Fish pedicures are creating something of a splash in the Washington D.C. area, where a northern Virginia spa has been offering them for the past four months. John Ho, who runs the Yvonne Hair and Nails salon with his wife, Yvonne Le, said 5,000 people have taken the plunge so far.
"This is a good treatment for everyone who likes to have nice feet," Ho said.
Ho was skeptical at first about the fish, which are called garra rufa but typically known as doctor fish. They were first used in Turkey and have become popular in some Asian countries.
But Ho doubted they would thrive in the warm water needed for a comfortable footbath. And he didn't know if customers would like the idea.
"I know people were a little intimidated at first," Ho said. "But I just said, 'Let's give it a shot.' "
Customers were quickly hooked.
Tracy Roberts, 33, heard about it on a local radio show. She said it was "the best pedicure I ever had" and has spread the word to friends and co-workers.
"I'd been an athlete all my life, so I've always had calluses on my feet. This was the first time somebody got rid of my calluses completely," she said.
'Feels like your foot's asleep'
The fish don't do the job alone. After 15 to 30 minutes in the tank, customers get a standard pedicure, made easier by the soft skin the doctor fish leave behind.
Ho believes his is the only salon in the country to offer the treatment, which costs $35 for 15 minutes and $50 for 30 minutes. The spa has more than 1,000 fish, with about 100 in each individual pedicure tank at any given time.
Dennis Arnold, a podiatrist who four years ago established the International Pedicure Association, said he had never heard of the treatment and doubts it will become widespread.
"I think most people would be afraid of it," he said.
"It's a little ticklish, actually," she said.
Ho said the hot water in which the fish thrive doesn't support much plant or aquatic life, so they learned to feed on whatever food sources were available — including dead, flaking skin. They leave live skin alone because, without teeth, they can't bite it off.
Next up: full-body fish treatments?
Ho spent a year and about $40,000 getting the pedicures up and running, with a few hiccups along the way.
State regulations make no provision for regulating fish pedicures. But the county health department — which does regulate pools — required the salon to switch from a shallow, tiled communal pool that served as many as eight people to individual tanks in which the water is changed for each customer.
The communal pool also presented its own problem: At times the fish would flock to the feet of an individual with a surplus of dead skin, leaving others with a dearth of fish.
"It would sometimes be embarrassing for them but it was also really hilarious," Ho said.
Since we were going rafting on my birthday my best friend Brittany wanted to have cake and ice-cream the Thursday before for Home Teams. So we all went over to her parent’s house for some pool volleyball and good munchies. It was lots of fun. I think were going to have to have Home Teams over there again this summer! Thanks Brit for planning it all and getting everyone together. It was a blast! (Sorry I don't have any good pictures of this event. I can't really take pictures of me on my birthday and Steven didn't think about it until I finally told him to take some. So I only have a couple.)
Sunday was my actual birthday so we went to church as usual. My sister met us there and she brought me my own personal mini birthday cake and a chai tea latte from Starbucks! Yum! Thanks Shell that was so thoughtful of you! Then it was off to Jr. Church where they put me on top of a chair and sang Happy Birthday to me. Afterwards I was supposed to meet Steven at our car to head home and change for our rafting trip. When I came out I found my car totally decked out with streamers and balloons and candy and all sorts of stuff inside and out. Steven was sneaky and had done it all during 2nd service. It was so sweet and such a surprise! Thanks honey, you’re the best!
Then it was off to white water rafting! Since there were nine of us we had to split up in two rafts. So I went with Steven, Michelle, Jake and Kristi. And Justin, Kristen, Andy, and Brittany were in a raft. We had so much fun! We got to jump off a 25 foot cliff, play some games, and go down some pretty crazy rapids. That was the fun part. And then we all fell out. Not so fun.
We were coming up on the last rapid they call 'Seymour' which is a class IV rapid. Our guide was telling us that her last group all fell out because they didn't paddle hard enough so she gave us instructions on what to do and we were all set. Or so I thought.
So the first boat goes through the rapids with no problems. Great! Now it’s our turn. We start down it and were paddling really hard! I thought we were doing great. But then we come crashing down into what they call a 'hole' which basically sucks your raft down and keeps spinning it. It was all over after that.
Jake was the first one to fall out and for a split second I'm laughing thinking were going to have to pull him back in. But then Steven, Michelle, and me all fall out. Kristi is the only one left in the raft and the guide is yelling at her to stay in to help her with the boat. Meanwhile, Jake gets his leg caught between some rocks and is having trouble getting it out but thankfully he pry’s it loose and is able to maneuver to shore. Steven, Michelle and I weren’t so lucky.
We go raging down the river in these horrible rapids. All I can think is one: keep my head above water and two: where is my sister and is she okay. I’m trying to get a little bit of air in my lungs but the water is just crashing over my head non stop. I see Steven out of the corner of my eye and I knew he would be fine but I was worried about my sister, Michelle. So I spin around looking for her, my heart racing. She was right behind me struggling the same way I was. She then looses her paddle and I grab it thinking ‘save their precious equipment.’ Are you kidding me? Here I am practically drowning and I’m killing myself even more by trying to hold on to these two paddles.
After checking on my sister I couldn’t turn myself back around which means I have no idea where I’m going or what I’m running in to. I’m hitting rocks and waves every second and beginning to freak out more and more. Finally the rapids slow down and I see the first boat throwing the safety rope to Steven and Michelle. Unfortunately I was too far down and to the right to grab a hold too. So they get pulled to safety and here I am barely able to breath anymore. They finally paddle over to me and throw me the rope; with the only energy I had left I grabbed it. But before they could pull me in the boat I go down another set of rocks and rapids, just for kicks.
So they pull me in the boat and I just collapse totally exhausted, gasping for air and a stomach full of water. Pretty soon everyone on this raft is pointing out all these cuts and bruises all over my body. My left ankle was bleeding pretty badly; my other ankle had a huge bruise running down it. I had a big fat lip with a cut above it. A nasty cut on my chest and bruises and welts all over my butt, hips and knees. And then all at once they all started to hurt. It’s amazing, I had so much adrenaline pumping through my body that I didn’t feel anything while going down those rapids and had no memory of how they got there. The weird thing is that Steven and Michelle escaped with a bruise or two, but nothing compared to me.
Thankfully we were right by the end of our trip so we all pile back in to our boat (which had to be fished out from the ‘hole’) and just float the rest of the way down. After the whole ordeal we were all laughing about it but later on that night I started freaking out a little bit. If we hadn’t had life jackets or helmets on, I have no doubt one of us would have been severely injured or worse. I remember thinking in the rapids at one point ‘This is bad. I could drown.’ But thankfully I was just focused on getting out of the water and back in to the boat.
What really sucks about the whole thing is I had bought a disposable camera to take with us during the raft trip and of course I lost it during our ‘swim.’ I had lots of great pictures of us all in our rafts with funny little helmets on. And us jumping off the cliff and playing other games in our raft. So I am most thoroughly bummed about that. But thankfully I brought my other camera along and left it in the car so we were able to get some shots at the end.
After the rafting trip we all went and ate in Horseshoe Bend and then headed our separate ways. I was exhausted that night but couldn’t sleep due to how much pain my body was in. I’m in recovery though.
Overall we all had lots of fun and everyone is already talking about doing it again next year. However, I think it may take a little bit of coaxing to get me back in a raft again.