Fishing for Rationality in the Beauty Salon

Are you thinking of getting one of those cool new “fish pedicures” in which two-inch-long carp nibble dead skin off your toes and feet? Well, you’d better act fast. Many states are considering a ban on the process. And an article in this morning’s Wall Street Journal (sorry, may be for subscribers only) explains that 14 states have now already banned it or found that the process violates an existing cosmetology or other public health rule.

Indeed, the introduction of fish pedicures in the United States was almost stillborn after Vietnamese immigrant John Ho imported the technique and thousands of fish from China. Ho, who is believed to be the first to use the technique in the U.S., was almost thwarted by the Fairfax County Virginia Health Department, which decided that a communal tub shared by the feet of several customers at once was a “public swimming pool” and that the fish made it unsanitary. A switch to individual tubs was enough to make it lawful in Virginia.

And, in other good news, Ohio has made an affirmative decision that the process is OK. In a fit of rationality that often seems unusual for state public health officials, the Ohio Board of Cosmetology decided the practice was sanitary enough. As the Journal explains:

[O]phthalmologist 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.”

Would that all governments recognized what seems so obvious.