Published on | by redblob14
Psoriasis Fish Therapy: They Eat Dead Skin!
Psoriasis fish therapy is as weird as it sounds. To put it in a nutshell, it involves fish sucking your flakes off. It’s one of the weirder treatments out there, but from my experience, it actually does work.
About the fish
The fish are approximately 12 cm in length, have silver streaks and are known as “Garra Rufa” in Latin. They’re also called “Doctor Fish” for the therapeutic affect they have when munching on skin affected by psoriasis, eczema and the like.
These “Doctor Fish” are freshwater fish that belong to the Cyprinidae family – their bigger brother is the common carp. They’re normally found in the rivers of the Middle East and have a toothless, round mouth that makes it easy for them to pick off flakes without hurting anyone.
They normally eat algae, zooplankton and other bits-and-pieces they happen to come across on the seabed. However, under the right conditions, and if presented with a nice psoriatic elbow, they tuck right in! And after they’re finished feasting on dead epidermis, there’s room for new, healthy skin to grow.
It’s big in Turkey
Psoriasis fish therapy first became popular in the outdoor hot-springs of two small towns in Turkey called Kangal and Sivas, where the first public “Doctor Fish” pools were opened in 1963.
The water is kept at a relatively high temperature of 35°C, which is great for two reasons. Firstly, there are practically no microorganisms to eat, so the fish go for the next big thing – dead skin. Secondly, the warm spa waters help to soften skin, making it extra easy for the fish to munch on.
Does psoriasis fish therapy hurt?
Not at all. The feeling of them nibbling is a bit ticklish. Some have described it as having thousands of tiny suction pads on your skin or getting a massage, and I agree.
If you can get to a real spa, the average treatment course involves staying in the pool for 8 hours a day over 21 days. You skin will look like a leather handbag by the end, but trust me, you’ll be amazed by the difference.
There’s evidence that it works!
While studies of psoriasis fish therapy are hard to find, one very reputable report can be found in the Oxford Journal of Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Plus, it includes before and after photos showing that it works!
In their conclusion, the authors noted that using Garra Rufa “could provide a viable treatment option for patients with psoriasis vulgaris.”
The photograph on the right was taken in the study to demonstrate the fantastic results of the therapy on three different patients after 3 weeks.
However, though the study said that psoriasis fish therapy was good, it also mentioned that the success that its patients saw was probably down to a number of combined factors, as listed below:
- The Kangal spa is situated at a high altitude level of 1650 metres. This means that there is a lot of natural U.V. radiation, which is proven to help psoriasis.
- The hot-springs have a special chemical composition, with high levels of selenium. Selenium deficiency has been linked to psoriasis, so this is helpful.
- The removal of scales and lesions by the fish helps the penetration of U.V. rays to the dermis.
- The daily fish bath can help to reduce stress and increase emotional well-being.
Plus, remember that this is not a permanent cure. It normally leads to a remission that lasts up to 12 months, but sooner or later, you will need to feed the fish again!
Are there any risks?
The idea of slipping inside a pool with fish that swim from person to person, sucking on skin here and there, can be a bit disconcerting.
That’s partly why 14 states in the U.S. have banned them. However, the good news is that they’re legal in most parts of the world.
Many spas treat their water with U.V. sterilizers to kill bacteria, and have complex filtering systems in place to keep the water free from fish waste and food. The chance of getting an infection transmitted by the fish is close to zero.
However, the real danger comes from some spas using cheap “Chin Chin” fish instead of “Garra Rufa.” The scientific name of these fish is Tilapia, and while they can look similar, there’s one major difference – they have teeth! They’re bred in Chengdu, China, and are passed off as the real deal in spas all across South East Asia, so make sure you’re offering your skin to the right type of fish before you jump in!
Since I couldn’t afford to splash out on a trip to Turkey, I tried psoriasis fish therapy on a micro scale: with a fish tank.
I bought a second-hand, 60 gallon tank for roughly £200, and sourced 10 fish from a local dealer in London for £15 each. Those suckers hurt the wallet, let me tell you!
After setting everything up, I pulled up a stool, dipped my fingers in… and perched. I spent an hour or two sitting there, letting them nibble, as I read a book or strained my neck to watch a film. It wasn’t the most comfortable experience, with my arm at a right angle and neck rotated 180 degrees, but I was willing to do it for a bit of relief.
And, I have to say, it was the best de-scaling experience I’ve ever had – my psoriasis would still be there after each session – but the skin was as smooth as silk, making it perfect for a bit of ointment.
I did this until I left home to go to university… and that’s where my experience ends. Over the years, they’ve multiplied to over 20, but I’ve never been home for enough extended periods to monitor the long-term effects that psoriasis fish therapy may have. For the short while I did it though, I do think that Dr. Fish are more than quacks.