Long before doctor fish were giving people pedicures in the United States, they were being used around the world to treat serious skin conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema. A spa in Turkey has been offering this service for more than 100 years, and in 1988 it became an official treatment center for people who have psoriasis. It now treats about 3,000 patients every year from all over the world [source: Atkins].
Psoriasis and other similar skin conditions cause a buildup of dead skin cells that form scaly patches on the skin, which can be uncomfortable and unsightly. Doctor fish help treat these conditions exactly the same way they help prepare feet for a pedicure, by eating away at dead skin. Soaking in water helps soften the scaly patches, and that in turn allows the fish to dig in. Completely clear skin, however, will take a commitment, since doctor fish can offer only temporary relief [source: Atkins].
A recent study backed up these claims. Not only can doctor fish be an effective treatment for psoriasis when combined with controlled ultraviolet therapy, but they can also help make symptoms less severe when they return. Patients involved in the study averaged more than eight months of psoriasis-free skin, and few had adverse affects. Nearly 90 percent said they preferred doctor fish treatment to other forms of therapy [source: Grassberger and Hoch]. To say the least, the results of the study are promising for those who suffer from psoriasis.
As much as the treatment's proponents rave about its effects, it isn't without its risks. Although the fish can't bite you because they don't have teeth, there is still a chance you could experience minor bleeding at the site. And if you have any chronic skin condition, you should consult your doctor before undergoing doctor fish treatment.
Check out the links below for a lot more information about the use of doctor fish and what both supporters and opponents have to say about it.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Atkins, Lucy. "Eaten alive." The Guardian. April 10, 2007. (Accessed Sept. 28, 2009)http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2007/apr/10/healthandwellbeing.health2
- CBS News. "Newest Beauty Treatment: Fish Pedicures." July 21, 2008. (Accessed Sept. 28, 2009)http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/07/21/national/main4279160.shtml
- Grassberger, M. and W. Hoch. "Ichthyotherapy as alternative treatment for patients with psoriasis: a pilot study." PubMed. December 2006. (Accessed Sept. 28, 2009)http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17173112?ordinalpos=2&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum
- National Psoriasis Foundation. "About psoriasis: Statistics." (Accessed Sept. 28, 2009)http://www.psoriasis.org/netcommunity/learn_statistics
- Northeast Fisheries Science Center. "NEFSC Fish FAQ." NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service. (Accessed Sept. 28, 2009)http://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/faq/fishfaq1b.html#q15
- Odell, Amy. "State Cosmetology Boards Not Down With Fish Pedicures." New York Magazine. March 24, 2009. (Accessed Sept. 28, 2009)http://nymag.com/daily/fashion/2009/03/state_cosmetology_boards_not_d.html
- Shishkin, Philip. "Ban on Feet-Nibbling Fish Leaves Nail Salons on the Hook." The Wall Street Journal. March 23, 2009. (Accessed Sept. 28, 2009)http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123776729360609465.html