Fish pedicure in Egypt: safe beauty treat or a health hazard?

Ingy Deif, Sunday 5 Aug 2012

In the short time since its introduction in the Cairo and Egyptian resort markets, the fish pedicure is taking the people by storm - but how hygienic is it and is it for everyone?

photo: AP

Every one of the new salons in Egypt that offer a fish foot pedicure, with the nibbling feeling of the fish leaving refreshed, smooth skin, will recount the legend of the discovery of the healing and soothing effect of these creatures native of Turkey and Iran.

Garra Rufa fish were discovered in the nineteenth century in the hot springs of the Kangal valley, their pedicuring effect was first noticed by a couple of Turkish brothers who were exhausted after a long walk. They put their feet in the water stream and, astonishingly, instead of scattering away the fish gathered around their feet and started nibbling around the grooves and edges. The bigger surprise was the exfoliating, envigorating feeling they experienced afterwards. One of them noticed that the skin problem he was complaining of faded away! People then started coming from all over the world to experience it for themselves.

"At this point, the legend ends, but the reality remains the fact that these kind of toothless fish are quite an experience: a treat that is taking the world by storm, and beginning to be quite popular in Egypt and that’s why I decided to try it out again after first experiencing it in the far east last summer. The exfoliating effect was visible and worth the adventure!" exclaims Salma Tharwat, a thirty-year-old Human Resource expert who recommends the treat enthusiastically.

"Garra Rufa originally are found in Turkey and Iran. The heavy demand forced the governments to impose restrictions on their export, so the far eastern countries began cultivating them in fish farms. That's where they are exported from now," explains Lidia Boctor, general manager at Its Fishy, a centre offering the fish pedicure in Heliopolis.

"We ensure that our tanks have the right kind of fish, not a certain kind called Chin Chin, that’s looks like Garra Rufa but are not the same."

Boctor says that people have a varied reaction when they first visit the centre. Some have already tried it out abroad and eager to do it again, others are skeptic at first, having two main questions: is it painful? And, is it safe?

"The procedure is actually painless, just a tickling feeling as the Garra fish has no teeth and doesn’t penetrate the tissues. They just feed on the dead skin and rejuvenate it. As for the safety: although not all the states in the US, for example, are allowed to license this procedure, it is quite safe and even skeptics say that the probability of any harm is negligible provided that certain measures are taken into consideration and their implementation carried out with absolute accuracy. This is of utmost importance to us here," emphasises Boctor. She lists the measures taken:

  • Feet are inspected for cuts and wounds to prevent cross-contamination
  • Feet are washed thoroughly and profusely to kill bacteria and minimise infections
  • Five steps of impeccable filtration and sterilisation is carried out every five minutes
  • There are always at least ten minutes between one client and the next to ensure that at least two sterilisation cycles are completed
  • No feet with psoriasis, eczema and dermatitis are allowed into the tanks
  • Clients suffering from diabetes, bleeding disorder or immune deficiency are not allowed

Dr Abdel Hadi Mesbah, Professor of Immunology and fellow of The American Academy of Immunology stresses on the importance of adhering to hygiene precautions when experimenting with a procedure of the sort.

The skin generally consists of an upper superficial layer and a deeper one, explains the doctor, with the top layer protecting the bottom one. When it comes to certain cases, like a diabetic, where healing is compromised and the blood supply is not normal, the fish pedicure procedure is not an option. The same goes for someone with low immunity due to certain medications like steroids or anti tumour drugs, as they might increase their chance of getting infections.

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