Legal battle over fish pedicures comes to end

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX -- The Arizona Board of Cosmetology acted within its rights in prohibiting a Gilbert nail salon from using fish to remove dead skin in a practice called “fish pedicures,” according to a ruling in the Maricopa County Superior Court.

“This Court has found that the actions of the Defendants were not arbitrary, irrational or unreasonable. Further, requiring the implements that remove dead skin from feet be disinfected has a rational and substantial relationship to promoting the public health, safety and welfare,” according to the ruling.

According to court documents, Cindy Vong, manager of La Vie Nails & Spa in Gilbert, did not comply with board rules before she started to offer the procedure in October 2008 under “Spa Fish,” a trade name owned by La Vie.

The case, Cindy Vong, et al. v. Sue Sansom, et al., was brought to court after a series of requests by Vong to continue the service including a proposal for a “pilot program” to test the service, both of which were not permitted by the Arizona State Board of Cosmetology. Sansom was the executive director of the board.

Although Vong signed a consent order Sept. 21, 2009, she decided to challenge the board’s prohibition.

According to court documents, “The plaintiff claims the prohibition violates Plaintiff’s rights to due process and equal protection under the state and federal constitutions.”

The ruling found the board was within its rights in deciding to prohibit the practice of fish pedicures. 

“The Board’s decision to prohibit fish pedicures is based upon its belief that because the fish cannot be disinfected and because they remove skin and can cause bleeding, fish pedicures create a risk that customers will be exposed to harmful bacteria and serious diseases.”

The practice of fish pedicures involved placing a patron’s feet inside tubs of water with Garra Rufa and Chin Chin fish. The fish would then remove skin from the patron’s feet, a practice the board determined was a risk to public safety.

The issue started back in September 2008, when Vong first asked about fish pedicures but was told by investigator Linda Stroh that such services were not permitted.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “CDC is not aware of any published reports on illnesses resulting from fish pedicures.” But in an article published in the June 2012 issue of CDC’s monthly peer-reviewed public health journal, one article does report these fish can carry harmful bacteria.