Friday, October 17, 2008

The Fishy Business

Fancy having your feet nibbled by little fishy?

The idea may or may not be an appealing one to you. In either case, you probably would have heard of fish therapy by now. Since a couple of years ago, many such fish spas have sprouted in Singapore.

This unique spa treatment involves dunking feet in warm water filled with a school of fish that nibble away your dead skin. Those who have tried have come back with mixed reviews. Briefly, it is either weird or wonderful.

Fish spa is not entirely a new idea. The fish responsible for the nibbling business is scientifically known as Garra rufa or more commonly, Kangal Fish, Nibble Fish, Doctor Fish or Reddish Log Suckers. It originated from Turkey, as well as other Middle East regions in Iraq, Israel, Jordan and Syria.

The fish is much researched in Turkey and it is said that it can help to heal psoriasis, a form of non-contagious skin disorder. In the nature, the fish feed on algae or plankton and can live in water with temperature as high as 37 degC. Somehow, they were talent-spotted by the local spa industry and were brought in as expatriate fish in 2006. They have since tickled many curious spa goers.

Singapore is not the only country being bitten by the Doctor Fish fad. The craze too has caught up in China, Japan, Taiwan and Korea. Its popularity has even prompted businesses to sell 'home kits'. For a few hundred dollars, you can have your own fish spa at home. Well, move over, koi fish!

The spa operators claim that there is no side effect to the treatment other than some contagious laughter. Not everyone agrees.

In Texas and Washington, the procedure is deemed unsanitary and the regulators have banned it. They explained that they are concerned about potential infection skin risks from fish nibbling on multiple customers. However, they said that there had been no cases of anyone falling sick from the treatment. "We are erring on the safe side of safety." They said.

In Singapore, there are at least 20 shops offering the treatment. It is unclear if there is any prevailing regulations governing the use of fish for spa treatment. At least, the AVA said that they have none.

Interestingly, the Singapore Spa Association stands on the 'No' side. They said that none of the 75 spa outlets they are representing offered fish spa services. They agreed that banning such treatments is the way to go.

There have been 2 reported complaints against local fish spas. Apparently, customers have caught fungal infections from such treatment.

At the moment, it is unclear if the Doctor Fish will stay or go. If you are not bothered by what has been reported so far, go and get your feet tickled soon before the 'doctors' are 'repatriated'.

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