Illinois Outdoors at PrairiestateOutdoors.com
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Jeff Lampe
Jeff Lampe

Jeff Lampe has been outdoor writer at the Journal Star in Peoria for 12 duck seasons. He lives in Elmwood with his wife Monica, sons Henry, Victor and Walter, and Llewellin setter Hawkeye. A native of Buffalo, N.Y., he is an avid fan of the Bills and still has mental scars from four consecutive Super Bowl losses. Outside of hunting and fishing, Lampe's main passion in Illinois was Class A boys basketball (which sadly no longer exists). Former publisher of the Class A Weekly newsletter, Lampe is a co-author of "100 Years of Madness" and "Classical Madness," both books focusing on prep basketball in Illinois.

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Scattershooting

A Web log by Jeff Lampe of the Journal Star

Illinois Outdoors

Patsy Fisher, 42, of Crofton, Md., center, checks on the progress of KaNin Reese, 32, of Washington, with Tracy Roberts, 33, of Rockville, Md., left, as they indulge in a fish pedicure treatment at Yvonne Hair and Nails salon in Alexandria, Va. on Thursday July 17, 2008. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Fish that give pedicures

July 22, 2008 at 06:37 AM

My wife’s birthday came recently, along with the longest day of the year, and among her gifts was a pedicure. She liked the gift. But had I signed her up for a fish pedicure, I’m guessing the opposite would have been true. Yet somewhere, some people are actually paying money to have little fish suck the scaly skin off their feet. What a world.

In the picture below shot by Jacquelyn Martin, a much braver gal named Tracy Roberts, 33, of Rockville, Md. tests to see if the fish will be interested in her hand as well, as her toes are nibbled on by a type of carp called garra rufa.

Illinois Outdoors

Here’s the full Associated Press story on the subject written by Matthew Barakat.

Fish pedicures: Carp rid human feet of scaly skin

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP)—Ready for the latest in spa pampering? Prepare to dunk your tootsies in a tank of water and let tiny carp nibble away.

Fish pedicures are creating something of a splash in the D.C. area, where a northern Virginia spa has been offering them for the past four months. John Ho, who runs the Yvonne Hair and Nails salon with his wife, Yvonne Le, said 5,000 people have taken the plunge so far.

“This is a good treatment for everyone who likes to have nice feet,” Ho said.

He said he wanted to come up with something unique while finding a replacement for pedicures that use razors to scrape off dead skin. The razors have fallen out of favor with state regulators because of concerns about whether they’re sanitary.

Ho was skeptical at first about the fish, which are called garra rufa but typically known as doctor fish. They were first used in Turkey and have become popular in some Asian countries.

But Ho doubted they would thrive in the warm water needed for a comfortable footbath. And he didn’t know if customers would like the idea.

“I know people were a little intimidated at first,” Ho said. “But I just said, ‘Let’s give it a shot.’ “

Customers were quickly hooked.

Tracy Roberts, 33, of Rockville, Md., heard about it on a local radio show. She said it was “the best pedicure I ever had” and has spread the word to friends and co-workers.

“I’d been an athlete all my life, so I’ve always had calluses on my feet. This was the first time somebody got rid of my calluses completely,” she said.

First time customer KaNin Reese, 32, of Washington, described the tingling sensation created by the toothless fish: “It kind of feels like your foot’s asleep,” she said.

The fish don’t do the job alone. After 15 to 30 minutes in the tank, customers get a standard pedicure, made easier by the soft skin the doctor fish leave behind.

Ho believes his is the only salon in the country to offer the treatment, which costs $35 for 15 minutes and $50 for 30 minutes. The spa has more than 1,000 fish, with about 100 in each individual pedicure tank at any given time.

Dennis Arnold, a podiatrist who four years ago established the International Pedicure Association, said he had never heard of the treatment and doubts it will become widespread.

“I think most people would be afraid of it,” he said.

Customer Patsy Fisher, 42, of Crofton, Md., admitted she was nervous as she prepared for her first fish pedicure. But her apprehension dissolved into laughter after she put her feet in the tank and the fish swarmed to her toes.

“It’s a little ticklish, actually,” she said.

Ho said the hot water in which the fish thrive doesn’t support much plant or aquatic life, so they learned to feed on whatever food sources were available — including dead, flaking skin. They leave live skin alone because, without teeth, they can’t bite it off.

In addition to offering pedicures, Ho hopes to establish a network of Doctor Fish Massage franchises and is evaluating a full-body fish treatment that, among other things, could treat psoriasis and other skin ailments.

Ho spent a year and about $40,000 getting the pedicures up and running, with a few hiccups along the way.

State regulations make no provision for regulating fish pedicures. But the county health department — which does regulate pools — required the salon to switch from a shallow, tiled communal pool that served as many as eight people to individual tanks in which the water is changed for each customer.

The communal pool also presented its own problem: At times the fish would flock to the feet of an individual with a surplus of dead skin, leaving others with a dearth of fish.

“It would sometimes be embarrassing for them but it was also really hilarious,” Ho said.

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