Garra Rufa Fish Pedicures | Fish Spa

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Garra Rufa Fish Pedicures - Fish Spa at Royal Orchid Thai Spa - Fish Spa Pedicure Johannesburg

Garra Rufa Fish Pedicures (Fish Spa)

Everything you wanted to know (but were afraid to ask)

Garra Rufa Fish Pedicures have been around for a very long time - and you can get one at our Day Spa here in Randpark Ridge, Johannesburg. But what is it exactly? Is it safe? Does it hurt? How are the fish looked after? What are the benefits?

We have had many questions like these and more. We decided to write a "no-holds-barred" article that hopefully addresses all your questions. (And if we've missed a topic, please comment below so we can address it).

What is a Garra Rufa Fish and where do they come from?

These little fish - official name: Garra Rufa - are nicknamed "Doctor Fish". They are a type of toothless carp that are found naturally in rivers, ponds and lakes in the Northern and Central parts of the Middle East. Specifically in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

The Fish are also called "Kangal Fish" because they were "first" discovered in the Kangal Valley in Sivas, Turkey where they have been used for over 400 years.

The practice of using Garra rufa fish – often called “doctor fish” – to heal skin dates back over 400 years in their native southern Turkish river basins.1The Guardian

The fish we have in our Day Spa are not imported directly from Turkey or anywhere from the Middle East. We purchase from a local licensed breeder.

How does a Fish Spa or Fish Treatment work?

People first started flocking to Turkey in the 1960s when they heard of the local people using the Garra Rufa fish to treat psoriasis and eczema. Although the claims of the healing ability of the Kangal Fish have not been scientifically proven, the practice is still popular and people are still reporting a positive effect.

Although the spas are not meant as a cure, the beautifying effect that Garra Rufa fish have on the skin can sometimes bring great relief from psoriasis as these fish will only eat and remove any dead skin, leaving healthy skin to grow.2Garra Fish Spa | Turkey Tour

The fish gently nibble away at dead skin. They do not, and cannot strip away healthy skin as the fish have no teeth. The result is a "refreshed skin surface without any dead skin cells".

By nibbling at your dead skin cells, they "supposedly" release enzymes and a dithranol-like substance to "assist in healing the skin". Dithranol is a main component used in the treatment of psoriasis which is extracted from the Amazonian Araroba tree. So that claim seems far-fetched - but the fish may secrete a similar dithranol-like substance which is why people claim a positive effect similar to Dithranol.

Fish that heal skin disorders?

It is often said that the Kangal garra rufa fish carry a special enzyme, called Dithranol, in the mouth. Dithranol is a medicine that is applied to the skin of people suffering from psoriasis. As Dithranol is extracted from a tree (the Araroba tree, which grows in tropical rainforests around the Amazon River) it is impossible that this is the enzyme that can be found in the saliva of the garra rufa fish. However, it is possible that the enzyme of the garra rufa fish shows similarity to the vegetable Dithranol and, therefore, has a positive effect on skin disorders.3

Garra Rufa Europe

Is a Garra Rufa Fish Pedicure safe?

CONCERN 1 - "Only Starved Garra Rufa Fish can effectively remove dead skin"

Garra rufa fish, the animals most commonly used in fish pedicures, don’t want to eat your dead skin. They do it because they’re so severely starved that they’ll try to eat human skin for sustenance.4PETA

Firstly, let's go back to Turkey, to the places where people go for a Fish Spa. Where the fish live in their natural environment nibbling away at their favourite food - algae. When a person enters the rivers and lakes where these fish live quite happily, they naturally start nibbling at dead skin cells. Do you think that they do this because they are starved? How can they be?

Are there spas out there that starve their fish? While we're not investigative reporters, we suspect there may be truth in that - but as for our fish, we make sure that our beautiful fish are fed everyday. And yet, when presented with human skin, even though they are well-fed, they automatically start nibbling away at dead skin.

CONCERN 2 - "Fish tanks can't be sanitized between treatments..."

