(AA) – The woman relaxed on a blue chair with her feet dipped in an aquarium. With cucumber slices covering her eyes, she didn’t flinch as we walked past her.
Upon closer inspection, we saw around 80 tiny Garra Rufa, otherwise known as “doctor fish,” nibbling at the dead skin on the lady’s feet.
Welcome to “Oceanic Foot Fish Spa,” one of Nairobi’s most frequented spas, in which the tiny fish are used for beauty therapy.
“In this market, this was the first time we were having the doctor fish in Kenya,” spa owner Elizabeth Simiyu told The Anadolu Agency.
“This was something exciting and new that we knew our clients would warm up to,” said Simiyu.
She imports the fish from Turkey every 100 days, while the aquarium water is cleaned four times daily.
“But we’re also looking into ways to breed our own fish in Kenya,” said Simiyu.
She was initially skeptical about the idea of a “fish therapy spa.”
“But we have received a very positive reaction and business is booming,” she told AA.
Now, men and women – even children – throng to her spa for personal grooming or to escape the ballooning cost of cosmetics and beauty treatment.
“Business picked up faster than we expected,” Simiyu said. “Women will always be women; unlike our male customers who come once in a while, the ladies make frequent visits.”
She has since opened another spa in Kenya’s coastal town of Mombasa, a well-known tourist hub.
So far, Simiyu said, two more spas had introduced the doctor fish and had reported very positive feedback.
Most people who have experienced fish spa therapy say they burst into laughter after dipping their feet in the water.
But they are first given a brief lesson on how the fish therapy works.
Clients then have their feet cleaned with antiseptic soap before being thoroughly rinsed. Then they keep their feet in the aquarium for nearly 30 minutes, during which the fish feed off the dead skin.
“The fish do not have teeth, so they do not bite,” Simiyu explained. “They basically nibble at your skin.”
She said the fish can get at any area where there is dead skin, including in between the toes, the soles of the feet and up towards the knees.
“The initial stage is a little ticklish, but after a while it starts to feel soothing,” said Simiyu.
Normal treatment lasts 30 minutes, after which the client is given a foot massage.
Shello Patel, 26, is a regular patron of the spa.
“My husband complains that my feet are rough, so I make sure I visit the spa at least once a week,” she told AA.
“I like how it tickles when the fish start nibbling on the dead skin. It’s very relaxing,” said Patel.
“Whenever I’m on holiday in Turkey, where the fish are originally from, I make sure to visit most of the spas there,” she added.
Juliet Mberia, a 35-year-old accountant, has also become a big fan of fish therapy.
“I love the ticklish feeling,” she told AA. “I also like how they leave my feet soft.”
“It’s weird at first, but you get used to it,” she said.
She says her legs have become smoother and softer since she began coming to the spa, insisting that a standard foot scrub could never match the work of the doctor fish.
“I’m glad Kenyans can enjoy fish therapy, which both cleans and exfoliates the skin,” said Mberia.