How To Use Skin Care Fish

(Note:  This post is dedicated to my Seoul sisters, B & K, who are always up for an adventure and good-naturedly put up with my compulsive blogging. -xoxoxoxo -)

A few days ago, I was gently reminded by one of my alert readers ("Hey! What ever happened after you put that stuff on your feet?") that I had never followed up on my earlier post in which I experimented with a Korean foot-peeling product as part of my never-ending quest for Softer Feet. I will say, in my defense, we were in the throes of preparing for our housewarming party just at the time my feet were at their molting xenith, and, torn between stuffing things in closets preparing for the party versus writing about my feet, I opted for preparing for the party.   Some readers may remember that I had been quite apprehensive about leaving a little trail of my epidermis behind me as went about my hostessly duties, but - fortunately for everyone - this did not happen much.  However, as a responsible blogger, I do feel it my duty to bring my readership up to speed on the outcome of my foot-peeling experiment, and how it eventually led to my subsequent descent into the seamy underworld of Korean foot care.
Disclaimer:  This blog post contains actual photographs of peeling foot skin, feet, and fish.  Proceed at your own risk.

So.  Back to the Foot Peeling. What basically happened was that, coming out of the shower on day 5 after the foot peel, I noticed that pieces of my feet were falling off a great deal of dry skin was coming off my feet as I was drying them, and the more I rubbed with the towel, the flakier things got.  For the next 2-3 days, my feet behaved like I had taken them to the beach and left them roasting there for about a week without any sunblock. There was no pain or itching, just peeling.  The picture you are about to see may be shocking and alarming, but, as MsCaroline is deeply committed to journalistic integrity, she feels that she owes her readers The Truth, no matter how alarming it may be.  What follows is a photo of my actual foot the day after it started peeling.  I realize that it is out of focus and of poor quality, but you to try to take a photo of the sole of your  own foot and see just how easy it is.

close-up of my peeling foot
Final outcome? As I had suspected, my feet were most definitely not sparkly or even significantly-younger looking, but there was an improvement, and I had less dry skin on them than when I started.  Final verdict?  I'll do it again.  I would suspect for people whose feet are not as hooflike calloused as mine, this product could actually result in some sparkling, or at the very least, rosy pink softness.

Let it not be said that MsCaroline is a quitter, though.  My next attempt at foot self-improvement was going and getting a pedicure, although these typically do not yield long-lasting results:  usually I leave the salon with soft, pink, gleaming feet, and, three days later, I'm back to looking like I spend my days walking barefoot in a field behind a horse and plow.  However, I reasoned if the Koreans can openly sell foot-peeling acids on every street corner, they might have some equally powerful pedicure secrets, so off to the salon I went.  I did this with my friend, B, who opted to get a manicure at the same time and was seated directly opposite me in the salon.  This gave her an excellent view of my knickers (which, I would like to point out, in my defense, at least I was wearing) as the pedicurist seemed to work best when my feet were lifted straight up in the air and I had - unfortunately - worn a skirt.  She did all of the typical pedicure activities, eg, soaking, buffing, pumice-ing - but then pulled out an instrument which I had never seen before and which - and I'll have to take B's word on this since I couldn't see my own heels - apparently operated much like a cheese slicer.  Using this, she  attacked my feet with the enthusiasm of a mountaineer who has finally reached Base Camp at Everest.

This was not painful for anyone but B, who, besides giggling at my knickers, was also watching pieces of my feet fly around the salon, and was laughing so hard that she smudged one of her fingernails, which serves her right for laughing at me poor thing.  Since I had no idea what was going on, I had no idea why B was in such a state and got even more hysterical when the pedicurist fetched a broom and a dustpan and proceeded to sweep up approximately 800g of my heels. When it was all said and done, my heels were significantly better, but the baby-soft state I yearned for still remained elusive.

Having exhausted the more conventional options, I decided that I was going to have to finally break down and go to the Dr. Fish Cafe in Gangnam to put my feet in the hands (well, technically, mouths) of their fish, who, as I mentioned in this post,seem to love nothing more than to consume the dead skin off the feet of the cafe's customers. If this seems a bit drastic to you, let me just say that rubbing lotion on my feet and wearing socks around the house makes for a really dull blog post, so consider this my sacrifice for the entertainment of you, my readers.

