During a trip to Singapore, I threw in the towel and decided to allow the little doctor fish (yes, that is their nickname) to have at it with my callouses at a fish spa. Talk about natural exfoliation, right?

What Are Doctor Fish

Garra rufa are little toothless carp that use their mouths to scoop up dead skin and eat it. In the wild, they’re found in Turkey’s rivers and hot springs. They can survive in pretty hot water and are credited with alleviating psoriasis symptoms.

Garra rufa doctor fish spa pedicure
Night Safari no longer has a Fish Spa.

What Does a Fish Pedicure Feel Like?

At the time of our visit, the fish spa at the Singapore Night Safari (it is no longer there) has a tank with big fish and another with little fish, just an inch or two long. If visiting Singapore with kids, they can even participate. I had to remove my shoes and rinse my feet prior to my treatment. I plopped down on the bench, looked down, and panicked.

I could not bring myself to put my feet in the big fish tank. They were moving so quickly and slithering around like mad. The attendant was beginning to grow impatient with my cowardice while my 6-year-old couldn’t stop laughing. After failing to provide dinner for these fish, I was motioned into the less intimidating small fish tank which proved a heck of a lot more manageable. My feet went in.

It tickles, but not more than a regular pedicure does. The fish scrape their mouths against your skin in order to pick up any loose debris. I had only signed up for a 10 minute treatment (it was getting late) but my feet did feel ever so slightly cleaner. At times there were close to 50 or more doctor fish circling each foot. I lost count, actually.

Fish Spas Are Illegal in The United States

As you might imagine, there are sanitary concerns. Ambitious spa owners have attempted to bring the fish spa pedicure to the United States but they’ve been shut down. Think about it this way, the fish eat your dead skin and excrete it (and who knows what else) out in the same tank your feet are dangling in. Not to mention, they’re noshing on the feet of multiple people. Another belief is that in some spas the fish are starved in order to incentivize them to perform pedicures. I can’t imagine at some of these spas that there is any time for that as so many people circle through–which also means overall complaints must be low.

It is not possible to have a fish pedicure in San Diego. I checked.

In Singapore, Fish Spas Are Everywhere

There’s even a gorgeous fish spa at Changi Airport. Though its an exotic treatment, you don’t have to look hard around town to find an opportunity. Some spas I peeked into while shopping were quite luxe looking and going to one  just feels like a normal thing to do. Fish spas are common in Asia and some parts of Europe.

Would You Do It?

If you were traveling to a part of the world where this was common practice, would you get a fish pedicure?

Photo credit: istockphoto/jdyerphoto

Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).

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    1. That’s exactly what crossed my mind when I tried it out. Why not? I’m not sure if I would do it again. Maybe!

  1. I would do it, too! My husband and I both want to try it. I was looking for one here in San Diego and came across this piece. Didn’t know they are illegal here!

    1. Yes! In a heartbeat I would do it. My son and I went to SeaWorld in San Diego they have a pool near the the entrance that you can put your hands in. These fish are amazing!

      Everyone is way to freaked about clean or not clean…I would get o e done, and wash my feet after….my son wants a tank at home!

  2. Myself and two friends had it done in Cancun recently. The owner cleaned each our feet really well before we put them into the fish tank. When I first put my feet in and the fish swarmed, it was strange to watch and tickled, but no more than a regular pedicure. It lasted about 20 minutes ($20) and then the owner cleaned & dried my feet, then put lotion on them. The fish have no teeth and I didn’t have any cuts or broken skin before or after.
    My feet were the softest that they have ever been, except for maybe when I was a newborn. It was wonderful and I loved it!! It’s been about a month and my feet could use another treatment, since I’m pretty rough on them.
    I live in one of the states that has banned fish pedicures, but I would love to find a place to go in the United States.

  3. One more thing…….some people talk about fish excretions and other people’s feet in the same water. Oceans, lakes, rivers…….yes it’s not as small and compact, but still.
    Swimming pools…yes chlorine, but how many people pee in that water?

  4. Hey, Sea World has these fish right inside the entrance, and they allow you to put your hands in the pools. I don’t think they will allow you to put your feet in. My girlfriend and I tried it out, and they swarmed my hands with over a 100 fish, and my girlfriend had just a few. After just about ten minutes, I pulled my arms out and my skin was amazingly smooth. She was jealous. I would love to set up my own tank, but there is a web site in Singapore and they charge $750 for 500 fish, and you have to provide the import license (not sure if it is even possible). Still looking for a cheaper solution……..

  5. i did this in Europe and loved it so much I opened one in Cozumel, Mx. It is the most fun thing I’ve ever done. I hang out on the beach and laugh all day long. My spa, Islander Fish Spa, has 314 reviews on Tripadvisor and 292 are 5 star, the rest are all 4 star. I love what I do! The fish are my babies. They do a wonderful job of making your feet baby smooth.

  6. I just had this done with my daughter in Kuala Lumpur. I had the same concerns about cleanliness, but the water looked pretty clean and we made sure we were the first customers of the day. It was a weird sensation at first, but did feel soothing afterwards. In KL, it was RM 39 for 30 mins. (about $10).

  7. I finally did fish spa in my home town Sarajevo. It’s unusual experience, but cute somehow. Def I will do it again 🙂

  8. They offered this on a theme park in the Philippines. I got to try it once just for the heck of it. Just remember it being ticklish and well… it was pretty enjoyable. 😀 Not sure if I felt any improvements on my feet though… :/

  9. Just returned from Puerto Vallarta and these fish pedicure spas were everywhere. Finally on our last day the entire family gave it a try. It tickled and our feet felt fab afterwards. The best results were on my son who has terrible Dermatitis on his feet – the fish had a hay day and his feet haven’t looked better in years. He wished we did it earlier in the trip so he could get a few treatments in. Sad to discover they are illegal in California. He’s going to have to wait a while for another one.

  10. I have a fabulous Fish spa called Islander Fish Spa in Cozumel,Mx. It’s on the beach at Mr. Sanchos Beach Club If any of you ever get there, come give it a try. It’s hilarious fun! Check out our videos on YouTube and our reviews on TripAdvisor.