Fish Therapy

by Chris McBeath

Having fish nibbling at your feet in the name of spa health sounds creepier than it really is.  In fact, this fish therapy is such a novelty that it’s usually found in places like the Florida Keys, and other culturally off-beat sunshine-locales where passers-by can shun their flip flops and dive their feet, toes-first, into a schoal of fins.

In recent years, however, fish therapy is hitting mainstream destinations outside of Turkey where it originated hundreds of years ago. Its popularity is growing across China, Japan, Mexico and Europe as trendy spas adopt it as the next new and happening body treatment.

The concept is this:
you submerge your feet in warm pools containing hundreds of minnow-sized, doctor fish which nibble at dead skin cells for softer, smoother skin.  Finish your feet off with a moisturizing massage and presto – your feet are transformed into pedes of beauty.

Toothless doctor fish are actually a species called garra rufa, but got their nickname because of their ability to eat away at dry and scaly skin.  Their feasting has even been known to ease conditions such as eczema and dermatitis, likely because as they nibble, their saliva produces the natural, healing enzyme dithranol.  

The therapy was first discovered in Turkey where high water temperatures in two particular selenium-rich pools, near the villages of Kangal and Sivas, make it difficult for any nutrients to survive, thereby making the fish ravenous. Sufferers of psoriasis used to submerge their entire bodies in these pools for hours at a time, and for weeks of end, at the end of which their skin was clear.

For all their therapeutic history, this is not a treatment for the squeamish.  Besides which, it’s very ticklish as the squirming mass wriggles in between your toes, fights for the tastiest morsels of your well-weather heel, and flick quickly from one patch of crusted epidermis to another. 

Hang in there long enough, though, and the whole feasting affair becomes quite mesmerizing and eventually, is a fun way to relax. 

In addition to improving skin tone and texture, doctor fishes help to stimulate the nervous system in a similar way to acupuncture, they improve circulation, promote new skin growth and leaves skin feeling smooth, healthy and revitalized.

I enjoyed my complimentary doctor fish therapy at the Grand Velas Riviera Maya in Mexico.  But with bona-fide, medically-supervised, doctor fish clinics springing up in Germany, Austria, and Croatia, these tiny skin guzzlers appear to have a bright future in arenas outside of spa. 

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