THE hot weather will be a mixed blessing for anyone for whom sandal wearing means feet resembling parched deserts cracked with jagged canyons. There are all the usual ways of dealing with this – creams, sanding down with pumice, going for a full-on pedicure – but sticking your tootsies in a tank full of flesh-eating fish might not seem the most obvious. Particularly after last week’s news story of a piranha turning up in an English pond.
However, at Aqua Sheko, the UK’s first ever “fish spa” – recently opened in Kensington by a former Lehman Brothers trader – that’s exactly what you do. Luckily there are no piranhas involved. Instead the skin gobbling is done by hundreds of little Garra Rufa fish, otherwise known – more encouragingly – as Doctor fish. Careening around in their tank they resemble anchovies, though I’m not sure how they’d taste on a pizza. They’ve got a pretty good idea how I taste, however, since I offered up my sun-cracked feet for them to breakfast on last week.
Fish spas have been all the rage in South East Asia for the past few years, but the idea is actually from Turkey, where Garra Rufa breed in warm springs where they have been used for treating psoriasis and skin conditions for generations. Karen Ho, a Hong Kong native who worked at Lehman Brothers’ London office before its collapse, encountered fish therapy on holiday in Macau and decided to bring it here.
Aqua Sheko is a rather sultry, smartly-designed place. There’s a row of glass tanks, each containing around 200 fish in warm water (changed several times a day). After rolling up my trousers and having my feet gently washed by hand, I took my seat above a tank and gingerly lowered them in.
Two hundred fish suddenly looked like millions as they swarmed onto me, until I could barely see my feet for fish. Ticklish? Oh yes, and then some, and I confess I let out a few yelps as the slimy critters thronged round my toes. “Dead skin is protein, which they love like we love sugar,” hooted Karen as they nibbled away.
Luckily Doctor fish don’t have teeth. They suck gratefully on the skin particles, leaving the fresh skin. Apparently what they do have is enzymes in their saliva which helps heal and regenerate skin, hence their nickname. After a few minutes I got used to the sensation, and had no problem allowing the fish to keep feeding on me for half an hour. Sure enough, my feet were softer and suppler afterwards, though a few visits is recommended to really see the benefits. A quick foot massage later – Ho is recruiting a reflexologist to add to the experience – and suddenly flip flops don’t seem such a bad idea again. And all thanks to fish.