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 'falling asleep'".
 

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 whatever.

Leeches also have medical uses, but again are not indicated for merely cosmetic procedures.

Garra rufa

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Actinopterygii

Order: Cypriniformes

Family: Cyprinidae

Genus: Garra
 

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 the U.S.

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.
 

SOURCES:

"Fish That Feed on Dead Skin Cells are a Nice Spa Treatment," by Xeni Jardin, BoingBoing.com August 14, 2007 http://www.boingboing.net/2007/08/14/fish-that-feed-on-de.html (Accessed 7/21/08)

"Fish Pedicures: Carp Rid Human Feet of Scaly Skin," by Matthew Barakat, The Associated Press, July 21, 2008 http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5hzJgRAaYCJMvjh98hAk45as3DPgwD9226PM80 (Accessed 7/21/08)

Listing of dealers of Garra Rufa: http://www.tradekey.com/ks-doctor-fish/ (Accessed 7/21/08)

Distributor/Franchisor website: 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 exfoliation treatments) http://www.yvonnesalon.com/ (Accessed 7/21/08)

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