With her shalwar rolled up till her knees, a client giggled as tiny little fish nibbled on her feet. It was a rare experience for those visiting a Fish Foot Spa for the first time but also an amusing sight for the bystanders. Situated in the corner of the first floor at the Centaurus Mall, the Fish Foot Spa, with a seabed-like background, two comfy sofa chairs and a huge glass tank full of water and approximately 200 Garra Rufa fish, seemed to be garnering a lot of attention from people of all ages.
Fish Foot Spas are a common feature at malls all across the globe. However, they are a relatively new concept for Pakistanis, who are comparatively hesitant in accepting this craze. This is probably why these trendy new pedicure spots have failed to charm people in cities like Karachi, with stalls closing down only after a few months. Can it then be said that they are just another fashion fad? While that still remains to be seen, women and men alike have been spotted giving into this new sensation in Islamabad.
The rotten flesh-eating fish, also known as Doctor Fish, are imported from Thailand and Malaysia but are originally found in the deep sea waters of Turkey. The tank maintains a 30 degree temperature giving them an artificially-created environment to live in. Before dipping their feet in the tank, clients first have to wash their feet off using mineral water. Once in, the fish will bite off all the dead skin from the feet leaving them clear and smooth. The 15-minute therapy costs Rs700 with the option of extending it up to 30 minutes. Clients are offered a relaxing environment with music playing in the background and iPads available for use. While some enjoy, others find the concept weird and scary. “I heard it’s good from a friend of mine but the concept is weird. I am better off living with cracked feet,” says a mall visitor Mohammad Jamal. But a few still dare to have an experience of a lifetime. “I was very scared to go in first. The concept of fish nibbling dead skin is just so bizarre but at the same time it’s rewarding,” says a customer, Sara Ahmed.
Apparently this spa treatment has many medical advantages. The facility offers a refreshing experience to people who get tired of walking in the malls. “The circulation is good for heart patients. It boosts the immune system and lowers stress hormones,” explains Fish Foot Spa owner Tehmina Rasheed. She further highlights that the therapy is recommended for people who are diabetic, have a fungal infection, eczema or corns. However, it should be avoided by people with wounded feet by all means.
The maintenance of the tank is a common cause of concern. However, Rasheed ensures that there is a seven-layer filter with UV light to keep the water clean and that the water is changed every other day. However, she confirms that no formal certification from health authorities has been issued. “People over here, even health officials, are not clear of the idea,” she says.
While fish therapy appears to be an exciting venture, medical reports online confirm that it is not completely risk-free. The tank water consists of a number of micro-organisms and infections that can be easily transmitted to human body. Skin specialist Dr Ikramullah Khan asserts that with so many people dipping their feet at the same time, there is an increasing chance of fungal infections being transferred from one person to another. “There is a risk that a person may contract Aquarium Granuloma, also referred to as Fish Tank Granuloma, which is a condition caused by mycobacterium marinum and is a type of tuberculosis,” explains Khan. Unfortunately, health authorities in our country are not active about looking into such matters but it is advised that people who have a relatively weak immune system refrain from indulging into this relaxing therapy.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2013.