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Making a splash
‘Doctor fish’ manicures, pedicures proving popular choice at local spa
Garra rufa, or “doctor fish,” eat away clients’ dry, flaky dead skin during manicures and pedicures at Maison De Leumas spa on the North Side. The procedure is offered at only one other spa in the country.
Cheryl Garver advises her clients to just close their eyes and plunge in.
Literally. Otherwise, the sight of the 50 or so little fish swarming around their hands and feet, ready to munch off their dead skin, might be too much for them to handle.
“I have to admit, it really did creep me out the first time I tried it,” Garver said as she prepared the fish for an upcoming spa treatment. “But now, it’s really cool, relaxing and kind of addicting.”
“Doctor fish” represent the newest addition at Maison De Leumas European Day Spa and Cosmetic Surgery Center. The North Side center says it is the first in Ohio — and the second in the country — to offer the treatments featuring Garra rufa, the fish that eat away dry, flaky dead skin.
The fish also clear pores and promote blood circulation, resulting in healthier, softer skin, Garver said.
Garver, who works as a registered nurse at the center, said that in the six weeks the center has offered the procedure, it has become the most requested treatment.
Garra rufa typically are about an inch long and originate from hot springs in Turkey.
The silver fish somewhat resemble minnows and have no teeth; they just suck away the dead tissue.
The sensation is akin to a light fluttering and slight pinching feeling.
“There’s no pain at all. It’s more like a soothing massage,” Garver said.
Opened last year by Dr. Milroy J. Samuel, a board-certified cosmetic surgeon and obstetrician and gynecologist, the center offers facials, manicures and pedicures, hot-stone massages and a variety of surgical procedures, from a Brazilian butt lift to vaginal rejuvenation.
The center added the doctor-fish treatment as a way to set the spa apart in an increasingly competitive spa market, Garver said. Franklin County has 949 beauty and nail salons, according to the Ohio State Board of Cosmetology.
Only one other spa in the U.S. offers the procedure, and it has been good for business, that Virginia site reports. Since first offering the fish service in March, John Ho, owner of Yvonne Hair and Nails in Alexandria, said he has had 8,000 new customers.
He said he got the idea to add the fish after the state health board banned the use of razors for pedicures and manicures.
“We were losing a lot of our customers, so we started looking for something new,” he said.
When Ho heard about the doctor fish, he traveled to Japan to try the treatment himself.
Convinced the fish would be the draw he needed to reinvigorate his spa business, he invested more than $35,000 to add the fish manicures and pedicures to his salon.
“It was a high-risk, expensive move but worth every penny,” Ho said. “The customer response has been tremendous. They love it.”
Garver said that despite the $100-per-fish cost to bring in the doctor fish — the center ordered 100 of them — the investment has paid off in the number of new clients.
“We’ve seen an increase in business, with many clients looking to get additional services in addition to the pedicures and manicures,” she said. “It’s been a real draw.”
Clients are charged $45 for a 30-minute session, which includes a pre-scrubbing of the hands or feet, the fish nibbling and a traditional pedicure or manicure.
Already, other area salons and day spas have considered initiating similar moves, said Kevin Miller, executive director of the state board of cosmetology, which oversees such businesses.
Miller said the board has received inquiries from other salon operators wanting to know whether the board had approved the doctor-fish treatments and what they would have to do to add the service to their businesses.
“We were getting a lot of phone calls from people asking if it’s something they can do, is it legal,” he said.
But because the procedure is so new, the board hasn’t made a final determination, Miller said.
He said the board made an unannounced visit to Maison De Leumas to see the fish and determined that the spa “very effectually” keeps the fish-treatment area clean and germ-free.
“We’re in the information-collection stage,” he said, adding that there’s no reason an out-of-the-ordinary treatment can’t be pursued.
Miller said the board probably will decide on the procedure at a meeting this month.
In the meantime, he said, he doubts that many more salons will add the service because of the expense of getting started and maintaining the fish.
“This takes quite a financial investment, so I think you won’t see it become very widespread.”