Piranhas and Pedicures

I rarely divulge details of my personal life on Zooillogix because, frankly, I am quite a catch and I didn’t want female readers leaving their husbands. On July 12th however, I (Andrew – the older and wiser one who still has both hands) got married. I tell you this because something horrible happened shortly before the wedding that directly informs this story: my then fiancee forced me to get a pedicure.

For years she has begged me to clickity-clack the raptor claws I call toes down to “Nail Bar” but I staunchly refused, as any self-respecting pretend-zoologist must. She was quite persistent however, and in a foolish moment of short-sightedness, I told her that she could do “whatever she wanted to me” before the wedding. She is a patient, cunning woman.

So on July 10th, I accepted my fate. The experience was many things. Foremost among them: embarrassing, emasculating, expensive, boring, time-consuming, and somewhat painful. My servant (pedicurist?) spoke little English, so I decided to tell her the entire plot to Ender’s Game to see if I could remember it all and to which she dutifully nodded.

i-0a67b8b3168dcd067615b79b3be7ad04-fish feet 2.jpg
Getting pecked apart by tiny fish is all the rage in Istanbul.

This is all a very long way of bringing this awesomeness to your attention. A nail salon in Virginia has employed tiny fish, Garra rufa, to aid in the exfoliation process of pedicures. Also known as doctor fish, Garra rufa have long been used in Turkey where their tolerance for hot water and love of delicious dead skin have made them a hit with the ladies and hairy Turkish men. The fish have no teeth and only eat dead skin, so their is no risk of falling asleep at the spa and waking up to find your feet skelatalized.

The enterprising salon is believed to be the only one in the country to currently offer the treatment, which costs $35 for 15 minutes and $50 for 30 minutes. Customers seem to love it. In this AP article, women alternately describe the treatment as “feeling as if your foot is asleep,” “a little ticklish” and “that first night-swimming scene in Jaws.” With absolutely no medical research to back it up, the salon owner also claims the fish to be helpful in ameliorating the symptoms of psoriasis.

Relaxing… insofar as nightmares happen when you are asleep.

If my wife is reading this, I will return to Nail Bar as soon as they purchase 1,000 Gurra rufa. Thanks once again to Pat King for bringing this to our attention.


  1. #1 T. Bruce McNeely
    July 21, 2008

    Re: psoriasis
    Although there is no research, I think it’s reasonable to suggest that this treatment could help the symptoms of psoriasis. The fish seem to enjoy nibbling on keratin (the “dead” layer of skin). Psoriasis results in a great deal of thickening of the keratin layer of affected skin, accounting for the scaley plaques of this disorder. The fish would chew off the thick keratin, relieving the associated symptoms. They’re using maggots to debride necrotic tissue in patients, so the idea of “therapeutic fish” isn’t so far-fetched.

  2. #2 Claudia
    July 21, 2008

    The article says the salon is actually in Alexandria, VA. I think I might visit it myself.

  3. #3 Jim Thomerson
    July 21, 2008

    When I was in high school I had a school of blacktail shiners in a stock tank for fish bait. They are also minnows, and thus have no jaw teeth. I could put my hands in the water and they would pick at them like the fishes mentioned. I think if I had tried swimming with them they would have tickled me to death.

  4. #4 Nick Van Der Horst
    July 21, 2008

    So the main point is exfoliation. And exfoliation is good for your whole body, not just your feet. Therefore a bathtub full of these guys and a snorkle would be an even better treatment, right?

  5. #5 Ian
    July 22, 2008

    Sounds fishy to me.

  6. #6 Kate
    July 22, 2008

    Andrew, congrats on finding someone to share your life and love for zoology. Also on your casual use of the word wife, which usually takes more than a week to adjust to.

  7. #7 Andrew
    July 22, 2008

    kate – funny you mention that. i called her my “fiancee” when i first posted this and then caught it upon rereading.

  8. #8 Sheril R. Kirshenbaum
    July 22, 2008

    Congratulations to you and Mrs. B!

    And should our adventures ever lead the three of us to Istanbul or Virginia, dead skin fish pedicures will be on me…

  9. #9 Jim Thomerson
    July 22, 2008

    I saw a segment on this on TV. The fish were not Garra but maybe juvenile Tilapia. In any case, fish with jaw teeth, which Garra does not have. I’ve never examined a Garra but they may well have rough rasping lips.

  10. #10 Mau de Katt
    July 22, 2008

    Oh, those fishies are big in Japanese spas, too.

    And as far as freshwater aquarium fish go, guppies will also do the ringer-nibbling thing — when I was in high school we had a big aquarium stocked with a giant school of guppies, and I would amuse myself in class by sticking my hand in to let the guppies swarm it and nibble on all my fingers. No exfoliation happened that I was aware of, but the tickling sensation was very entertaining.

  11. #11 Mark Lees
    July 23, 2008

    I used to keep a wide range of cichlids, and among my fish were some nile tilapia. When I cleaned the tank it felt like I was being gently sandpapered! It wasn’t unpleasant, merely a little odd.

    FYI – I wouldn’t recomend nile tilapia as a ‘pet fish’ – comnparatively dull looking, can grow fairly large, behaviour boisterous but less interesting than that of many other cichlids, and they were very messy (their tank was usually the worst to have to clean) – having said that they taste quite good, albeit rather boney! 🙂

  12. #12 keely
    July 24, 2008

    Congrats on the marriage!

    As my wedding gift, I promise that I will send you a shot glass within the next week (baby belugas are lots of work and rather tiring (though adorable! She’s learning so many things and is really curious. I love her!). I’ve been bad).

    Seriously. Within the next week. I’ll even send two. One for the wife.

    I’ll also make my best effort for the Seattle Aquarium as well.


  13. #13 George
    October 24, 2008

    The important for the sufferer of psoriasis to understand that when asking the question of how to cure psoriasis there are currently no permanent cures for this skin ailment.

  14. #14 Manicure Set
    April 7, 2009

    In Manicure Set you
    soak your feet in Luke warm water containing a few drops of Epsom salt so as to
    make them
    softer and completely remove the old nail polish with the use of cotton bands
    dipped in acetone remover.

  15. #15 Michael Walters M.D.
    June 1, 2010

    Thank you for your story. I am a wound care expert in Florida and I am trying to establish a research foundation to study the effects of Garra Rufa in patients with psoriasis. It is not true that no research has been done. in 2006 Dr. Martin Grassberger from the Medical University of Vienna published a series of 67 patients with psoriasis who he personally treated with Garra rufa fish, and UVA irradiation. The results of this small study showed that this treatment was safe, and effective for the majority os patients. Now several states are banning this procedure. This is unneccessary, and will inhibit further research in to this inexpensive, and potentially beneficial treatment. If you have a voice, tell your state legislature not to ben this treatment.

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