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Woman loses toenails after fish pedicure

JAKARTA – Months after getting a fish pedicure, a woman noticed that her toenails had stopped growing and began to fall off.


According to a report in JAMA Dermatology, the woman went to a dermatologist six months after most of her toenails on both feet stopped growing and began to fall off, a condition known as onychomadesis. The doctor then ruled out any known causes of onychomadesis, such as major illness or a side effect of certain medications.

“While the mechanism of action is not entirely clear, it is likely due to the fish traumatizing the nail matrix,” said the doctor who treated the woman, Sheri Lipner, an assistant professor of dermatology at Columbia University’s Weill Cornell Medicine, as reported by Gizmodo.

“I do not recommend fish pedicures for any medical or aesthetic purpose,” continued Lipner. “In addition to onychomadesis, there are also serious infections associated with fish pedicures.”

Fish pedicures, a popular spa treatment in Asia, involve small fish that nibble at your feet in a large container of warm or room temperature water. The fish, a type of toothless carp, nip away at dead skin and are supposed to be able to treat conditions like psoriasis and smoothen the skin.

But as the fish are typically used on more than one person, infections can be transmitted between customers. While some have argued that the fish and their tanks can be disinfected, research has shown that disease-causing bacteria can be readily found in both the tubs and fish used in these spas.

To ensure patient anonymity, Lipner did not say where the woman got her pedicure. According to the doctor, this was the first documented case of onychomadesis caused by fish.

The woman will have a long wait ahead of her before she sees the return of her nails, which will likely grow back. Lipner said that toenails only grow one millimeter a month on average, while an entire nail can take as long as 18 months to be replaced. “Therefore, we will have to wait quite a while to see the outcome,” she said.

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