Robrt L. Pela

Something’s fishy

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Among the stranger beauty treatments gaining popularity in the U.S. is “spa fish” therapy, a form of pedicure that gives some people the creeps and gave a local public policy organization something odd to do in court recently. 

In April, the Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix-based conservative research organization, argued that the current ban on this oddball treatment is unconstitutional, and that the county is hindering the well-being of Cindy Vong, a Vietnamese immigrant who offered the fishy toe service for a few years.

Vong opened her La Vie Nail Salon in Gilbert in 2006, and began offering “spa fish” treatment a couple of years later. For thirty bones, a salon customer could dip their feet into a bucket full of Chinese Garra rufa fish, a particularly voracious strain of toothless carp, which would eat away the dead skin around the customer’s cuticles and heels.

Okay. Gross. Right?

The treatment has been popular in Asia since the 19th century, and is currently legal in five states including Ohio and Delaware. However, it has been banned in 14 other states, including Arizona. But, recently, the Goldwater Institute argued in Maricopa County Superior Court that the ban, instituted by the Arizona Board of Cosmetology, is unconstitutional. And Vong is arguing that the safety protocols she instituted – cleaning feet with antibacterial gel, inspecting customer’s legs for cuts and abrasions – were enough to keep customers safe from potential infections from sick fish.

“Cindy Vong has a right to earn an honest living, and the Board has no business shutting down her ‘spa fish’ therapy,” reads an official release from the Institute. “This case stands for entrepreneurs who think outside the box, especially during times when the economy is not so great.”

“Fish pedicures are not within the scope of practice of cosmetology nor of nail technology,” Cosmetology Board director, Sue Sansom, wrote in a letter to Vong. “Any tool or piece of equipment used in a pedicure must be stored in dry storage and disinfected in a very specific way, and it is impossible to disinfect fish coming in contact with your clients’ skin in the required manner.”

And this is what we’ve come to in the 21st century: Purveyors of public policy arguing about whether one can properly disinfect a fish that we pay to eat dead skin off our feet.  

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