GILBERT, Ariz. – It’s a practice that dates back 400 years yet fish pedicures are creating controversy and are fast becoming the subject of lawsuits in many states, including in Arizona.
We’re talking about Garra Rufa fish, often called ‘doctor fish’ in the United States.
Their mission is to suck dead skin off your feet. It’s a practice that began in Turkey and quickly spread across Asia.
Cindy Vong, the owner of LaVie Nails and Spa in Gilbert figured why not offer it here. Vong’s attorney, Clint Bolick, says, "She made a major investment in her salon, bringing in the fish, coming up with a very hygienic system, advertising and actually hiring new staff and then within a few months time, the board told her she had to shut it down and she lost her entire investment and had to lay people off.”
The Arizona Board of Cosmetology says it had no choice. Donna Aune is the executive director of the Arizona State Board of Cosmetology. She says, "They suck people's feet and it's not sanitary, it's not disinfected, the water is not clean."
However, Bolick contends, "The fact is fish cannot communicate diseases to humans, this is totally hygienic."
Clint Bolick, with the Goldwater Institute, is building his case against the Cosmetology Board thanks to a recent ruling from the court of Appeals. Bolick says this lawsuit isn’t about fish but rather giving people the right to earn a living.
“The board of cosmetology has totally overstepped its bounds. It's supposed to protect the public but what it's protecting the public from is competition and a service that a lot of people have really enjoyed."
Bolick is frustrated the cosmetology board banned the service without providing proof it’s dangerous. “Enough is enough. We want to establish a precedent that bureaucrats need to have a very good reason if they're going to put you out of business. She should be able to do this until you prove it's unsafe.” Aune says she’s not willing to compromise consumer safety.
"In the state of Arizona, we don't want to take the chance; we think there may be a potential harm to the consumer."
Aune says that, under the board’s infection protection rules, any tool that comes into contact with the consumer must be either thrown away or disinfected.
That is a procedure that’s not possible with a live species. If nothing else, Bolick hopes to prove, "The board of cosmetology doesn't know anything about fish, it shouldn't have the power to regulate fish."