When pedicure tubs are full of fish, they can’t be sufficiently disinfected between customers, and there’s no way to sanitize the animals themselves. Sufferers of contagious conditions such as nail fungus and athlete’s foot often seek out fish pedicures.5


There are two parts to the statement above - one deals with sanitization and the other with contagious conditions.

Firstly, our tanks are fitted with UV lights which destroy bacteria, viruses and protozoa. Ultra-Violet light is a proven method of sanitization:

How UV Disinfection Works

Unlike chemical approaches to water disinfection, UV provides rapid, effective inactivation of microorganisms through a physical process. When bacteria, viruses and protozoa are exposed to the germicidal wavelengths of UV light, they are rendered incapable of reproducing and infecting. UV light has demonstrated efficacy against pathogenic organisms, including those responsible for cholera, polio, typhoid, hepatitis and other bacterial, viral and parasitic diseases. In addition, UV light (either alone or in conjunction with hydrogen peroxide) can destroy chemical contaminants such as pesticides, industrial solvents, and pharmaceuticals through a process called UV-oxidation.6

Trojan UV - Introduction to UV Disinfection

The UV light has no adverse effect on the fish and they are healthy.

As for people suffering from contagious conditions such as Athlete's Foot and Nail Fungus, we have taken a strict policy to screen our customers with these conditions and disallow them from using the fish tanks. Our staff are fully trained to make sure that only washed and healthy feet are immersed into the tanks.

CONCERN 3 - "Fish Pedicures are Banned in the US"

While this may be true, the reasons for the ban are also not explicitly clear. Here is what the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) in the US have had to say:

Why have some states banned the use of fish pedicures?

Each state has the authority to ban fish pedicures. Currently, over 10 states have banned the use of fish pedicures. Most of the bans are based on at least one of the following reasons:7

  1. The fish pedicure tubs cannot be sufficiently cleaned between customers when the fish are present.
  2. The fish themselves cannot be disinfected or sanitized between customers. Due to the cost of the fish, salon owners are likely to use the same fish multiple times with different customers, which increases the risk of spreading infection.
  3. Chinese Chinchin, another species of fish that is often mislabeled as Garra rufa and used in fish pedicures, grows teeth and can draw blood, increasing the risk of infection.
  4. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Garra rufa could pose a threat to native plant and animal life if released into the wild because the fish is not native to the United States.
  5. Fish pedicures do not meet the legal definition of a pedicure.
  6. Regulations specifying that fish at a salon must be contained in an aquarium.
  7. The fish must be starved to eat skin, which might be considered animal cruelty.
CDC - Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

"Most of the bans are based on at least one of the following reasons"... not all. Unscrupulous Spa Owners may have used the Chinese Chinchin fish and told their customers that they were Garra Rufa fish.

Our fish are certified Garra Rufa.

"Garra Rufa fish could pose a threat to native plant and animal life if released into the wild..." While this may be true, although not proven, we too would be concerned if that were the case. We would never release our fish into the wild.

"The fish pedicure tubs cannot be sufficiently cleaned between customers when fish are present"... Okay. Let's just step back a second and unpack all of this:

No legal guidelines are present (or were present in the US when fish spas became popular around 2011) - so when concerns were raised, government bodies went to their legal guidelines for cleaning foot spas - which requires chemicals. Fish spas cannot use these guidelines for obvious reasons. Our Fish Spas are fully functioning aquariums.

As for the fish being "disinfected" between treatments, as stated before, our aquariums are fitted with UV light which disinfects the fish and the water.

"Fish Pedicures do not meet the legal definition of a pedicure"... While there may be no definition for Fish Pedicure, maybe there should be. The fact that Garra Rufa fish spas have been in use for decades (and in Turkey for more than 400 years), does not mean they should be banned because there's no "legal definition".

Our Definition of a Garra Rufa Fish Spa

Here is our definition of a Fish Pedicure - which we think should be called a Fish Spa:

A Fish Pedicure - or more correctly a Fish Spa - is a method of removing dead skin cells from healthy, freshly washed feet that are also chemical-free. The feet are then immersed into a well-maintained UV-lit aquarium containing certified Garra Rufa fish that are well-fed with the correct fish food.

