I will try just about any weird spa/health/therapy/wellness experience at least once, and when I saw these little suckers in Playa del Carmen I felt inclined to give this a go.
Known as: ‘Doctor Fish Pedicure’, ‘Fish Spa’, or ‘Ichthyotherapy’, this unusual way of getting your tootsies pampered involves a tank full of tiny fish who essentially snack on your dead skin cells. What for the ‘patient’ is a pedicure, for the ‘doctor’ is lunch.
The species of fish used for this job is the Garra Rufa (or nibble fish as they are suitably nicknamed.) They are originally found in river basins of the Middle East; mainly in Turkey, Syria, Oman, Iraq, and Iran.
The beneficial evidence of the fish spa is not really very conclusive. It is said to help with conditions like psoriasis, and to exfoliate and soften your skin. Mostly, people do it for the novelty factor I’d say (guilty as charged).
Where I got it done, my feet were pre-washed and inspected for any cuts etc., and the fish tanks/foot basins were under UV filtered lights which I was told acted as sanitizers. Whether this is actually sufficient or not, I cannot say. Call me gross, but I tend not to worry too much about this kind of thing and was too excited to have fish chew on my toes to think about any fish/ skin diseases that could be passed on to me. (They don’t actually chew as they do not have teeth.)
After having it done, I did a little bit of research into it. I don’t know if I would have stuck my feet in there if I would have read more about it beforehand! A lot of people are saying that it is the most disgusting and dangerous thing they have ever heard of. The practice is not even allowed in most places in Canada and the US, due to unsatisfactory hygiene control.
Am I glad I did it though? Yeah…
It is kind of like when you look up the travel advisories for a country you are planning to go to. The warnings and worst case scenarios scare the Bejesus out of you before you have even set foot on the plane/train/car to get there. So usually I go first and then look at the advisories afterwards and feel thankful that I didn’t know all the horrors awaiting me.
And sometimes you just have to go with your gut.
My gut said: ‘the fish are hungry and your feet could use a pedicure’. It also said: ‘hey you haven’t tried that yet!’ Plus I am pretty sure that regular manicures/pedicures in many many places hold more sanitary risk than this did. Heck, I have had handshakes that felt more contaminating.
Like Helen Keller said: “Life is a Daring Adventure or Nothing at All.” I am fairly certain she did not have the fish pedicure in mind when she came up with this, but what the hey, I tried it anyways.
So what did it feel like? Basically it felt like little fizzy bubbles all over my skin. They mostly go for the top of the feet which makes it easier to not giggle uncontrollably at being tickled. If you have really sensitive feet or don’t like creatures biting you, it might take a couple of minutes to get used to it.
Overall, I found it to be a cool new spa experience to try. If I get any weird fungal infections or webbed feet, I will report back.
Has anyone else done this? Would you do this?
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