Accordingly, B, K, and I set off for Gangnam and the elusive Dr. Fish Cafe.  We had gotten directions, but, like everything else in Seoul, they were somewhat vague  This is because typical Western address information - like street names and numbers- is not used in giving directions in Korea.  So you get a lot of, "Go 300 meters straight from the subway entrance, take a left at the Forever21 store, and the shop is 100 meters on the right, on the 2nd floor right next to the bank."  What makes this all even more fun is that stores in Seoul go in and out of business with breathtaking frequency, meaning that directions that were accurate just a short time ago may already be obsolete by the time you go.  However, we persevered, and eventually came to a sign labeled, 'Book and Coffee Spa' indicating an establishment on the second floor.  There was, however, no sign of fish - foot-eating or otherwise - so we were not sure that we had found the right place.  We were even less sure when we arrived on the second floor and found an enormous, nearly-empty cafe with nothing to indicate that it was anything more than an ordinary, respectable coffee establishment, just like milllions of others in Seoul.

Disappointed, we were just about to leave when this sign across the room caught my eye:

That's right;  the sign was discreetly tucked away in a corner near the window and did, indeed, boast a picture of a tank of fish.  Granted, it was a very small sign, but at least we knew we were in the right place.  We approached the counter, pointed in the general direction of the fish sign, and indicated we wanted to get  "fish pedicures."  The woman behind the counter, clearly used to Americans, said, "First, drink coffee.  Then call me."  As it turns out, in order to use their skin care fish, you have to first order something to drink or eat and then, for a charge of only KRW2000 (about $2) you get access to the fish.  This is clearly stated on the sign posted by the fish tank, just in case you rush over and try to put your feet in the tanks without first ordering coffee and a waffle:

We dutifully firstly ordered our cappuccinos and smoothies,

and then sat down to drink them while casting nervous glances across the room at the platform where the fish tanks awaited us.  When we were finished, the tank attendant, or fish pedicurist, or whatever she was called, led us (secondly) across the cafe and up a few stairs onto a platform which had two fish tanks and two sinks built into it.  Since I was - apparently - the most excited about the fish, B and K threw me under the bus generously allowed me to go first, so I sat down on the platform and dangled my feet into the pre-rinsing sink.  The attendant proceeded to thoroughly rinse and spray my feet and calves to free them from any lotion or oils, which, as it turns out, the fish do not like, although I personally find that kind of picky taste a little strange in an animal that enjoys eating dead skin:

  Once she was finished, I pulled my feet out of the foot sink and was told to choose from two tanks of fish;  the tank of benign- looking little guppies:

or this tank of much bigger "lunchroom bully" fish:

Needless to say, given the severity of my heel issues, I reasoned that a super-sized fish was probably what I needed, and gingerly lowered myself down on the floor next to their tank, where the fish were becoming agitated with excitement as they anticipated a delicious meal consisting of my feet. It did not help matters at all when the fish - who clearly know how the system works - saw me standing next to the tank and all of them - and I mean ALL of them - swam directly to the spot in the tank in front of me and looked expectantly at me with the laserlike intensity that my dog usually exhibits when he knows I am holding a treat.

K and B, who were watching all of this, provided supportive input by making encouraging statements such as, "When I did this in Thailand, the fish were much smaller" and "Oh, my God!" as I gingerly lowered myself down and prepared to put my feet into the now-seething mass of starving fish.   I did this very carefully, partly because I did not want to accidentally squash one, and partly because I was bitterly regretting questioning the wisdom of this decision. However, I finally got my nerve up and put my feet in, at which point the fish - who clearly enjoy a challenge - got right down to work.

For those of you who are wondering what it feels like to have fish eat the dead skin off your feet, I am not going to lie:  it feels pretty weird.  The best analogy I can provide is that it feels like someone is plucking gently at your feet with a pair of tweezers.  It is not painful, but it takes a little getting used to, especially since the fish, who are experts in finding dead skin on your feet, do not understand the concept of 'ticklish,' so they tend to nibble at places like your instep or your pinky toes, which, everyone knows, are located in the 'Most Ticklish' zone of the foot.

However, despite our initial apprehension, we calmed down enough to relax and enjoy the experience, even B, who had some moments of doubt - by which I mean she squealed and pulled her feet out of the tank and nearly had a coronary.  Fortunately, B is an intrepid spirit, which means that she eventually talked herself back onto the horse and stuck her feet back in the tank, where she proceeded to bogart most of the fish.  I initially thought this was because her feet were more delectable than ours, but it turns out that fish are not that smart and do not possess much in the way of long-term memory.  Therefore, even if they are happily engaged in gnawing on a delectable heel or juicy toe, as soon as they see a new foot enter the water, they think, "Oh, look! Food!" and head straight for it.

