Fishy little kisses for Beirutis’ hands and feet

BEIRUT: Many people have a beauty regime for getting beach-ready. Visit any resort in Lebanon right now and you will see that men and women have preened themselves to physical perfection – whether that be mani-pedis, waxing or tanning.

But how many would consider a foot treatment delivered by over 200 tiny fish a necessary step to achieving bikini-readiness? Ralph Khairallah, who owns Lebanon’s first dedicated fish spa, certainly hopes many soon will. Tibisou, tucked away behind Sassine Square, a “Fish spa and wellness place,” is certainly an experience, and a relaxing one at that.

For a first-timer the idea of hundreds of tiny little fish nibbling away at the dead skin on one’s feet may be a little off-putting. And the initial sensation is ticklish to say the least.

But very soon it becomes completely relaxing and if you are able to resist staring intently into the tank in which your feet are submerged, you can easily forget there are any invertebrates involved. And each customer has an individual tank, which does feel somehow more hygienic, although with a constant supply of oxygen to the tanks, the water is consistently cleaned.

Dr. Fish, or garra rufa fish, originate from natural warm springs in Turkey. So while these little fellows at Tibisou have been imported from Singapore, the idea hasn’t traveled very far.

The concept has gained global popularity over the last few years, as organic and natural treatments have grown in prominence, with hundreds of spas opening across the world. It is extremely popular in Europe and the Far East, where Ralph and his wife Amanda first discovered the idea.

“We got the idea on honeymoon in Thailand. Amanda had danced a lot at the wedding and wanted a foot treatment. She tried Dr. Fish and loved it and persuaded me to try,” Ralph says.

“To be honest I was a bit unsure at first myself, but when you try it you do see the benefits.”

And sitting in the spa, with your feet lightly kissed in warm water (“Tibisou” is little kisses in French), espressos and dried cranberries on offer, you do begin to feel more as if you’re in some tropical paradise, not a muggy Beirut day.

A half hour session will leave your feet feeling perhaps smoother than they have ever felt, with all dead skin completely removed, but there are also health benefits.

Research is unclear as to whether the fish actually digest the skin or not, as Ralph says, “There is some speculation as to whether they actually eat the skin or not, some people say they are just removing it to look for food underneath, as they would on a rock, for instance.”

But the micro-massage stimulates reflexology points on your feet, increasing circulation, leaving your skin healthy and glowing. And if you have any calluses or corns, the fish will alleviate these conditions.

The fish treatment is followed by a foot massage and the option of a pedicure, and you will genuinely walk out feeling refreshed.

The spa is also available for private hire, and could be a fun venue for a bachelorette or birthday party.

Tibisou, George Haimari Street, behind Sassine Square. 01-332-125,

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 05, 2011, on page 12.




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