Although a relatively unknown beauty treatment to many, fish pedicures may be just the answer to kick starting that perfect pedi.
While filing and painting are key components of a pedicure, the process also involves removing dead skin from the bottom of the feet.
Spas use several different methods to remove dead skin, from metal files (also sometimes referred to as “cheese graters”), and pumice stones, to… you guessed it… fish!
Interestingly, the Garra Rufa fish, also nicknamed the “doctor fish,” can remove dead skin by nibbling on your feet.
Let’s dive in to this interesting topic!
A Brief History of Fish Pedicures
The fish pedicure is thought to have been around for hundreds of years and is quite well known in Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. The fish used in these pedicures are called Garra Rufa, and it is believed that people from Turkey have known of the healing and beauty properties of these fish since before scientists had given the fish a name.
People from these countries most likely came across the fish in the wild, put their feet in the water, and quickly realized these little nibblers both felt good, and helped to soften skin by eating dead skin off the feet.
Once the practice became popular in those countries, word spread and demand grew in other countries. People all over Asia and Europe began getting fish pedicures, and then in 2008, the first fish pedicure spa opened in America. Since 2008, more and more fish pedicure salons have been cropping up in states all over the country.
About the Garra Rufa Fish
The Garra Rufa fish, also known as Doctor Fish, can tolerate cool temperatures, but are tropical fish by nature and enjoy tropical conditions. The fish are typically thought of as algae eaters, but are not picky about the rest of their diet. In the wild, they tend to eat whatever they can get their fins on, even the gills from other fish floating by.
You could make the argument then, that using these fish in a spa setting seems sort of natural to them. When a person sticks their feet in the Garra Rufa tank, they’re just something “floating by” for the fish to feed on. They suck and pull at the dead skin because they’re hungry and it’s something to eat. You don’t have to be concerned with fish bites because they don’t have teeth. They are unable to eat your live skin, they are only able to suck the dead, dry skin off.
The Fish Pedicure Process
Let’s go through the process of getting a fish pedicure so you know what to expect. The fish are kept in a large tank at the salon. When a customer comes in for a fish pedicure, approximately 100 – 150 Garra Rufa fish are moved into a smaller pedicure bath for that individual. The customer will remove their socks and shoes, and their feet are then checked by the staff to make sure they don’t have any cuts that could become infected. The pedicure tubs are cleaned between each client (usually … make sure the salon you visit sanitizes between feedings!).
The client then puts their feet in the water bath and the fish gravitate towards them, specifically areas where there is a lot of dead skin. As you can imagine, the nibbling of the fish can feel slightly ticklish to the client! After a few minutes, the ticklish feeling wears off and feels more like a gentle massage. Clients rarely if ever report that a fish pedicure is uncomfortable or painful in any way. Some people actually think it is very relaxing and similar to a gentle foot massage.
Once your session with the fish has ended, you remove your feet from the water and continue on with the rest of your pedicure. After a fish pedicure, many clients say that their feet are softer than ever before!
Fish Pedicure Price
In the US, fish pedicures range in price from $30 – $45 depending on where you go and how long your treatment is. You might find that they are scarce in your area and could cost more. A typical treatment usually lasts 15-20 minutes.
Most salons offer additional services beyond the fish feed as an add on which will cost more. While most patients say they’ve seen great improvement on their feet after only one treatment, salons recommend that you come back regularly to see consistent results.
What Does a Fish Pedicure Feel Like?
We touched on this above, but we’ll try and expand here.
Getting a fish pedicure is a very unique feeling. It’s ticklish and doesn’t hurt, but at the same time it’s lots of tiny, living creatures nibbling at your feet. A strange experience to say the least. It makes me think of swimming in lakes and feeling fish randomly nip at your foot or leg. That can really creep a person out! But a spa is a much more controlled environment so you have to accept that and get over that mental hurdle.
Some people love the feeling, and rely on fish pedicures as a staple of their foot care routine. Others hate the feeling of getting a fish pedicure and would rather stick with foot peels and pumice stones to keep their feet soft and smooth.
Fish Pedicure Benefits
- Removal of dead skin leading to softer skin
- Once you get past the ticklish stage, they can be very relaxing
- Can provide stress relief by releasing endorphins (from laughing during the ticklish stage)
- Can help with psoriasis
- Exfoliates the skin
In Which States are Fish Pedicures Banned?
The CDC (Center for Disease Control) posted an article stating, “Currently, over 10 states have banned the use of fish pedicures.” It’s unclear when that article was written, and they provide no links backing up that statement.
It is very difficult to determine which states ban fish pedicures and which do not. So, take this list with a grain of salt as it is by no means exhaustive.
If you are curious about your specific state, do your homework to find out if they are still legal.
