Something's Fishy About These Pedicures
The receptionist greets you with a smile and signs you in. You remove your
shoes and socks and get ready for the latest fad in pedicures. The receptionist
shows you to a seat underneath which lies a tank of warm water containing a
hundred or so small fish.
You want me to put my delicate feet where?!
In the tank, you silly goose! You see, the tank is full of Garra rufa,
the English name for which is "Doctor Fish." The fish, you see, thrive in water
of a temperature that's comfortable to humans but lethal to other fish and
water-borne flora and fauna. So basically these poor things live on a diet of
minerals and whatever else drops into the water. Keep the water clean, and the
critters end up starving. Put a scaly, callous-ridden foot in the tank and the
fish, which are toothless, head right for the dead skin cells on one's feet and
have a feast.
An Associated Press interviewer asked those undergoing treatment to describe
how it feels. Responses ranged from "ticklish" to a similarity to one's "foot
Similarities to Other Animal-Based Medical Procedures
The concept is quite similar to maggot therapy; the animals can't remove
living flesh from the person being treated. Where it differs is that the fish
leave nothing behind; the dead tissue that maggots devour is typically in open
wounds. Maggots also release proteins which have healing properties. Garra
Rufa are used as a topical, cosmetic treatment and have no value in healing
Leeches also have medical uses, but again are not
indicated for merely cosmetic procedures.
Where Do I Go For This Treatment?
(Or, Do I get chips with that?)
The U.S. pioneer of the use of Doctor Fish in a spa setting is John Ho,
operator of an Alexandria, Virginia salon. Ho believed that he was the first
to utilize the fish in the United States, although the fish are being used with
a modicum of success in China, Malaysia, Turkey and Germany. Ho spent $40,000 to
start-up the operation, and he plans to franchise the "Doctor Fish" concept in
These fish can completely get rid of skin smear and aging cortex.
They also can make your pore unobstructed to promote blood circulation.
Moreover, they have the function of protecting skin and beutifying [sic] face to
make your skin healthier and more brilliant.
— Doctor Fish Franchise Website
Cost of a treatment is $50 for a half-hour of piscine nibbling. One of the
advantages of using the fish is that they don't transmit disease. Other
treatments involve knives which are far less sanitary.
There was a hitch, however. The Alexandria Department of Health asked that
the communal pools not be used and that individual treatments be given. Again,
this was not because the fish themselves could transmit infection; but the hot
water they swim in could. The individual concept also can avoid embarrassing
situations such as the person with a lot of dead skin on her feet who dipped
into a communal tank. The fish swarmed around her bipedal banquet, leaving the
other women with very few fish left. Salon owner Ho said it was cause for a lot
of stifled laughter on his part.
DISCLAIMER: This article is informative only and does not condone the
treatment described hereinabove nor variants of it. In other words, keep your
feet out of other people's fishtanks!
Update Two Days Later: Ichthyotherapy is what they call this!
A helpful noder who wishes to remain anonymous directed me to a scientific
study of Ichthyotherapy (yep, that's what they call this nibbling using Doctor
fishies — try saying it five times fast). Apparently, the voracious little
devils are of great benefit to sufferers of psoriasis.
The details of the study are at: http://ecam.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/3/4/483.
"Fish That Feed on Dead Skin Cells are a Nice Spa Treatment," by Xeni Jardin,
BoingBoing.com August 14, 2007
"Fish Pedicures: Carp Rid Human Feet of Scaly Skin," by Matthew Barakat,
The Associated Press, July 21, 2008
Listing of dealers of Garra Rufa:
http://www.tradekey.com/ks-doctor-fish/ (Accessed 7/21/08)
http://doctorfishmassage.com/ (Accessed 7/21/08)
"Doctor Fish" (author uncredited) on
http://www.psorsite.com/docs/doctorfish.html (Accessed 7/21/08)
Website of "Yvonne's Hair & Nails," (the first U.S. spa providing Doctor Fish
http://www.yvonnesalon.com/ (Accessed 7/21/08)