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Fish Pedicures in Illinois (Are They Legal?)

Currently, fish pedicures are illegal in the State of Illinois for a variety of reasons, the most obvious being that fish pedicures are not actually pedicures. Some lawyers, doctors, and regulators would stop there. But to really understand why the practice is forbidden, we need to look more closely at the service itself and the origins of the Illinois fish pedicure ban.

What is a Fish-Pedi?

A person receiving a fish pedicure, or enjoying a “fish spa,” is normally seated in a comfortable lounge chair.

After an attendant cleans and dries a customer’s feet, the customer is invited to submerge his or her naked feet into a medium-sized fish aquarium on the floor. Each fish container is stocked with about 50 tiny Garra rufa fish, whose job is to exfoliate the skin by gently nibbling on it to expose the softer, smoother new skin underneath. A typical session lasts about 30 minutes.

With a fish-pedi, no staff has participated in the skin removal procedure, unlike during a traditional pedicure. (In the eyes of the law, this is significant — the lack of human involvement in the skin removal makes a fish-pedi unlike other legal pedicures.) Fish pedicures are conducted thousands of times each day around the world, with little or no side effects other than prolonged giggles from the customer as a result of a tickling or tingling sensation.

Do Fish Pedicures Spread Bacteria or Infections?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is unaware of any negative official reports resulting from this beneficial and relaxing way of removing unwanted skin, according to Skokie Foot Ankle Specialists and the CDC. However, the CDC does know of outbreaks of nontuberculous mycobacterial infections following footbaths administered by licensed practitioners working in licensed nail salons. The epidemics sometimes resulted in boils and similar scars.

Cleanliness and Hygiene Are at the Core of the Ban

In the U.S., at least nine states in addition to Illinois have banned fish pedicures. Many reasons are given. But a major reason is that it is impractical to make the process sanitary, because:

  1. it is impractical for staff to clean the footbath water between customers, so spas tend to allow many customers to submerge their feet into the same tub of water and the same school of fish repeatedly, thereby creating an unsanitary environment;
  2. it is impossible to sanitize and disinfect the footbath water and / or the live fish without killing the fish;
  3. constant replacement of the fish would prove costly to salon owners; and
  4. therefore there is no pragmatic solution to eliminate bacteria either from the water or the fish or both between customers.

Some reasons involve the fish themselves. Chinchin, another tiny species of fish, are native to China and are similar to — and often mistaken for — the Garra rufa variety. Chinchin, however, grow teeth and have been known to draw blood and thereby present a heightened risk of infection followed by the spread of disease.

Additionally, neither Chinchin nor Garra rufa is native to North America. The introduction of these fish into Illinois or the U.S., if released into the wild, may harm the local flora, fauna, and the environment, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (Title 68: Professions and Occupations, Chapter VII: Department of Financial And Professional Regulation, Subchapter B: Professions and Occupations, Part 1175 The Barber, Cosmetology, Esthetics, Hair Braiding, and Nail Technology Act of 1985)

Are Fish Pedicures Animal Cruelty?

To get Garra rufa to eat skin during a fish-pedi, the fish must be almost starved. Because of this, animal rights activists including PETA say that fish pedicures amount to animal cruelty.

Illinois Pedicure Law and Regulations

A look at Illinois laws and regulations makes clear why it would be difficult or impossible to operate a fish pedicure service considered sanitary by law here.

Cleansing and exfoliating the skin for beautifying and cosmetic purposes is governed by 225 ILCS 410 (Section 1175.115 Sanitary Standards), which is the Illinois Barber, Cosmetology, Esthetics, and Nail Technology Act. The Act mandates and lists procedures to be conducted by a properly licensed esthetician, medical doctor or cosmetologist. The crux of Section 410 is the presence of sanitary conditions. The statute details dozens of requirements. For example, Section 1175.115, Subsection (b)(36) states:

“Pets or other animals shall not be permitted in a salon or shop at any time.”

The Illinois Administrative Code lists the sanitary standards for a pedicure in even greater detail. Subsection (c)(1)(A)–(D) states that “after each client,” the staff must drain all water from the footbath basin, clean all the interior surfaces with detergent, rinse with clean water, disinfect with either an EPA-registered disinfectant or 10% bleach solution, and wipe dry.

Conclusion: Fish Pedicures are Illegal in Illinois

This is no practical way at this time for Illinois proprietors to offer fish pedicures and remain in compliance with applicable regulatory, environmental and sanitary rules.

The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact an attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.

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