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Really natural exfoliation: fish

Pedicure patrons have heard of salt rubs and pumice stones. Now carp nibble at toes.

August 03, 2008|Matthew Barakat | Associated Press

ALEXANDRIA, VA. — Ready for the latest in spa pampering? Prepare to dunk your tootsies in a tank of water and let tiny carp nibble away.

Fish pedicures are creating something of a splash in the D.C. area, where a northern Virginia spa has been offering them for the last four months. John Ho, who runs the Yvonne Hair & Nails salon with his wife, Yvonne Le, said 5,000 people had taken the plunge.

He said he wanted to come up with something unique and needed a replacement for razors used to scrape off dead skin. (State regulators worry about how sanitary razors are.)

Ho was skeptical about the so-called doctor fish, or garra rufa, which were first used in Turkey and have become popular in some Asian countries. Ho doubted they would thrive in the warm water of a comfortable foot bath.

And "I know people were a little intimidated at first," Ho said. "But I just said, 'Let's give it a shot.' "

Customers were quickly hooked.

Tracy Roberts, 33, of Rockville, Md., who heard about it on a local radio show, called it "the best pedicure I ever had" and has spread the word to friends and co-workers.

"I'd been an athlete all my life, so I've always had calluses on my feet. This was the first time somebody got rid of my calluses completely," she said.

KaNin Reese, 32, of Washington said the toothless fish created a tingling sensation, "like your foot's asleep."

After 15 to 30 minutes in the tank, customers' feet -- softened by the doctor fish -- get a standard pedicure.

Ho thinks his is the only salon in the country to offer the treatment, which costs $35 for 15 minutes and $50 for 30 minutes. The spa has more than 1,000 fish; about 100 go in each pedicure tank.

The founder of the International Pedicure Assn., podiatrist Dennis Arnold, said he had never heard of the treatment and doubted it would become widespread.

"I think most people would be afraid of it," he said.

First-timer Patsy Fisher admitted she was nervous, but her apprehension dissolved into laughter as she put her feet in the tank and the fish swarmed to her toes.

"It's a little ticklish, actually," said Fisher, 42, of Crofton, Md.

Ho is considering a full-body fish treatment that, among other things, could treat psoriasis and other skin ailments.

He envisions a network of Doctor Fish Massage franchises.

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