Fish pedicures come to a Harpenden salon

Fish pedicures are the latest craze to sweep the world of beauty treatments and involve tiny ‘Doctor Fish’ - garra rufa fish - nibbling on the customers feet to remove dead skin. Reporter, Laura Roberts, took the plunge at a salon in Harpenden to discover what the fuss was all about.

AS I dangled my feet over a tank of flesh-eating fish, I wondered whether I should explain to them that I’m a vegetarian. The fish, I mean. Should I tell them that I’m a friend of their kind so that they will, in turn, be good to me?

Hundreds of them had gathered at the surface, salivating as my feet hovered just inches above the water and I will admit that I was filled with trepidation. I never imagined my plump stumps would get so much attention.

But attention is exactly what a fish pedicure is all about. They are the latest craze to sweep through the world of beauty treatments, offering those who dare the ultimate in exfoliation and a Harpenden salon has started to offer this unique yet strangely enticing treatment.

Legends in Harpenden welcomed their ‘doctor fish’ just a few weeks ago but already they are proving popular for people looking to see what all the fuss is about and those looking to treat their feet as spring starts to send promises of its imminent arrival.

The idea is that customers immerse their feet in a warm tank of water filled with doctor fish, or garra rufa fish as they are also known, and they nibble away at the dead skin using their mouths. The fish, which have no teeth and belong to the carp family, have a real taste for dead skin and after they’ve sucked and licked at the skin, they leave it softer and are said to improve circulation. People suffering from psoriasis have, according to some reports, found that regular visits to the doctor fish can alleviate the symptoms.

So what does it feel like? Well initially I was quite tense and I thought I might have misunderstood because it felt like they did have teeth, but I soon realised that the sharp tickle was merely their strong, suction-like mouths, which were frenziedly slurping at my feet.

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It was a bit like the onset of pins and needles but this was probably because my senses were heightened by the knowledge of what I was doing. Soon it became softer and gentle and it felt like my feet were being kissed.

If you have a foot phobia, you might want to stop now (though I congratulate you for getting this far), but these fish love feet. They swam up between my toes and worshipped at my ankle. Some fed from underneath while others munched away at my shin. They were particularly taken with my left foot and there was one very large doctor fish that would only graze on the arch of my right foot.

After a few minutes I was chatting away to another customer and quite enjoying the sensation which felt like bubbles were popping all over my feet, when I looked down and saw my feet covered in fish and if I swayed my feet, they swayed like bizarre tentacles – it was an odd sight.

The fish quickly dispersed if you moved your feet suddenly and fell away as you pulled them out of the water, so someone with sensitive feet need not worry that the fish will cling on, they won’t – and because they have no teeth, they can’t.

As my feet came out of the water, they were dried off and sprayed with an antibacterial spray before they were towelled off again. My feet, out in the air, felt as though they’d been scrubbed absolutely clean and once they’d dried off, felt very soft. It was a shame to wrap them back up in socks and winter boots, as the air seemed to enhance the just-scrubbed sensation.

It’s hard to imagine these fish causing the upset they have done in recent weeks, with one national paper questioning the safety of the process. But Charlea Gillibrand, the manager of the department, says that rigorous checks are made of customers’ feet before they dip them and anybody with a fungal infection, an open wound or verrucas is turned away.

She said: “Obviously, our utmost concern is that our customers and our fish are healthy. The water is constantly filtered, UV lights kill any bacteria and we change the water every day as well as test it to ensure the levels are OK.”

My feet were still tingling as I walked back to the office and for the rest of the day, creating the sense that the fish were still there, preening and adoring. And it did make a difference: the skin on my feet was as soft as the day I was born.

Days later, my fish-kissed feet still feel wonderfully soft and clean and I guarantee there are no bite marks whatsoever.

Legends, a hair and beauty salon on the High Street, offers 15-minute sessions for �15 and 30-minute sessions for �20. The salon also offers after-care services for those looking for the ultimate pampering session. For information, call 01582 766657.