July 22, 2008

Fish Pedicures Are Making A Splash

Fish pedicures are creating waves around the Washington D.C. area.  Yvonne Hair and Nails, in northern Virginia, began offering the new fish pedicure four months ago, and have seen 5,000 people use the treatment.

"This is a good treatment for everyone who likes to have nice feet," said John Ho, who owns and runs the spa with his wife Yvonne Le.

Ho wanted something unique to replace normal pedicures that use razors to remove dead skin.  State regulators in Virginia have recently made known their concerns over whether the razors are sanitary.

Though the "doctor fish," also known as garra rufa, were originally used in Turkey and have become trendy in some Asian countries, Ho was unconvinced that customers would like the idea.

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

Customers like Tracy Roberts, 33, were soon addicted to the new fish pedicures.  It was "the best pedicure I ever had,' she said.  She has urged co-workers and friends to give the new trend a try.

"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.

"It kind of feels like your foot's asleep," said first time customer KaNin Reese.

The fish aren't the only ones working.  After a 15 to 30 minute dunk in the tank, customers receive a standard pedicure.  The pedicure is much more effective because of the soft skin the doctor fish leave.

Ho believes Yvonne Hair and Salon could be the only spa in the nation to offer the unique treatment, which costs customers $35 for 15 minutes or $50 for 30 minutes.  The salon has more than 1,000 fish, and uses around 100 in each individual tank.

Dennis Arnold, who established the International Pedicure Association, said he had never heard of the unique treatment, and doubts that it will catch on nationally.

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

Patsy Fisher, 42, agreed that she was anxious before her first fish pedicure, but found herself laughing as the small fish began nibbling on her feet.

"It's a little ticklish, actually," she said.

Ho said that the fish learned to feed on whatever food sources were available because the hot water environment in which they normally live doesn't support much other life.  The toothless fish leave living skin alone because they are unable to bite it off.

It cost Ho $40,000 to get his fish pedicures up and running mainly because of issues that arose with state officials over how his new endeavor should be regulated.   Ho eventually had to switch over from a tiled communal pool that served eight, to small individual tanks. 

The salon had already seen that the communal pool presented its own issue as the fish would try to feed on the customer with the most dead skin.

"It would sometimes be embarrassing for them but it was also really hilarious," Ho said.

Ho now hopes to establish a Doctor Fish Massage franchise, and is researching full body treatments to treat skin ailments like psoriasis.

Image Courtesy Wikipedia