Pedicures and Manicures

Beauty parlors and salons are mushrooming in every city because now-a-days every teen, her mother, her brother and may be her father too wants much more than just a hair cut. Special beauty treatments, luxurious massages and spas, are in great demand.


The nail care business is about magnificent manicures and pretty pedicures. Fingers and toes are cleaned, cuticles trimmed, nails shaped and buffed, hands and feet massaged and skin softened.


Among the various tools utilized, the emery board which is a disposable, flexible, abrasive, two-sided rough and fine, nail file made of emery paper, similar to sandpaper, stuck on cardboard, can contain fish derived liquid glue which retains the product’s flexibility upon drying. And, most nail buffers are made of leather – usually chamois leather.


The supplies used are no different to other cosmetic and make-up items, so individual products of various brands could contain animal ingredients and may have been tested on animals too.

The Rise of Nail Bars

Nail art or décor is increasing in popularity at special salons called nail bars run by beauticians called technicians.


A shellac or China glaze manicure involves nails painted with polish containing a high percentage of shellac which remains intact for a fortnight. Nail vanishes in different finishes like caviar (coloured glass beads), velvet (magnetic gel polish), and patent leather (polish that is dark brown/black and super glossy) are also on offer.


A wide range of nail embellishments considered trendy, elegant and chic, like crushed sea-shells, acrylic flowers, tiny beads, and imitation gems and jewels, are stuck on painted nails. Some nails are given a 3D effect, whereas some called flipmani have bling applied on the underside of the nails. Bubble nails made of acrylic are another variation.


Shellac and sea-shells are obviously of animal origin, but so are some of the other items used at nail bars. Artificial nail tips or lengtheners made of acrylic are non-animal, but the gel ones may not be so; whereas, the silk wrap extensions positively are animal in origin. Such extra long, pointed nails, like high heels, are called “stiletto” and are said to be highly impractical as they can cause injury and are unhygienic.


Nail polish is but a refined version of paint used on vehicles. Polishes set under UV light dryers harden more so last longer and resist chipping, but exposure to UV light is said to cause nail thinning, brittleness and skin cancer. A 2014 study undertaken at the Medical College of Georgia and published in JAMA Dermatology found wide variations in the doses of UVA light (UVA is long wave that ages us, and UVB is short wave that burns us) emitted during the 8 minutes of nail drying/hardening, and stated that 8 to 14 visits over 24 to 42 months would reach the threshold of 60 joules per centimeter squared for DNA damage to the skin. Health risks are associated with shellac and gel polishes, and the strong smelling acetone needed (fingers are required to be soaked in a bowl containing it to dissolve the stuff) to remove these polishes with metal instruments that scrape it off, are also bad.

Bizarre and Unsafe

Similar to live snail crawling facials (escargot slime is said to have an anti-aging effect on human skin), cruelty is seen in the form of fish spa pedicures for which feet are mildly cleansed and dipped into a half-filled tank of warm water populated by starving small fresh water fish called Garra rufa or “doctor” fish.


The fish nibble at the feet or rather slough off dead skin (but not without the water-softened skin getting ruptured in places) for 15 to 20 minutes, which is followed by completing the pedicure. The fish are used as a replacement for scrubbers in standard pedicures.


Garra rufa found in the Middle East, have been over-harvested for commercial gain in Turkey where the gimmick began. It is important to know that the so-called skin feeding occurs when the fish are not fed enough. In search of algae, they nibble on human feet, but do not actually eat the dead skin that peels off unless they are ravenously hungry. Flaky skin has been found in the filtration systems of tanks that have been analyzed.


These bizarre pedicures are available in most Indian cities’ parlors, salons and spas, even though UK’s Health Protection Agency has warned that fish pedicures can be the cause of severe infection. In fact, those with diabetes, psoriasis or weakened immune systems are especially vulnerable and at risk particularly of blood-borne viruses that are transmitted if infected clients bleed in spa water which is re-used.


Chinese Chinchin, another species of fish that is often mislabelled as Garra rufa and used in fish pedicures, grows teeth and can draw blood, increasing the risk of infection.


It is impractical for the water to be changed between each sitting, or for the tank to be sterilized that often, without harming the fish. Whether or not more than one person simultaneously dips their feet in the same water tank, there is no doubt that infections, and possibly AIDS, are transmitted from fish to person, water to person, or person to person.


Fish pedicures are banned in many states in America and in Canada because they are basically believed to be unsanitary. Why can India not follow suit?

Beauty Without Cruelty has drawn the attention of the Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the Director General of Health Services, and the Department of AIDS Control, to this issue.

Despite this, the under renovation (for years) Taraporevala Aquarium of Mumbai planned on setting up a fish spa. In July 2013 on reading this in the newspapers, BWC immediately wrote to the Municipal Commissioner pointing out the big health hazard but received no response and the Aquarium continued to be closed. Then, in April 2014 BWC wrote to the Commissioner of Fisheries requesting that fish spa pedicures and humans swimming or even dipping their hands and feet in aquarium waters every where under his jurisdiction be banned.


In June 2014 BWC sent an informative request to the new Minister of Health (Government of India) asking for a ban on fish pedicures, but no response was received.

Meanwhile, BWC approached several dermatologists for their opinion and was told that the treatment was more harmful than helpful. No doubt, the pedicures result in catching parasites, fungi and bacterial infections, and blood borne viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis can be transmitted through the tank water.

Page last updated on 12/04/24