2008 was supposed to be a prosperous year for Cindy Vong who had opened her Lavie Nail Salon in Gilbert, Arizona two years previously. However, the Vietnamese native was forced to close her business after introducing a “spa fish pedicure.” For those who have never heard of a fish pedicure, each session involves clients sinking their feet into a tank filled with Garra Rufa fish. These specially imported Chinese carp will then begin to nibbme at the dead skin on a person’s foot. This is a pain free process that tickles more then anything as the toothless fish eats their lunch.
Before a client entered the fish tanks, Vong would check each foot for any potential wounds or cuts. Then the feet would be cleaned with antibacterial soap before entering the fresh water used during each treatment. Once the fish had their fill, then the feet would be cleaned once more with soap.
However, according to the Arizona Board of Cosmetology this was not up to par on health codes. The board expressed their concerns in November 2008 to Vong that they felt the carp were not allowed under Arizona state health codes. Then a couple of months later in January, Vong received a letter from the head of the board, Sue Sansom. The letter stated that she was in direct violation of safety standards and that she could face criminal charges if the fish stayed. Vong was left with no choice but to remove the fish from her salon until granted an appeal. She has since been in court for two years fighting the charge.
This past Friday, The Goldwater Institute fought on Vong’s behalf at the Maricopa County Superior Court. The Goldwater institute is a public policy nonprofit organization founded by Barry M. Goldwater. The head attorney, Clint Bolick, argued that the ban on the fish pedicure was not constitutional because their are no regulations on the fish found in the bylaws of the Arizona Board of Cosmetology. Therefore, the Goldwater Institute claims that they are unfairly punishing Vong from potential clients.
An attorney from the Goldwater Institute said, “Vong has a right to earn an honest living, and the board has no business shutting down her spa fish therapy… This case stands for entrepreneurs who think outside the box, especially during times when economy is not so great.”
The cosmetology board in Arizona then argued that fish could easily spread bacteria via open cuts on someone’s foot. However, Vong cleaned and checked each foot before the treatment. Also, the fish have no teeth and it would not be possible for them to penetrate the skin.
The courts will decide if the ban on Vong’s fish pedicure was unjust over the next few months.