Nibbles & Nails


Considering our small population size, St Andrews seems to have a disproportionately large amount of beauty salons. Each one is all too eager to rip every follicle from your body with hot wax, or even tint your skin a new shade. Why women endure these trials has been debated down the generations. However, the latest question in beauty is “what sets your salon apart from the crowd?” Hepburn’s Nail Lounge on Argyle Street thinks it has the best answer of all- foot nibbling fish and an entire wall of nail polish.

The fish spa treatment is at once very familiar yet completely strange. Most of us will have seen people getting their feet exfoliated by the fish in larger shopping centres around the country. On the other hand, the idea of sea creatures preening your feet is a bizarre concept, especially in a culture where notions of cleanliness are often rooted in the use of artificial chemicals.

In fact, the use of fish in pedicures has been banned in fourteen states of USA.  According to the Wall Street Journal, lawmakers have cited the fact that fish cannot be ‘sanitized’ after use as one reason for the action. With this in mind, manager Jackie was eager to put my mind at rest, “The fish live in a very clean environment, each of our two tanks has multiple filters to make sure. We have been inspected and everything is done to the highest standard.”

The garra rufa fish used by Hepburn’s are imported from East Asia via Birmingham and are purported to be the next big thing in beauty therapy.  Their talent? Gently sucking off dead skin cells from the body. Originally used in Turkish spas to relieve the pain of psoriasis sufferers, a method later adopted by Western medicine, they are now most commonly found waiting to buff the feet of weary shoppers. Jackie is clear that her fish receive a healthy diet, however. While they may suck off the dead skin on her client’s feet, the fish do not eat it. Instead, they are provided with a nutritious fish food when the shop closes.

While my conscience was clear, I was still slightly nervous as my feet hovered over the tank. It was not fear, though; more a sense of impending exhilaration, like peering down a cliff face before you jump into the sea below. As I took a slightly less dramatic plunge and sank my feet into the awaiting tank of fish, I felt a sudden rush of tiny mouths latching on to my feet. The feeling was sharp at first, but after a few seconds it felt more akin to light jacuzzi bubbles or champagne on your tongue. I was offered a magazine, but watching the fish dart around was more than entertaining enough. My feet had become just another ecological addition to their lives and they embraced them with gusto, the fish inspecting each toe in turn.

Results of the pedicure were undeniable; my feet immediately felt softer. Treatments are recommended every two or three weeks and I would agree that real results could only be seen with regular use. My hooves may be less cloven, but it will be a little longer before they are starring in Tarantino’s latest fantasy.

Another service offered by Hepburn’s is the ‘No Chip’ Manicure. You choose the shade to be applied from a display unit of colours- there are fifteen shades of red alone. This seemed like the revelation I had been waiting for as I am forever leaving red streaks across surfaces when I use my usual cheap brand of nail polish. Combined with my propensity to knock over water bottles, this can be very embarrassing come exam time. I suspect a few markers think that blood, sweat and tears really did go in to my script.

Almost a week later, my Hepburn’s manicure has yet to crack, even after prizing my matriculation card from my overstuffed purse and attempting to slide a new key on to a stubborn keyring. There are also no red scratch marks in sight, so I no longer look like I have been desperately clawing at random objects in my room. Always a plus, in my opinion.

Overall, Hepburn’s certainly distinguishes itself from the other St Andrews beauty institutions with a range of innovative treatments. It also promises to deliver other pioneering services over the Winter months, including sports massage. Only the public response will reveal if Hepburn’s stands out from the crowd just as much as it hopes its clients do.

Interested? Manicures from £19.95, fish spa treatments start at £10. Visit for more details.


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