Fish pedicure is a process where small fish are used to clean up the dead skin on clients’ feet. A specific species of fish known as Garra rufa is used for the process. The species is called by other names as well, such as kangal fish, nibble fish or simply doctor fish. The species even has a registered trademark name, PhysioFish®.
Garra rufa fishes are normally found in the hot springs and river systems of the Middle East, mostly in the northern and central regions. This includes countries like Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. The fish have also been informally called the reddish log sucker.
Around the year 2006, these fish began to be used in spa treatments. Spa resorts in Umag, Croatia and Hakone, Japan started using fish for pedicure treatments. Later, many other countries started providing this service. In 2008, the service was opened in the US in Alexandria, Virginia. A little later, it was also offered in Woodbridge, Virginia. The service was also offered in Sheffield in the United Kingdom for the first time in 2010.
Spas that offer this treatment often have large fish tanks or ponds to cultivate thousands of Garra rufa fishes. Symptoms of skin diseases such as psoriasis were supposedly alleviated by the use of this species in treatment. The use of fish for spa treatments is currently available only in certain regions around the world. There has been considerable debate about the efficacy and hygiene issues of using fish in public places such spas.
Garra rufa can be used as aquarium fish at home. However, they do not exhibit the skin-eating property under normal conditions. They resort to skin-eating only when food supply is scarce or is uncertain. Their normal diet in the wild consists of aufwuchs, which is a kind of algae.
Aufwuchs in German means a kind of “growth or overgrowth on the surface”. It refers to the growth of algae in the form of minute plant and animal species on the surface of rocks and marine environments. Diatoms and green algae form the major chunk of aufwuchs in both fresh and salt-water environments.
Fish pedicure is not legalized in many states of the US and provinces of Canada. Cosmetology regulations mandate that tools used on spa clients be sanitized or completely discarded after every use. Sanitizing fish is of course not possible; discarding them after every use is also prohibitively expensive. For this reason, the use of fish for pedicure is banned in most regions of the US and Canada.
When the process first came popular, and number of spas that were struggling financially saw this as a possible method for generating revenue. They knew that novel and exotic procedures always had the potential for making a lot of money. However, the legal implications soon made it impossible for the process to become accepted.
Although the procedure seems to have a certain esoteric appeal to it, the uncertainty of the hygiene aspect has prevented fish pedicure from becoming really popular.