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Beirut spa offers flesh-eating fish treatment

posted 27 Feb 2011, 05:14 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 27 Feb 2011, 05:16 ]

A new spa opens in Beirut offering visitors beauty and medicinal treatments for psoriasis and eczema by using fish that eat away at dead skin.

How about a mani or pedi from a fish? At the Argilab beauty centre in Beirut, a customer undergoes fish spa therapy. Garra rufa, also known as the "doctor fish," exfoliate hands, ankles, calves and feet. The inch-long silver fish, a form of carp, do not bite; they simply nibble at dead skin cells with mouths that act like suction cups.

Customers describe the experience as a tingling, tickling sensation, and say it leaves the skin smooth.

"It's nice and a person should always try new things. This fish eats all the dead skin, it cleans the feet from all the residues and dead skin and after you're done with the session, your feet are really clean and you feel relaxed and smooth, it's like someone has given you a foot massage," said one customer as little fish chomped away at his feet immersed in a fish tank.

Spas say the treatment has a number of health benefits and can improve chronic skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema, leaving skin rejuvenated.

"They (the Garra rufa) don't have teeth and they work on the human skin by sucking it. We have three layers of skin but we only see one. These fish eat the three layers but they don't eat the live skin and they energise blood flow," said the founder of the Dr. Fish spa.

Scientifically referred to as ichthyotherapy, this treatment is believed to work via the secretion of diathanol, a potent enzyme in the saliva of the Garra rufa fish which enhances skin regeneration. Although the popularity of the treatment has only recently swept through Europe, the Garra rufa fish have busily nibbled away at epidermis for centuries in the Kangal hot springs in Turkey.

The use of 'doctor fish' as treatment for skin conditions and stimulation of circulation has been met with some criticism. There is little scientific proof of the effectiveness of such therapy and imitations of the Garra fish, a carp species imported from China known as chin chin, have been found to be used in parts of Southeast Asia. These little impostors have tiny teeth that bite and prick the skin.

But despite scepticism more and more people are taking the plunge and fish treatments have become a popular novelty spa treatment in Europe and Asia.