Tiny little fish feed on the dead skin of your feet.
They’re called fish pedicures.
A handful of states, including Illinois, said they’re a public health risk and have banned them.
But, here in Ohio, they’re allowed to operate without any sort of oversight.
The Ohio State Cosmetology and Barber Board said that all instruments used in traditional nail salons, like files and pedicure tubs, must be cleaned and sanitized between customers.
It’s Ohio law.
As NBC 4’s Tom Sussi learned, those same laws don’t apply to fish pedicure spas. The Buckeye state doesn’t regulate them.
Dr. Jim San Filippo, who works at the Center for Surgical Dermatology in Westerville, said that is concerning.
“If you think about the fish as an instrument, and when we do instruments in a medical setting and other spa settings too, those instruments get sterilized and cleaned and that just doesn’t happen with fish.”
It’s the perfect storm to get nasty skin infections said Dr. San Filippo.
“The concern is that these fish are not clean and you can’t clean them between uses and they may harbor bacteria that can lead to infections when people put their feet into the tank from the fish themselves or possibly the water, which gets contaminated by the fish as well.”
Deane Washington and her husband, Willie, own Garra Spa at the Polaris Mall.
She said customer safety is a top priority.
“We’ve taken some precautions as a company as to how we protect our fish and how we protect our customers,” she said.
Washington said it starts with inspecting their customers’ feet.
“We clean people’s feet before they get in,” she said. “We don’t let anyone get into the tank that has open sores or wounds or anything to that nature.”
Then there’s the tank’s water filtration system.
“It starts right here where the water goes into this bulkhead,” explained Willie Washington, “And it goes into this filtration sock that catches everything and anything that shouldn’t be in there.”
He added: “We have a carbonation system right here that pumps in the bad water and the good waters comes out there.”
Each tank also has a UV light that Washington said: “Kills any bacteria that may be in the water.”
Deane Washington said there are about 75 to 100 of these fish in each tank. And, on a given day, they service a lot of customers.
“Ten to 12 times, I would say that would be the limit per tank,” she said.
The Ohio State Cosmetology and Barber Board told Sussi there’s nothing in the state statute that authorizes them to regulate businesses that use fish to provide spa services like pedicures.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture and Ohio Department of Natural Resources said fish pedicures aren’t under their purview either.
As it stands, state lawmakers would have to decide whether they should be regulated, and by which agency.