Peering into a tank of hungry fish ready to make a meal of my feet, I feel apprehensive.
The two young blonde-haired girls next to me at the Garrarufa Fish Spa also hesitate as they dangle their feet over the fish tank, closing their eyes before taking the plunge to squeals and shrieks.
“The best thing is seeing people’s reactions,” says owner Liz Perry.
“One girl couldn’t stop laughing.”
The spa, which opened in Holywell Hill in May in the premises formerly occupied by toy shop Little Wonders, is the first dedicated fish spa in St Albans.
Beauty treatments often have an element of the bizarre and fish pedicures are no different. Garra rufa fish, also known as doctor fish, nibble and loosen dead skin, exfoliating feet and leaving them soft. A fishy alternative to a foot file.
While I am keen to make my feet presentable for summer, I'm squeamish.
I ask Liz whether anyone has been unable to go through with the treatment, and she tells me just two so far.
Feeling like a wimp - the fish are toothless after all – I tentatively put my feet in.
In an instant they are surrounded, like a magnet, and I tense with the ticklish sensation, as the shoal round my feet nibble away.
But after a few seconds, the tickling gives way to something much more pleasant, a sort of pulsing feeling. Some have described it as pins and needles without the tingling, while others liken it to a whirlpool jet.
Before long I am hypnotised as they glided over my feet, sucking gently on the skin, before moving away. The treatment lasts for about 15 – 30 minutes.
Hailing from Turkey, where they are found in pools, the fish have been used for their exfoliating abilities for years. They stimulate acupuncture points on the soles of feet, which is why the treatment is so relaxing.
Liz became hooked on the idea of opening a fish pedicure spa earlier this year.
She said: “My daughter had it done on holiday in Thailand, and me and my partner Steve thought it was a great idea.”
They wasted no time in setting up the business.
“It was six weeks between making the decision and opening. I didn’t have time to be nervous,” she said.
However it wasn’t all plain sailing. Liz, who has lived in St Albans all her life, knew she needed to act quickly to be the first fish spa in the city.
“I knew there could only really be one,” she said. “I kept Googling ‘fish spa St Albans’.“ But on the day Liz and Steve were due to sign the lease, an internet search revealed a company based in Camden had plans to open a fish spa in St Albans. The news presented them with a dilemma over whether to press ahead.
They did, and to date it is the only one in the city.
Liz says they have been inundated with clients of all ages, from young children to pensioners. The venue is also available for party bookings, such as hen parties or teenagers preparing for their school prom. I’m told a group of 22 Girl Guide leaders in need of pampering had just made a booking.
It also attracts those suffering skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis as it reportedly eases the pain.
The spa, which employs five staff, is white, airy and minimalistic, with elegant touches such as chandeliers and a midnight-blue chaise longue.
Liz purposely designed the spa to be neutral so it would appeal to men as well as women. And she says around 40 per cent of their visitors are men.
While concerns have been raised about the cleanliness of some UK fish spas, the Garrarufa Fish Spa prides itself on hygiene.
I filled in a questionnaire which asked me about my health and any previous foot problems. My feet were then washed before I put them in the tank.
Every ten minutes the tank water is pumped through a filter system and cleaned. Each of the ten tanks at the spa have eight levels of filtration, and the water is also sterilised by UV light. In addition, every morning and night 20 per cent of the water in the tank is changed.
The latest craze is for whole body tanks, but Liz says she has no plans to introduce that just yet.
Fish pedicures have become increasingly popular in the UK and I can see why. My feet were left lovely and soft, and it was far more pleasant than ten minutes of vigorous foot filing.
For more information visit www.garrarufapedicure.co.uk
Garra rufa fish are a type of carp
As well as feasting on dead skin they are also fed a vitamin supplement
They live for about 7 years
The fish need to be kept at a temperature of between 25 and 30 degree celsius