Woman Loses Toenails After Fish Pedicure

Grant Boone
July 4, 2018

Indeed, one woman in NY developed an odd toenail problem after having a "fish pedicure", according to a new report of the case.

"We don't see the [nail] shedding until months after the event, so I think it's hard for patients and physicians - especially if they're not even aware that fish pedicures can do this - to make that connection", she said.

Though it does not meet the legal definition of a pedicure, the practice of sticking your feet into a tub filled with diminutive omnivorous fish from the species Garra rufa has been a popular spa service worldwide for more than a decade, according to Dr Lipner.

According to a new report in the journal JAMA Dermatology, the patient had received such a treatment and noticed later that her toenails began shedding.

Experts have said that fish pedicures may carry a risk of infection. The fish used in this treatment are toothless carp fish, which are plant eaters and eat the dead human skin.

In the JAMA case, Lipner says with no other explanation for what could have caused the problems with the young woman's toenails, the pedicure seems the most likely culprit.

Dr. Sheri Lipner, the woman's doctor and an assistant professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medicine, stated that this was most likely a result of fish traumatization to the woman's toenails. Onychomadesis only temporarily stops nail growth, which usually resumes within 12 weeks, according to a 2017 study of the condition. A dermatologist who treated the woman says the tiny "doctor fish" (Garra rufa) that feasted on the 20-something's feet somehow triggered onychomadesis - a condition involving "a complete halt in nail plate production". He explained that people who have feet where their second toes are longer than their first toe, called a Greek foot, may have nail loss when wearing high heels and pointed shoes.

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Now it's those trendy fish pedicures that are shrouded in horror. In addition, the fish themselves can not be sanitized between each customer's pedicure session, the CDC says.

But while there's no way to know for sure what caused the patient's toenail issues, there have been some concerns about fish pedicures in the past.

The report doesn't specify where the woman had her pedicure, for the sake of protecting her anonymity, but it's worth noting that the pedicures have been banned in many states in the USA, but they remain popular in China. According to the CDC, more than 10 USA states have banned fish pedicures entirely.

Verner-Jeffreys did comment that the fish spa phase didn't last long in the United Kingdom.

Toenails usually grow at about 1 millimeter per month, Lipner said, so a nail can take up to a year to fully grow back.

Here in Canada, the Vancouver Island Health Authority shut down a fish pedicure spa in Duncan, B.C.in 2011, citing concerns the pedicures could lead to the transmission of skin diseases. Dr. Lipner continued that her patient's case could be the first incident where onychomadesis occurred due to a fish pedicure.

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