A Garra Rufa Fish Spa is NOT a Foot Spa

Moreover, the CDC states:

CDC is not aware of any published reports on illnesses resulting from fish pedicures. Nail salon foot baths, however, have caused outbreaks of nontuberculous mycobacterial infections that left infected pedicure customers with boils and scars.8

CDC - Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

So there you have it! The CDC acknowledge that there are no published reports of illnesses from fish pedicures. But they do point out that nail salon foot baths have caused outbreaks of disease. At Royal Orchid Thai Spa, we do NOT use these specialised foot baths - we use fresh water for each foot soak. The water is discarded between treatments. Conclusion - a Fish Spa is NOT a Foot Spa.

Health agencies in the UK have had this to say:

The HPA and Health Protection Scotland are currently unaware of any cases of infection associated with the use of fish spa pedicures in the UK.9

The Guardian

Alarmist Health and Safety concerns make great headlines

From our investigations in writing this article, it seems that there was a flare-up of internet alarmist articles around 2011 when Garra Rufa fish spas became popular in the US and the UK. As a result, more than 10 US States have banned the practice for reasons that seem unclear. Were they banned because of 1 out 7 of the reasons listed by the CDC, or all? For example, using Chinchin fish instead of Garra Rufa fish? Or that there is no legal definition of a Fish Pedicure? Or that some unscrupulous Spas starved their fish thinking that they would perform better?

Firstly, we would never knowingly put our customers at risk. We insist that feet with Athlete's Foot and other contagious conditions are not exposed to our Garra Rufa fish - for your safety and also the safety of the fish. No feet with cuts, bruises or sores are allowed in the tanks. We wash and clean feet before they are put into the fish tanks. Our fish are well-fed with fish food and maintained in proper aquarium conditions. UV lights are used to destroy any bacteria and to maintain the highest standards of water quality and disinfection.

Garra Rufa Fish Pedicures - a customer's feet in the Garra Rufa Fish Spa

Garra Rufa Fish Spa Treatments available at our Day Spa

We offer only 6 treatments:

  • 15 minute Fish Spa + 60 minute Classic Pedicure
  • 30 minute Fish Spa + 60 minute Classic Pedicure
  • 15 minute Fish Spa + 30 minute Thai Foot Massage
  • 15 minute Fish Spa + 60 minute Thai Foot Massage
  • 30 minute Fish Spa + 30 minute Thai Foot Massage
  • 30 minute Fish Spa + 60 minute Thai Foot Massage

Use the Booking Form below to Request a time-slot and we'll follow up as soon as possible.

Booking Form - Garra Rufa Fish Spa

    1. Popularity of fish pedicures fuels health and animal welfare concerns | World news | The Guardian, Popularity of fish pedicures fuels health and animal welfare concerns,, Tracy McVeigh
    2. Garra Fish Spa | Turkey Tour, Garra Fish Spa,
    3. Garra Rufa Research - Garra Rufa Europe, Garra Rufa Europe,
    4. Fish Pedicures: The Ugly Side of the 'Beauty' Service | PETA, 8 Reasons You Should Never Get a Fish Pedicure,
    5. Fish Pedicures: The Ugly Side of the 'Beauty' Service | PETA, 8 Reasons You Should Never Get a Fish Pedicure,
    6. Introduction to UV Disinfection - TrojanUV, Introduction to UV Disinfection,
    7. Fish Pedicures and Fish Spas Body Hygiene | Hygiene | Healthy Water | CDC, Fish Pedicures and Fish Spas,
    8. Fish Pedicures and Fish Spas Body Hygiene | Hygiene | Healthy Water | CDC, Fish Pedicures and Fish Spas,
    9. Popularity of fish pedicures fuels health and animal welfare concerns | World news | The Guardian, Popularity of fish pedicures fuels health and animal welfare concerns,, Tracy McVeigh

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