The growing trend in fish spas
- What is a fish spa?
Fish spas are one of the fastest growing beauty treatment trends in Britain and abroad but represent a significant welfare issue for the animals involved.The treatment involves immersing the feet or other body parts in a tank containing toothless Garra rufa fish. These fish feed on dead skin, and via an enzyme in their saliva, diathanol, are thought to be able to heal dermatological conditions such as psoriasis and eczema.As well as permanent facilities, there are travelling fish spas which operate at various locations, for example, in a shopping centre one day and a market stall the next. Some beauty salons are even starting to offer full body immersion tanks.
- Are fish spas harmful to the fish?
There are a number of animal welfare concerns associated with fish spas including the provision of a suitable diet and environment. It is a real concern if food is restricted, as is done in some cases, to ensure the effective removal of customers’ dead skin. Fish require a stable environment in order to thrive. Sudden changes in temperature can severely compromise welfare and even kill the animals. Water quality is also of paramount importance. This includes oxygen levels as well as concentrations of harmful chemicals such as ammonia and nitrate. Having people bathe in water with fish is likely to compromise water quality, especially if they are wearing lotions or toiletries that could leach into the water. Similarly, chemicals used to disinfect tanks/baths and to clean patients’ skin prior to treatment would have to be non-toxic to the fish. Maintaining a stable environment would be particularly difficult to achieve in the case of travelling spas as it is probable that fish are moved regularly between treatment and home tanks, which likely has an adverse effect on the fish (for example, as a result of differing water quality, water temperatures, stress as a result of catching and handling).The behaviour of people while undergoing treatment could potentially harm the fish, for example the movement of limbs causing physical injuries or high noise levels and vibrations causing psychological distress.Fish are covered by the Animal Welfare Act in the UK but not in Greece. In the UK they are recognised as being sentient animals with the capacity to feel fear, pain and distress. There is a risk that the people with day-to-day responsibility for their care will not have adequate experience in fish keeping, given the focus of the business.
There is a lack of scientific, expert-reviewed best practice guidelines for the use and care of Garra rufa in beauty treatments. The use of fish in this way also appears to fall through the net in terms of legislation and regulation.
WSPA recommends visiting the comprehensive website Fish Count for more information on fish sentience and welfare.
- Are fish spas harmful to humans?
In addition to the animal welfare concerns there are a number of human health concerns. More than a dozen states in the U.S. have banned the spas due to fears that the fish involved are vectors for disease and infection. In February 2011, the UK Health Protection Agency (HPA) launched a 6-month investigation into potential health risks. The investigation found that health risks associated with the spas include transmission of a range of infections either from fish to person, water to person, or person to person. The HPA recommended that those with weakened immune systems or underlying medical conditions, including diabetes and psoriasis, should not undergo treatment as they are likely to be at increased risk. The full HPA report on the issue can be viewed here.
- Do fish pedicures threaten species in the wild?
There are significant conservation concerns related to the growing trend in fish pedicures. Garra rufa originate from southern Turkish river basins, and the Turkish Government has now declared Garra rufa a protected species due to fears about over-exploitation by the fish pedicure industry. This has led to some U.S. spas using alternative species such as Chin Chin. However, Chin Chin have a high mortality rate and possess teeth, which increases the risk of infection.
- What does WSPA advise people do if they see a fish spa?
First and foremost we advise people never to visit facilities offering fish spas, If you come across such a facility, we encourage you to write a polite letter to the facility in question and to the local authorities voicing your concerns about the use of these animals in this practice.
Thank you to WSPA for the compilation of this information