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Fishy business: could fish therapy be the green alternative to the pedicure?

Ruth Styles

20th April, 2011

Chemical free and ultra natural, Ruth Styles put Aqua Sheko’s fish pedicure to the test

With the sun putting in an appearance and the summer holidays just over the horizon, feet all over the country are emerging from winter socks and boots. While not everyone minds if their feet bear a striking resemblance to trotters, for many of us, getting extremities sandal-ready means a pedicure is in order. So how green are pedicures?

The environmental impact of nail polish is well known but over 50 percent of British women regularly use it, despite the inclusion of ingredients such as Toluene, a by-product of crude oil, and carcinogens like dibutyl phthalate. Then there’s cotton wool, most of which is made from water-hungry, conventionally grown cotton – the world’s biggest consumer of pesticides. But no one wants hobbit feet, so is there a way to get sandal-worthy toes without damaging the planet? The fish pedicure could be just what green beauty junkies have been looking for.

Naturally occurring in the hot springs of the Middle East, garra rufa or ‘doctor fish’ have long played a role in oriental beauty treatments, thanks to their unparalleled ability to make dead skin disappear. I ought to mention here that they do this by eating it, which means immersing your extremities in a tank filled with hungry fish is necessary. Gulp. I’d been imagining mini-piranhas but as Karen Ho, owner and founder of Soho fish spa, Aqua Sheko, pointed out, they don’t actually have any teeth. But for the rows of mini aquariums-cum-footbaths, Aqua Sheko doesn’t look like anything out of the ordinary. In fact, with its dark pink walls and tropical foliage, it looks like an ultra-hip urban spa. Which, fishy inhabitants notwithstanding, is exactly what it is.

Once my shoes had been removed and my feet given a quick rinse (for the benefit of the fish), I was escorted over to a brown leather couch poised above one of the fish tanks and given a cup of jasmine tea to steady my nerves. Taking a deep breath, I plunged my feet into the tank and couldn’t suppress a squeal as the feeding frenzy began. Don’t get me wrong; it doesn’t hurt in the slightest but, boy, does it tickle. That said, you do get used to it although it does look slightly weird to see little fish having your feet for lunch. They seemed to enjoy it though, and after a while, I even started to feel a bit sorry for the fish in the next tank who were looking on hungrily. Not that I needed to worry. As Karen explained, clients are rotated between tanks in order to ensure that all the fish get fed. They also get an evening meal of cucumber. After 25 minutes, the fish were full and my feet were back on dry land and much to my surprise, super smooth. After a 20-minute foot massage, using organic lavender oil from Neal’s Yard, my newly gorgeous feet were ready for sandals.

Aqua Sheko’s pedicures don’t use nail polish or nail polish remover, which is very green but could be a problem for hardened polish-addicts. But even without chemicals, they do leave feet looking fabulous. Thanks to an enzyme secreted in the fishes’ saliva, fish therapy also does a great job of treating common skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema, as Karen is keen to point out. But how eco-friendly is it really? ‘Fish therapy is an all natural treatment with no chemical use,’ says Karen. ‘It’s good for the fish because they have plenty of food and we make sure everything is kept very clean. We also use an industrial system for the tanks, which is considerably more efficient than normal aquariums.’ With no chemicals in sight, fish pedicures might not be 100 percent eco-perfect but they’re a considerably greener alternative to conventional foot treatments.

15 minutes of fish therapy at Aqua Sheko costs £17. The Deluxe Fish Pedicure, featuring 25 minutes of fish therapy and a 20-minute foot massage costs £45. To find out more, go to: www.aquasheko.co.uk

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