking on the person’s dead skin cells.

Those favoring the treatment argue that the fish soften calluses, help lighten dark cuticles and increase circulation. However, experts say the health risks — both to humans and to the fish — outweigh any potential benefits. As a result, fish pedicures are banned in 10 U.S. states, Mexico and areas of Europe.

It’s important to note that sloughed skin isn’t usually on the menu for these fish, which prefer plankton and plant sources; they only eat human skin when they can’t find anything better.

The dangers and downsides of fish pedicures

While it may seem like a curious little trend, there are a number of dangers involved in having a fish pedicure.

"Even though this trend may seem natural or interesting to some people, it poses significant risk,” says Dr. Khetarpal.

Here are five reasons she says you should avoid fish pedicures:


Potential infections

Cost constraints make it more likely that salon owners will use the same fish multiple times with different customers, which increases the risk of spreading infection.

“The Garra rufa are imported, purposely starved and then often shared by different patrons,” Dr. Khetarpal explains. “There’s no effective way to disinfect the tubs or the fish themselves. Many spas will simply reuse the fish.”

She cites European tests conducted in 2011 of imported Garra rufa fish, which unearthed bacterial strain Streptococcus Agalactaie group B.

“This bacteria can cause pneumonia, bone and joint infection and bloodstream infections,” Dr. Khetarpal says. Another case report in 2017 found that this treatment may cause mycobacteriosis.

Nail trauma

Generally, these fish nibble at dry, dead skin while leaving healthy skin and nails intact. But a woman in her 20s reported severe toenail injuries after a fish pedicure.

The scariest part? She didn’t feel any pain during the pedicure to warn her of injury; damage to her nail matrix wasn’t visible until the nails attempted to grow out – three to six months later.

In this case, the biting fish caused trauma that stopped nail plate production in multiple toenails. The woman was diagnosed with onychomadesis, a condition that causes nails to shed, which often results in nail loss.

“Even though the fish are not targeting the nail bed, they chew on the cuticle, which can affect the stem cells in the nail plate,” Dr. Khetarpal notes. “It’s a slow process, but often you see lifting of the nail.”


Blood-drawing fish swap

Here’s another twist. You may not even be sharing the tub with Garra rufa but rather another cheaper, more aggressive fish variety called Chin-Chin.

These Chinese fish look similar but they grow teeth. As a result, they can bite and draw blood, which further raises your risk of infection.

Inhumane practice

Besides all the risks to humans, this practice may be considered inhumane to the fish. The pedicure process requires starving the Garra rufa to make them feed off people’s dead skin.

Environmental concerns

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Garra rufa could pose a threat to native plant and animal life if released into the wild because these fish aren‘t native to the United States.

So, before you dive in, a more traditional, fish-free pedicure is probably the better, safer option.

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Fingers with globs of petroleum jelly above container
April 18, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty
Slugging: Does This Skin Care Trend Work?

Go ahead and get goopy to help boost hydration and repair damaged skin

Salmon over lentils and carrots
April 15, 2024/Nutrition
Psoriasis and Diet: How Foods Can Impact Inflammation

A well-balanced diet with anti-inflammatory foods can help reduce flare-ups and severity of psoriasis symptoms

Healthcare provider holding bottle of prescription medication
April 12, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty
These Common Triggers Likely Cause Your Psoriasis Flare-Ups

Stress, infections, skin injuries and environmental factors can trigger an onset of psoriasis symptoms

Person sitting in a yoga pose with calming vegetation behind them
April 8, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty
10 Easy Steps To Prevent and Manage Your Psoriasis Flare-Ups

Stick to your treatment plan, but keep your provider updated on any new symptoms or triggers

Wet plastic loofah hanging on shower knob
April 2, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty
Is Your Loofah Full of Bacteria?

This puffy shower accessory can become lodged with skin cells (and other gross things), so make sure you dry it daily and clean it once a week

Close up of face with rosacea on cheeks
March 21, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty
6 Natural Ways To Find Relief From Rosacea

You can turn down the redness and soothe the irritation with natural remedies like green tea, raw honey and aloe vera

person getting forehead injections in a wrinkle
March 18, 2024/Aging Well
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Botox?

With repeat injections over time, you may be able to slow the development of new wrinkles

Smiling person holding small container of moisturizer close to face, with product applied to face
February 1, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty
What Does Vitamin B5 Do for Your Hair and Skin?

Pantothenol is a powerful moisturizer and can help repair damaged skin and hair

Trending Topics

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

woman snacking on raisins and nuts
52 Foods High In Iron

Pump up your iron intake with foods like tuna, tofu and turkey