blind_html [Fwd: Ban on Feet-Nibbling Fish Leaves Nail Salons on the Hook]

  • From: Nimer Jaber <nimerjaber1@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: blind_html@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 23 Mar 2009 13:27:12 -0600



-------- Original Message --------
Subject:        Ban on Feet-Nibbling Fish Leaves Nail Salons on the Hook
Date:   Mon, 23 Mar 2009 19:13:33 -0000
From:   Ray T. Mahorney <coffee-craver@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Reply-To:       Blind-chit-chat@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
To:     <blind-chit-chat@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>



[One for the weird file.]

MARCH 23, 2009

Ban on Feet-Nibbling Fish Leaves Nail Salons on the Hook
Mr. Ho's Import From China Caught On, But Some State Pedicure Inspectors Object

By PHILIP SHISHKIN
Wall Street Journal

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123776729360609465.html <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123776729360609465.html>

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- There's more than one way to skin a foot.

In his beauty salon wedged between a pizza parlor and a taco shop in a
strip mall here, John Ho is letting small fish eat dead skin off his
customers' feet.

"Feels like a bunch of ants running across your feet," said Bill Piatt, a
Marine gunnery sergeant from nearby Fort Belvoir, after dipping his feet in
a Plexiglas tank for 15 minutes of a fish-assisted pedicure. His wife,
Leah, reclining on an adjacent chair, said the nibbling tickled -- "a very
odd feeling."

Until Mr. Ho brought his skin-eating fish here from China last year, no
salon in the U.S. had been publicly known to employ a live animal in the
exfoliation of feet. The novelty factor was such that Mr. Ho became a minor
celebrity. On "Good Morning America" in July, Diane Sawyer placed her feet
in a tank supplied by Mr. Ho and compared the fish nibbles to "tiny little
delicate kisses."

Since then, cosmetology regulators have taken a less flattering view,
insisting fish pedicures are unsanitary. At least 14 states, including
Texas and Florida, have outlawed them. Virginia doesn't see a problem. Ohio
permitted fish pedicures after a review, and other states haven't yet made
up their minds. The world of foot care, meanwhile, has been plunged into a
piscine uproar. Salon owners who bought fish and tanks before the bans were
imposed in their states are fuming.

The issue: cosmetology regulations generally mandate that tools need to be
discarded or sanitized after each use. But epidermis-eating fish are too
expensive to throw away. "And there's no way to sanitize them unless you
bake them for 20 minutes at 350 degrees," says Lynda Elliott, an official
with the New Hampshire Board of Barbering, Cosmetology and Esthetics. The
board outlawed fish pedicures in November.

In Ohio, ophthalmologist Marilyn Huheey, who sits on the Ohio State Board
of Cosmetology, decided to try it out for herself in a Columbus salon last
fall. After watching the fish lazily munch on her skin, she recommended
approval to the board. "It seemed to me it was very sanitary, not sterile
of course," Dr. Huheey says. "Sanitation is what we've got to live with in
this world, not sterility."

Mr. Ho, a wiry 39-year-old, hopes the bans will lure pedicure tourists from
fish-hostile states to the two Virginia locations of Yvonne Hair & Nails,
which he owns with his wife, Yvonne Le. The salons charge customers $35 to
have their feet nibbled by fish for 15 minutes.

When Mr. Ho was 5, his father put the family on a fishing boat, and like
many others fleeing Communist Vietnam, floated out into the high seas,
hoping to find a ship to rescue them. The Hos succeeded, and eventually
settled in Virginia. Mr. Ho married his high-school sweetheart and the
couple opened the Alexandria salon in 1997, while Mr. Ho continued to run a
home-building business.

By 2007, they were looking for an alternative to pedicure razors, which are
banned in many states as too prone to making dangerous cuts. Ms. Le heard
from a customer about skin-eating fish in Asia, and Mr. Ho started doing
research.

What he discovered, among other things, was an old Turkish legend about a
shepherd who injured his foot and stuck it into a hot spring teeming with
small fish. The foot healed. Word spread. A treatment center for skin
ailments grew around the springs near the Turkish town of Kangal. From
Turkey, the practice spread throughout Asia, employing garra rufa, toe-size
carp that live in warm water, have no teeth and, according to those in the
business, like to suck off dead skin. Another fish sometimes used to treat
feet, called chin chin, is bigger in size and grows tiny teeth.

Last year, Mr. Ho and his wife traveled to a spa in Chengdu, China, had a
full-body fish treatment and liked it. After returning, Mr. Ho wired the
Chengdu dealer $40,000 for 10,000 fish.

At the back of the salon, he set up a communal fish tub for customers'
feet. The Fairfax County Health Department deemed the tub to be a public
swimming pool and ordered it closed on health grounds.

Mr. Ho then designed individual Plexiglas tanks where water is changed
after every use and fish can't swim from one pair of feet to another. Since
nobody is sharing the water, the county's public-pool ordinance no longer
applied. Virginia's Board of Cosmetology has no jurisdiction over skin,
unless it's a face. So Mr. Ho was in the clear.

In Derry, N.H., salon owner Kim Ong heard about Mr. Ho on television, and
traveled to his spa undercover, posing as a pedicure customer. She liked
what she saw and bought 500 chin chin from a dealer in Washington state for
about $6,000.

To New Hampshire regulators, Ms. Ong's proposal to use fish for pedicures
was nearly as unusual as an inquiry they once had about using snakes for
massages. The answer, to both, was no, says Ms. Elliott of the cosmetology
board.

Ms. Ong's fish now swim in a decorative fish tank and eat regular fish food
-- or each other if they get too hungry. Ms. Ong says she plans to fight
the pedicure ban.

State bans have disrupted Mr. Ho's plans to build a nationwide franchise
network. Currently, he has four active franchises, in Virginia, Delaware,
Maryland and Missouri. But others have terminated franchise agreements. In
Calhoun, Ga., Tran Lam, owner of Sky Nails, says she paid Mr. Ho $17,500 in
exchange for fish and custom-made pedicure tanks. A few weeks later, in
October, the Georgia Board of Cosmetology deemed fish pedicures illegal.
"I'm very mad," says Ms. Lam. "I lost a lot of money and the economy is so
bad."

In Kent, Wash., Bamboo Nails, another franchisee of Mr. Ho, is stuck with
thousands of dollars of idle fish and equipment following a state ban last
fall. The ban stemmed from a spot check of another salon where state
inspector Susan Colard says she watched the owner -- demonstrating the
technique -- stick her foot in a tank with so many fish droppings it was murky.

Proponents say fish pedicures are safe if the water is kept clean. "It is
so out of the ordinary that the first reaction is to say 'no,' " says Kevin
Miller, executive director of the Ohio Board of Cosmetology.

In Nevada last month, state Assemblyman Tick Segerblom introduced a bill
that would allow fish pedicures. Mr. Segerblom, who represents downtown Las
Vegas, says he is acting upon the request of a Chinese constituent with a
foot-massage business.

He made no prediction about the bill's chances. But with everyone in the
legislature obsessed with depressing things like deficits and the
recession, Mr. Segerblom says, "It's the most popular bill in the building."

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  • » blind_html [Fwd: Ban on Feet-Nibbling Fish Leaves Nail Salons on the Hook] - Nimer Jaber