Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Kiss my feet

Hilary McArthur
Wednesday, July 23, 2008

swim around Natalie Wilburn's feet, massaging and gently nibbling away dry ...

"It's like putting your feet in champagne," said Glynn Anderholm, a first-time user of the Dr. Fish Spa treatment, as I hesitantly approached spa pools filled with hundreds of innocent little fish.

Finally finding the courage to plunge my feet into the warm, bubbling water of my own personal pool, I waited, anxiously, for the feasting.

Fish swarmed my feet - I couldn't even see my toes - but why had I been so afraid?

For the next 20 minutes, it felt as if gentle rain droplets were massaging my feet.

John Ho and Yvonne Le, owners of Yvonne's Hair & Nails day spa south of Alexandria since 1997, recently introduced the idea of using toothless fish as agents to beautify the skin by nibbling away dead skin cells.

"There is nothing that can get the skin as soft and smooth as these gentle fish," Mr. Ho says. "Nothing that can compare to the results after the treatment."

Naima Ouzidane (above, left) and her daughter-in-law Jessica Ouzidane step into a pool of toothless garra rufa fish from Turkey for the first time at Yvonne's Hair & Nails day spa south of Alexandria.

Turkish villagers first discovered the benefits of these friendly fish in the 1800s while dipping themselves into hot springs. The garra rufa fish have been famous in Turkey ever since for effectively treating psoriasis, eczema and even burns.

However, at Yvonne's, the little nibblers are used to exfoliate and massage one's feet - a relaxing treatment that is fast becoming a favorite at the spa.

"Here, we reinvented the idea into a spa pedicure so that after one uses it, they have extremely smooth skin," Mr. Ho says. "We are the only fish spa in the United States that provides this service. Nobody can copy this treatment without my approval, because I have a service mark called Dr. Fish Massage Inc."

Mr. Ho specially orders the fish through his broker in China. They are then shipped from Turkey. Once the fish arrive, they can live up to five years in the man-made hot springs Mr. Ho concocts especially for them.

"The water chemistry has to be right," he explains. "They originally live in hot springs, which is spring water. Therefore, I have to add a lot of chemicals to get rid of all the hard metals."

Mr. Ho insists that each pool is thoroughly cleaned after each use. The little creatures are taken out with a hand-held net. Next, the water is drained, and finally, the porcelain tub is disinfected with sanitizing chemicals.

"We have never had as many customers as we have now," Mr. Ho says. "Also, we have more men than we have ever had before - including military men as well." (Laugh at the image if you want, but can you think of any feet that deserve it more?)

Oh, and did I mention that there is complimentary food every Friday from 5 to 8 p.m.? It was fresh strawberries with homemade spring rolls the day I visited.

"Last week, it was beef with a homemade teriyaki sauce," Mr. Ho says with delight.

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