What is a Fish Pedicure?

Michael Pollick

As strange as it may sound, there really are spas around the world which offer adventurous clients a nice, refreshing fish pedicure. The process varies from region to region based on local health regulations, but essentially customers place their bare feet in a modified aquarium pool and allow tiny carp known as garra rufa or "doctor fish" to nibble away at their dead, flaking skin cells. After a 15-30 minute fish pedicure, most customers are treated to a standard pedicure and other foot treatments.

A fish pedicure may include sticking a foot into a pool where fish nibble on dead skin cells.
A fish pedicure may include sticking a foot into a pool where fish nibble on dead skin cells.

Because the doctor fish can survive the warm waters of a foot bath, it is an ideal choice for a fish pedicure treatment. In a communal arrangement, often seen in Turkish or Asian spas, a number of clients can soak their feet in a shallow tank while large schools of doctor fish nibble on dead skin cells. The experience is said to be more ticklish than painful, since the fish are small and toothless.

This lack of teeth helps make the fish pedicure process feasible. The doctor fish can only consume dead or flaking skin; they cannot remove healthy tissue. Instead of employing razor blades or other harsh tools to remove callouses from heels, for instance, the doctor fish can safely consume the hardened dead skin tissue and leave healthy skin behind.

As of 2008, the only spa in the United States offering a fish pedicure is located in the Washington, DC area. Local health codes require the spa owner to use smaller tanks designed for one client, and the tanks must be cleaned thoroughly between treatments. Since the spa began offering this specialized treatment, over 5,000 clients have opted for the fish pedicure. The sensation has been compared to the tingling of a foot falling asleep.

It is hoped by many that more spas in the United States will soon offer their own versions of the fish pedicure, although many potential customers may have serious reservations about allowing fish to nibble on their skin. Others may be concerned about the sanitary conditions of a heated tank containing hundreds of tiny fish, but local health regulations should insure the spa is following proper procedures.

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Discussion Comments


I have really bad psoriasis on my arms and legs. I've heard that this is a very effective treatment for psoriasis sufferers like me. Unfortunately, I live in the U.S. and as far as I know there aren't any clinics or doctors that use fish therapy, which frustrates me.

I can't help but wonder if it would be different if the fish could be marketed as a drug, sold by a pharmaceutical company.


When my husband and I were in the Philippines last year we went to a spa that did both fish manicures and pedicures. We agreed to give the pedicures a try.

My husband loved it. He has so much dead skin and callousing on his feet that he said he hardly felt the fish nibbling away.

I, on the other hand, couldn't bear it for more than a few minutes. It tickled whenever the fish were on the underside of my feet. I don't know if it was because I regularly get pedicures and my feet have less dead skin or what, but I couldn't get beyond the tickling.


Fish pedicures might be popular in Asia and Turkey but you'll have a hard time finding one in the United States. Several states have passed laws specifically banning fish pedicures, claiming they are unsanitary. In Canada similar laws have also been passed.

Last I heard, there is still a salon in Alexandria, Virginia that offers fish pedicures.

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