Concerns About Fish Pedicures
While you may be ready to drive straight to the salon, there is a bit of contention you should be aware of among experts who aren’t so sure fish pedicures are safe. While no infections have been documented, the CDC thinks clients should be concerned about fish pedicures for several reasons.
First, to keep the fish alive, the tubs can’t be fully sanitized, this process would kill them. Obviously, you can’t disinfect the fish in between clients, and it would be impossible to use different fish for every customer. The cost of the fish, and the fact that there are only a limited number of the fish, make that difficult.
The CDC is also concerned about a different Chinese fish called the Chinchin fish which are often sold as Garra Rufa fish. Chinchin fish can grow teeth and draw blood from the customer which can lead to medical problems.
Also, because the Garra Rufa fish are not native to the United States, the CDC is concerned that if they get out into the wild, they could threaten other fish and plant life.
Lastly, the Garra Rufa fish eat dead skin in place of food. Many activists feel as though this is animal cruelty. You are basically starving the fish and allowing them to eat only when a customer comes in to the salon.
DIY Fish Pedicure
The problem with getting frequent fish pedicures is that the practice can get expensive quick. It doesn’t always make financial sense to go to the salon which is why you should think about taking matters into your own hands (or feet). Let’s explore creating your own fish pedicure station at home.
Do Your Research!
Before you start the process of creating your own fish pedicure station, its important to check several things. First, you’ll want to be sure that the state and country in which you live allows you to purchase Garra Rufa fish. In some areas, the practice is against the law due to concerns that the fish pedicure stations are unsanitary and could potentially spread disease.
Also, you’ll want to research the actual fish to be sure you are getting real Garra Rufa. Vendors have been known to substitute similar fish in place of the Garra Rufa because they are expensive and hard to come by. This is why it is important to buy from a reputable vendor you’ve researched.
Buying Garra Rufa Fish
Garra Rufa fish are typically found in the river basins of Turkey and throughout the Middle East. In other areas, they are not always allowed to be harvested or shipped commercially because there is concern of over production.
At the time of this writing, we are having difficulty locating a site to buy Garra Rufa fish online. There is one here, but I don’t know that I would willingly enter my cc info into that order form. That being said, there are a few sites (one – two) that have documented success in ordering Garra Rufa from that location. In any case, proceed with caution and do your due diligence!
A typical Garra Rufa fish runs approximately $3- $4, depending on the vendor. Try to find a vendor that guarantees that your fish will arrive alive and healthy so you don’t waste your money. You should also buy some fish food to ensure the little guys won’t starve when they arrive.
It takes about 150 fish to clean the dead skin from one spa customer, so at $3-$4 a pop, this could quickly become a pricey endeavor.
Packaging of Your Garra Rufa Fish
Garra Rufa fish will typically be packaged in a styrofoam container to keep them at an appropriate temperature, and the fish will be inside sealed plastic bags inside the container. Each bag will have enough oxygen inside to keep the fish alive. Temperature packs will be included so the fish stay alive. They are packaged in protective boxes so that they cannot be harmed during shipping. Once you’ve received your Garra Rufa fish, you’ll need to immediately unpack them and get them into a tank. You’ll want to follow the instructions provided by the seller.
Create Your Own Fish Pedicure Station
Before ordering your fish, you’ll want to make sure you have a tank that will sufficiently support a large number of Garra Rufa. It should have a filter, a heater, and a tank cover, and should be built to the specifications described by the vendor from which you order the fish. It is important to take good care of your fish and to keep them in a humane environment where they will thrive and live long enough to provide you with years of foot nibbling delight.
On that note, while the fish do eat your dead skin, it is important to supplement their diet with actual fish food. It is cruel to only let your fish “eat” when you feel like having a pedicure.
Your tank will most likely be sitting on the floor, or somewhere similar that allows you to sit above it and place your feet inside, so plan accordingly and buy a comfortable chair.
It’s also important to keep your fish tank clean! Clean it on a regular basis and don’t neglect your fish. We like this particular guide on cleaning fish tanks.
DIY Fish Pedicures
Sounds easy enough, right? Obviously, buying enough fish to create your own fish pedicure station can be a pricey venture, and keeping them alive will take considerable time and effort. But if you love fish pedicures and need a new hobby, it may make sense for you!
A fish pedicure can be a fantastic thing. Experiencing hundreds of tiny fish mouths nibbling on your feet is a sensation unlike any other. And to top it off, they’re removing your dead skin in the process! What’s not to love?
If you are in a state where fish pedicures are legal, please take the proper precautions before trying one for yourself. Make sure the salon sanitizes between clients and that they practice proper care of their authentic Garra Rufa fish. Also, be sure you don’t have any open cuts or sores on your feet which could become infected.
Otherwise, the risks seem very low and you should absolutely indulge in this experience if you’ve been thinking about it. Have fun!