Fishy Feet

Fish dining on your feet may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but recently I went to try it for myself and found it bizarrely effective for getting rid of dead skin. I went to a place called Dr Fish, which is one of the largest chains of fishy feet spas in the world.

Upon entering my feet were soaped and cleaned in a bucket and I was then lead to a communal wading pool full of tiny fish called Garra rufa. There were three other people sitting on the edge of the pool with their feet in the water. One was sitting there with his eyes closed in contemplation while the other two were alternately giggling and grimacing.

I gingerly placed my tootsies in the water and watched as thousands of tiny fish streaked towards my feet. I immediately understood the giggling as it is like being tickled by lots of feathers all at once. I also understood the man closing his eyes, as it is very unnerving to realise that your dead epidermis is being nibbled and digested.

Luckily the fish have no teeth, so my piranha nightmares could be laid to rest. It took about 20 minutes and afterwards I sat down and had a proper pedicure with an actual human being. My feet felt silky smooth and the soles in particular were now free of dead skin.

Fish spas are popular all over Asia these days, especially in Hong Kong and Singapore. They have just reached Europe and the US, but they are having problems receiving licensing in some countries due to sanitation demands. Nothing has been mentioned about animal abuse yet but it must be on the cards.

Dr Fish actually started in Turkey, and the fish themselves are natives of the towns Sivas and Kengal. The fish are now exported in bucket loads from Turkey to all over the world. The warm temperature of the water guarantees that nutrients do not survive which means the fish have no option but to eat away at dead and scaly skin when it is placed temptingly in front of them.

These fish are associated with the healing of psoriasis and eczema. The idea is that when the fish start gumming your feet, the action releases an enzyme called Dithranol. This helps in treating dry skin conditions and can in the long-term improve the overall skin texture and actually provide a cure. However, for serious skin conditions you will need to give up three weeks of your life and be prepared to be nibbled for up to 8 hours a day. This is a serious commitment indeed, and I have to say that 20 minutes was quite enough for me.

The owners of the spa I went to told me it was a treatment constantly gaining in popularity and although some people see it as a gimmick, others return time and time again. They said the funniest moments are when someone gets in the pool with more dead skin than usual. You can then watch the fish streaming away from everyone else to gorge themselves at the feast. This can lead to quite a lot of embarrassment and even more giggling.

In Japan it is already popular for hands as well as feet and plans are underfoot to take fishy spas to the next level and in future you may be able to completely submerge yourself in an individual tank and have the fish nibble all over your body. For me the jury is out on this possibility and for now I think I’ll stick to more traditional and relaxing methods of exfoliation.