Fish pedicures

Fish pedicures

Fish pedicures have recently received attention in the media because of a case report potentially linking a fish pedicure to onychomadesis. A letter published in JAMA Dermatology describes an otherwise healthy woman in her 20s who experienced nail abnormalities some months after having a fish pedicure. Onychomadesis, or transverse splitting of the nail plate, occurs when the nail matrix has arrested in producing the nail plate. It can be thought of as more severe form of Beau’s lines, in which the nail itself actually breaks and separates from the proximal nail plate and eventually sheds.

Fish pedicures have a long-standing history in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures for aiding such skin conditions as psoriasis and helping to remove scaly skin. The Garra rufafish are nonmigratory freshwater fish native to the Persian Gulf and Eastern Mediterranean. Suction allows them to attach to rocks and eat plankton. These “doctor fish,” as they are nicknamed, when placed in a warm bath of 25°C to 30°C, will also eat human skin when starved of their natural food source. As the JAMA Dermatology letter mentions, this was demonstrated in a study in Kangal, Turkey, where Garra rufafish were used to improve psoriasis by feeding on psoriasis plaques but not normal skin. After 3 weeks of therapy with Garra rufa in 67 patients, there was a 72% reduction in the Psoriasis Area and Severity Index (PASI) score from baseline (Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2006 Dec;3[4]:483-8).


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