Woman loses her toenails after getting a popular 'fish pedicure'
Health treatments these days can get pretty weird. You've got "vampire facials", in which people inject blood from their arm into their faces to keep them looking young, "wine baths" in which folks take a dip in a tub of red wine in order to soak up the antioxidants, and caviar facials - which are exactly as fishy as they sound. But that isn't the only sea-based skincare routine that's popular right now. For about a decade, people have been using "fish pedicures" in order to get rid of the dead skin on their feet.
The way the process works is simple: someone who is suffering from an excess amount of dead or flaky skin sticks their feet into a tank of Garra Rufa - an omnivorous fish that enjoys nothing more than a tasty bit of human skin to munch on. The fish eat the dead parts but leave the healthy flesh, therefore acting sort of like a chiropodist.
However, it is possible for the treatment to do more harm than good, as one recent study explored.
Dr. Shari Lipner, a dermatologist at Weill Cornell Medicine hospital, investigated that case of an unnamed woman whose toenails had started falling off her foot for no apparent reason.
Writing in JAMA Dermatology, Dr. Lipner explained:
"A woman in her 20s presented with a 6-month history of abnormal toenails. She denied pain, previous trauma, or running or walking on paved road. She had no family history of nail disorders, no medical problems, no history of major illness or high fever, and no vaccinations or use of medications in the past year."
However, she did not that the patient "reported having a fish pedicure some months prior to the start of her nail abnormalities."
The paper then went on to detail the precise damage to the patient's tootsies, noting that "the bilateral first toenails [the ones on the big toes] show the disappearing nail bed" - something apparently "consistent with the diagnosis of onychomadesis."
You can see a picture of the toes in question below, but be warned - they are a tiny bit gross.
Put simply, onychomadesis is the term used to describe a condition whereby the body stops producing "nail plates". Though not uncommon, it has not before been linked to fish pedicures.
However, other concerns about fish pedicures have been raised before, with the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention determining that Garra Rufa can spread infections when their tanks are not changed between uses. By using the same water for different clients - maybe even dozens or hundreds a day - the fish can spread an infection from one person to another very easily.
In fact, 10 US states have already banned salons from using the fish - not just because of contamination concerns, but also because the critters must be cruelly starved in order to encourage them to eat the human skin.
Having said that, it's still not 100 per cent confirmed that the fish were the cause of the woman's lost toenails - it's just that no other explanation makes sense.
"While the exact mechanism is unknown, it is likely that direct trauma caused by fish biting multiple nail units causes a cessation in nail plate production," explained Dr. Lipner wrote, who noted that other possibilities had been extensively considered before this conclusion was reached.
Let this be a warning to anyone considering taking a dip, then - you might lose more than just your dead skin.