The California Board of Cosmetology and Barbering recently reissued a bulletin banning nail salons from offering a spa treatment that uses live fish to smooth patrons' soles.
Health officials have for years been raising concerns about salons that let imported fish nibble dead skin off the feet as part of a pedicure, leading some states to ban the practice altogether. The state's Board of Cosmetology and Barbering announced several years ago amid questions about legality here that the practice runs afoul of health rules requiring that tools are disinfected between each patron.
"There's no way they can disinfect that water that person is putting their feet into," Executive Officer Kristy Underwood said, noting that some fish used for the service have teeth sharp enough to draw blood.
Now, the board is once again promoting that decision as part of its safe sandal season campaign.
"We're really just trying to get the word out to make sure the salons people are going to are clean, that they are licensed, and they are not reusing tools," Underwood said. "This time of year, obviously with pedicures, people are way more in the salons than normal, so the risk is higher."
The practice of fish pedicures, which is more common overseas, has reportedly attracted a growing fan base in the United States in recent years. But consumers in California, it seems, weren't too hooked on the idea to begin with. Fred Jones, executive director of the Professional Beauty Federation of California, said he wasn't aware of any salons offering fish pedicures in the state before the board's decision took effect.
Figuring out a way to comply with the state's strict health and safety laws probably proved too cumbersome, he said.
"How do you disinfect a live fish?" Jones asked. "You don't, so they would basically be single use. I don't know what kind of second-hand market there are for used pedicure fish."
PHOTO CREDIT: A client has her toes nibbled on by a type of carp called garra rufa, or doctor fish, during a fish pedicure at Yvonne Hair and Nails salon in Alexandria, Va. Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press file, 2008