Flesh-Eating Fish

September 17, 2010

A new fad in pedicures is sweeping the West: Garra Rufa fish treatments. Also called "doctor fish," the tiny swimmers feed on dead flesh and can be used to treat psoriasis, too. If your feet are a mess after a summer of wearing flip-flops: all dry skin and cracked heels, you may want to give the Garra Rufa fish treatment a try.

Garra Rufa fish are indigenous to the hot springs of Kangal in central Turkey, where bathers have flocked for decades for the express purpose of having their skin nibbled on by the fish. Since the fish not only remove dead skin but can also give relief for the symptoms of psoriasis, an entire spa industry has developed around the springs. People come to spend a maximum of three weeks in the Garra Rufa fish-populated waters. But you don't have to go all the way to Turkey to take advantage of this treatment—centers are popping up all over the U.S. and the U.K.

Little Nibblers

All of this may sound intriguing to you, but you might be wondering how the fish know when enough is enough. How do they know when to stop nibbling on your flesh? Not to worry: the fish only eat dead skin and they don't have teeth so they can't bite. At first you may find the sensation of the little nibblers quite ticklish, but people become accustomed to the feeling after just a few seconds.

Softening Enzymes

Spas approximate the hot springs experience by placing some 200 fish into a glass container filled with warm water. The therapist cleans your feet and removes some of the dead skin. While the fish are capable of removing all the dead flesh with no assistance, a client would need to do the treatment each day for this to be effective. For the occasional client, a bit of manmade help speeds up the process. It is believed that the fish not only eat the dead flesh but also release an enzyme that softens skin. 

The salons keep the fish at the ready in aquariums but scoop the little guys into individual foot tanks with new water drawn for each customer. The tanks are equipped with UV filters to kill bacteria and the feet of the clients are well-cleaned before treatment. Customers are advised to refrain from applying lotions or creams of any sort prior to treatment since these tend to repel the fish, which don't care for the chemicals contained in the substances.

Clients remark at how the minute they place their feet in the tank, the fish are drawn to them as if the feet hold magnetic powers of attraction. The fish move non-stop, paying particular attention to areas with dry, callused skin, such as a big toe or your heel. When the customer has spent 15 minutes in the tank, the treatment is over. The therapist slathers on some foot cream, slicks on some nail color, and voila! Beautiful soft feet are yours. 

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