Fishy Skin Treatment

Feb 27 2011 Published by under Biology & Environment

This may be TMI, but the wintry weather we've been having has made my feet really dry and itchy (and not too pretty to look at). Soaking my feet in a warm bath brought to mind a story I read a few years ago about pedicures that used fish to nibble away dead skin.

The fish turns out to be the Garra rufa or Doctor Fish. Native to Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria, the fish are used in spa treatments all over the world. Watch them in action:

Doctor Fish made a splash in the US news when a salon in Alexandria, Virgina imported 10,000 of the little guys from China in 2008. Since then, a number of states - including California - have banned the use of Garra in pedicures because they cannot be "disinfected" between treatments. The alternative - limiting each fish to a single treatment - would be cost prohibitive and would result in lot of "retired" fish to dispose of in some way.

That unfortunately means I'll have to stick to traditional treatments - pumice and lotion - for my dry heels.  My husband claims my feet are too ticklish to withstand 15 minutes of fish nibbling anyway.

Interestingly, one preliminary study found that Garra nibbling - more properly called ichthyotherapy - may be part of an effective treatment for psoriasis.  Maybe someday you'll find them in your dermatologist's office, even if they aren't allowed in your local salon.

Additional Reading:

Shishkin P. "Ban of Feet-Nibbling Fish Leaves Salon Owners on the Hook" Wall Street Journal (2009)

Grassberger M and Hoch W "Ichthyotherapy as Alternative Treatment for Patients with Psoriasis: A Pilot Study"  Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. December; 3(4): 483–488. (2006) doi: 10.1093/ecam/nel033.

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