In nine years of diving, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such happy fish, and I was only submerged up to my ankles. Unfortunately, that speaks more about the state of my feet than any skill with scuba gear. I wasn’t even near the sea, I was in City Stars Mall to put the new spa It’s Fishy through its paces.
Cairo’s first specialized fish spa is staffed by six tanks filled with Garra Rufa fish, about half the size of your average anchovy. The idea, according to the spa brochure, is that these tiny therapists offer a “completely natural and organic form of exfoliation” by nibbling your feet to remove dead skin. It’s an idea that in my office generated more responses of “eww” than “ooh.”
Fortunately, not all my friends are so squeamish, so I rounded a couple of them up to get a representative sample. One of them had spent the day at her desk job; the other divvied her day between meetings and walking around the university campus where she works. And me? I was a pedicurist’s worst nightmare; in an unrelated assignment, I put on a new pair of sandals and spent six hours walking around Cairo’s tourist sites.
Desk jockey or industrial strength tourist, the first thing you do at the fish spa is have your feet gently washed and disinfected by the human staff — a hygiene thing for you, the fish and the water they live in. You also get a pair of disposable slippers so your bare feet don’t touch the floor between the bath and the fish tank.
As soon as my feet touched the water, every fish in the tank came over like I’d stuck a magnet in a box of iron filings. My tourism-tortured toes may be a nightmare for the pedicurist, but they were a moveable feast for the Garra Rufa, and the fish covered my feet like a pair of seething socks.
For those still twitching about the nibbling, it’s not as bad as it sounds. The Garra Rufa used in spas don’t have teeth. Much like the bottom feeders in an aquarium, these fish clean by nudging and sucking at flakes of skin. Think of it as little fishy kisses.
Among its benefits, the spa touts the therapy as a “micro-massage” that promotes blood circulation and stimulates acupuncture points. I’m not so convinced that the Garra Rufa were trying to unblock my chi with pressure points. It was pretty much a random swarm, with the fish head-butting and swatting my legs with their fins. My feet are ticklish, but after a few initial giggles, the sensation settled into a pleasant fizzy feeling on my skin.
The fish attending my friends were not as active as mine, but their feet had also seen much less abuse that day.
For those in need of more than a micro-massage, It’s Fishy also offers a reflexology foot massage by a human masseuse for LE 80.
Garra Rufa are no strangers to the Middle East, as this freshwater species is found in rivers and springs in Turkey, Syria and Jordan. It’s Fishy stocks their tanks, however, from commercial farms in Singapore that cater to the growing demand for fish spas.
The growing popularity of fish spas, especially in the United Kingdom, have also raised health questions, prompting the UK Health Protection Agency (HPA) to study the possibility of contracting an infection while using fish spa services. The HPA report , released October 18, 2011, concluded “the risk of infection as a result of a fish pedicure is likely to be very low.” The HPA recommended that people with existing infections or suppressed immune systems avoid using fish spas.
While It’s Fishy staff do not ask or counsel clients about their health conditions, your foot bath gives them a chance to inspect your legs before you hit the tank. Also, according to the spa’s website, the tank water is changed daily and every five minutes cycles through a filtration system that includes bacteria-killing UV light.
The fish work up to 30 minutes at a time and get at least a 10-minute break between clients. As my friends and I chatted ankle-deep in Garra Rufa, our half-hour treatment flew by without us noticing. My fish followed my feet to the surface of the tank, seemingly annoyed that I was taking their feast away.
The verdict: thumbs up from all three of us. It’s not a traditional pedicure in that the fish can’t remove heavy callouses or shape your cuticles, but my feet definitely felt softer and fresher — a relief after a day roaming the city streets. With summer and sandal season upon us, the Garra Rufa and I are likely to become good friends. et
It’s Fishy • CityStars, Phase II, lower market, near Golden Stars Theater, Heliopolis, Cairo • Tel: +2 (012) 2733-5337 • Email: email@example.com • www.its-fishy.com • Walk-ins welcome • LE 60 for 15 minutes, LE 100 for 30 minutes.