Nibble therapy

Zoe Mak
Zoe Mak |

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Zoe Mak tries out an unusual beauty treatment that makes use of fish therapists instead of people.

Reflexology is very popular in Hong Kong, but fish reflexology is a new variation on a familiar theme.

Also known as fish spas, the idea is similar to foot massages or pedicures. But instead of a trained human, your feet will be scrubbed and buffed by Turkish doctor fish.

Kiss Kiss, the first fish spa in the city, has been open for less than a month in Tsim Sha Tsui. The spa's managing director Minnie Tam Pui-shan and her husband brought the concept home after enjoying a session themselves in Singapore.

'This concept comes from Turkey. People realised it worked when they came across these fish in hot springs and found they ate dead skin,' Tam says. 'Later, the idea spread to Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Korean and the mainland.'

This therapy is performed by tens of small doctor fish, or Garra rufa, in a bath of warm water. The hungry fish nibble away any dead skin, leaving feet smooth and soft.

The freshwater fish, which are imported from the mainland and Japan, are also believed to be capable of helping with conditions such as psoriasis and athlete's foot.

'To ensure our spa is safe and sanitary, we don't provide therapy to customers with foot diseases or wounds,' Tam says. 'We keep the fish tanks as clean as possible. Once the fish have served a customer, we put them back in the tank to quarantine for two days before their next customer, and feed them normal fish food during that time.'

She adds that UV rays are used to ensure the tanks are bacteria-free.

The doctor fish used at the spa measure between 3cm and 5cm, and retire when they grow bigger.

Tam explains that, although they will still eat dead skin when they are larger, 'they may suck too hard on the skin and cause pain'.

Iris Ho and a friend meet their fishy therapists at the Kiss Kiss fish spa.

Dermatologist doubts safety of treatment

Although people give generally positive feedback about the procedure, skin experts are less convinced.

Sunday Young Post columnist and dermatologist Dr Leung Sze-kee accepts that the fish may help with diseases such as psoriasis, but says the relief is temporary.

'It may last a few months to a year - it's not a magic cure. Sometimes, in the process, bleeding may occur. In that case you need to worry about open wounds and the possibility of infection with hepatitis B and so on.'

Leung also says the 'quarantine period works more in the sense of starving the fish than clearing up any germs' or disease.