Las Vegas Fish (Pedicure) Story: Spa Craze Could Sink or Swim with Tourists If Legalized

Posted on: September 18, 2018, 01:25h. 

Last updated on: September 18, 2018, 01:28h.

Las Vegas fish pedicures: sounds weird, but casino spa execs are always looking for a new gimmick to promote. The latest one — actual tiny fish that eat dead skin off someone’s feet as part of a spa pedicure — could arrive dead in the water unless it can pass a morass of regulatory and legal hurdles.

Las Vegas pedicures fish pedicure
If Las Vegas Councilwoman Michele Fiore (right) has her way, Las Vegas spas will be permitted to offer pedicure services using skin-eating fish. (Image: Eric Beracassat/Getty/Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal/

In Las Vegas — the city where nongaming has become the new gaming — City Councilwoman Michele Fiore believes she has one way to keep tourists on their toes. Fiore is sponsoring a city ordinance that would allow spas and beauticians to offer fish pedicures. It could be the most controversial move since MGM Resorts announced a mandatory 20 percent spa service fee in August.

Garra rufa — a species of fish native to the Middle East and Western Asia — have long been used in other countries for foot treatments. The fish, also referred to as “doctor fish” and “nibble fish,” eat away at dead skin.

Advocates claim fish pedicures lead to the softening of callouses, cuticle lightening, and increased circulation. But Fiore says Las Vegas spas should be able to offer fish pedis because “we need to be more innovative.”

The procedure will need some more champions to enter the Las Vegas market: fish pedicures are specifically outlawed in 14 states. Fiore seems impassioned to take Nevada — and the city of Las Vegas, which encompasses the downtown area — off that list.

Feet First

Fiore isn’t the first Nevada politician to call for opening up the fish pedicure market. Several proposals on the state level have been introduced, but to date, all legislative measures have hit the ocean floor.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that two Israeli businessmen presented testimony to state lawmakers last year on why they should consider legalizing fish spa services. No bill was subsequently introduced, but State Senator Tick Segerblom (D-District 3), who tried to pass garra rufa legislation in 2007, remains supportive.

It would be perfect for Las Vegas. What happens here stays here, and anything goes,” the politician stated. “You want to take an Instagram of something you’ve never done … What’s better than that?”

As casinos continue to expand across the country, Las Vegas has looked for ways to become consistently less reliant on gaming. Along with its ever-expanding entertainment, nightlife, and restaurant offerings, Nevada’s decision to legalize recreational marijuana has given the Silver State another draw for tourists anxious to do everything they can’t at home.

Troubled Waters

Fish pedicure patrons put their feet in a small tub containing water and the garra rufa, to whom human flesh is as tasty as beluga caviar is to humans.

However, animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) says these fish don’t actually want to eat your dead skin, claiming they much prefer plankton. PETA claims garra rufa are only nibbling on your skin because they’re really, really hungry.

The US Center for Disease Controls (CDC) agrees and warns potential fish pedi customers that the practice might constitute animal cruelty.

The CDC additionally warns that fish pedicure tubs cannot be sufficiently cleaned between services, as fish are animals and are making small, and sometimes undetectable, waste excretions. The public health institute also cautions that salon owners use the fish numerous times, which increases the threat of spreading infection.

And that’s not where the fish spa controversy ends, either: while garra rufa are toothless, spas where fish pedicures are permitted have been found to purchase cheaper fish from China called chin chin. The cheaper fish do have teeth, and have been known to bite customers and draw blood.

This month, an Australian woman was forced to amputate all the toes on her right foot after receiving a fish pedicure in Thailand. Doctors determined that she contracted a waterborne disease from the fish treatment, and the infection caused complications on healing surgery wounds that stemmed from a rare but serious bone condition she had battled for years.

Meanwhile, will Las Vegas casino spas ever see fish pedicures? With many legal and regulatory hurdles yet to traverse, it could be awhile before reefs become as popular as reefer with tourists in Sin City.