Anyway, after a brief feeding frenzy over B's feet, the fish calmed down and started paying attention to me and K again, and we sat around and chatted as though having your feet gnawed on by a school of skin-eating fish was an everyday occurrence for us.  For their part, the fish behaved in a businesslike manner and performed their skin-eating activities very efficiently, grazing for a few minutes on a heel here, an instep there, a pinky toe here, and then swimming over to a different foot to perform the whole operation again.  In fact, when our time was up (15 minutes), no one wanted to leave.  Even the fish weren't happy about it:  you'd go to pull your foot out of the water and they'd all frantically gather around the remaining foot, nibbling as fast as possible in a desperate attempt to try and convince you to stay just a little bit longer.

Please....don't leave us!

We reluctantly pulled our feet out of the tank, and then had our feet sprayed off in the sink and spritzed with something from a bottle that might have been disinfectant. For inquiring readers who are curious to know what our feet looked and/or felt like afterwards, I am sorry to report that I noticed no discernible difference in the condition of my feet after this treatment, although they were soft after having been soaked for 15 minutes.  I can say that all 3 of us liked it enough to want to go back and do it again, if only for the entertainment value.  In the meantime, I guess I'll have to go back to using socks and lotion.

How To Get There: To get to the Dr. Fish Cafe in Gangnam, go to Gangnam station, exit 6. Walk a few blocks and it is on the same side of the street as the subway exit, across the street from the CGV theater, and is in the building next to Krispy Kreme on the 2nd floor. It does not say anything about fish, just 'Cafe spa and book'.  The platform with the fish tanks is located by the windows.

Cost:  You have to buy food or drink before you can get the fish treatment.  Tell the person at the checkout that you also want to do the Dr. Fish treatment, and they will charge you an extra KRW2000 (about $2) for a 15-20 minute session with the fish.  When you are finished eating and drinking, get the attention of the attendant and she'll show you what to do.  


Amanda said…
Ms Caroline I'm very proud of you! those are whopping big badda bing fish! I have to agree with B and K the fish were much smaller when I did it in MyeongDong ... although equally fun, ultimately relaxing but unfortunately still ineffective
Wilma said…
This is too funny. I was reading another blog (I will send you the pertinent bits in PM) and it got me thinking about this. I was going to ask you tonight about the foot peeling and whether or not you had visited the fish. Fine minds, I guess. LOL Glad it went well but sorry it didn't make your feet soft. Maybe the fish don't eat it all in one fell swoop so you'll have to return. Trained fish. ROFL
Trish said…
Well that's put me right off my breakfast!

The feet-eating fish are becoming quite the thing in the UK now, salons popping up everywhere. Useful to know that it's just the soaking in water that makes your feet feel smooth - think I'll stick with a pumice stone for my hooves.
MsCaroline said…
@Amanda: I'd read a review saying that everyone preferred the large fish, so I decided to give them a go; K (who had the small fish in Thailand) also agreed that the big ones were better...but, yeah, I wouldn't recommend it if you were looking for serious improvement...sigh.
MsCaroline said…
@Wilma: Loved reading the blog post - thanks! Sorry this was such a delayed update; I think I'm finally caught up on my foot saga. Several of our friends are interested in trying it, so I will definitely go back. I'll let you know if they have a cumulative effect!
MsCaroline said…
@Trish: I don't know that they're very efficient, but it's certainly what I would term a 'life experience.' The cafe where we had it done also sold wine (we were there at 10:30am, though) and we all thought a few glasses would have made the whole experience much more entertaining.
Karen said…
Absolutely ROTFLMAO!!! Neil asked what I was laughing at, so I told him. He seemed unimpressed...but I loved it. It is Friday night and, after an extremely stressful and crazy first week of school I needed a good laugh! Kids at home and at school are doing well. Hope yours are, too!
MsCaroline said…
Thanks, Karen, it was kind of a hysterical-laugh-filled outing, as you can well imagine. No surprise Neil wasn't impressed - men couldn't understand it, I'm sure! ; )
Potty Mummy said…
I did this in London but have to say, my fish were minnows compared to those whales. (And - I hated it. But that's just me). Well done for being so intrepid - and as for men not understanding it, I was accompanied on this outing by my father in law. Go figure...
MsCaroline said…
PM: Let me amend that to, "..some men" wouldn't understand. My husband would be all for it, and probably my sons, too.
Iota said…
Part of me thinks this is more 'natural' than putting on lots of lotions and potions. Part of me thinks "what WILL they think of next?"

Good for you, for giving it a try.
Almost American said…
I thought of you today when I read this article about fishy pedicures!
MsCaroline said…
AA - I had seen that article, too, but now that I'm in Korea, I just don't worry about those pesky Western standards anymore! I see things every day in Korea that would be considered terribly hazardous (not to mention lawsuits-in-the-making)back in the US, and yet everyone seems to do just fine. I may change my tune if I grow a 6th toe, though...

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