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Foot detox: Does it really work?

  Thursday, 02 l 12 l 2010 Source:  The Straits Times   
By: Jessica Lim and Ng Kai Ling

Foot-bath devices seeing an upsurge of popularity despite being debunked by medical professionals 


IT IS gaining a foothold as an alternative to exercise, claiming to draw toxins by the skin of the feet – when the feet are submerged in salt water charged with a small amount of electricity. And views from sceptical doctors are not dissuading customers drawn by the prospect of an easy detoxification offered by spas around Singapore.  

A small charge of electricity is passed through the body by having customers hold two metal bars or fasten a belt around their waist. At the same time, they stick their feet into a basin of salt water buzzing with a small charge from submerged electrodes. After 30 minutes or so, the clear water turns brackish and foamy in a variety of colours, ranging from yellow to orange. And presto, customers are cleared of harmful toxins that also helpfully come with their own colour codes. If the water is a dull yellow, they are toxins from the kidney, bladder and the urinary tract. When it tends to orange, it is the joints that have been cleansed. Brown water means that the liver is toxin-free.  

Despite being debunked as “impossible” by medical professionals, these foot-bath devices are seeing an upsurge of popularity – either at spas or even for use at homes. Dr Ng Kee Chong, a senior consultant at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, said: “I’m quite sceptical about the health benefits of the device. It seems to work on the principle of sweating out toxins.”

But customers eager to “detoxify” their bodies seem to be undeterred. And spas are not complaining. A Straits Times check with 10 spas offering the service – for up to $55 per half-hour – found that business has more than doubled from a year ago. Tanjong Pagar spa Kemi Wellness started offering foot baths six years ago but saw a surge in customers only over the past year.

Owner Kenny Chea, 37, now serves an average of 100 customers seeking the “foot detox” every week, up from 55 a year ago. The foot detox business has also become busier by half for Yu Ya Beauty and Health Centre, with outlets in Chinatown and Orchard Road. It now has 100 regulars, up from 50 a year ago.  Balance and Cleanse, with outlets in Tampines and Aljunied, now sees an average of 50 customers every day, up from 30 a year ago. At Fabulous Health in Chinatown, customer numbers have gone up from three daily a year ago to 15 today.

According to Fabulous Health owner Richard Sng, 33, the machine’s belt or metal bars send a “frequency” through the body to push toxins out through the skin of the feet. “I definitely believe it works. Customers keep coming back; it is a good alternative to exercise,” he said, adding that many of them are eczema sufferers or have high blood pressure. Though Mr Sng is upfront about the unproven nature of the miracle device, he claims the results endorse it. “There may not be any scientific backing, but I believe it works – through the experiences of my customers,” he said.

Machine distributors selling these Korean- or China-made machines for up to $5,000 each are also seeing booming business. Apart from the spas, ordinary households number among their clientele. Mr Chng Wah Leong, owner of C & B Healthcare, which sells a China-made version of the device at $799 each, imports about 30 each month. Three years ago, he sold only 15 a month. JSP Ion Detox chief executive Johnner Tan, 47, who manufactures the machines in China, sells about 20 here each month for $1,600 apiece. A year ago, the local company sold fewer than 10 a month. “More people are buying the machine to use at home. It makes sense because they save money in the long run and can share it with family members,” said Mr Tan, adding that foot-detox fans generally use the device twice a week. 

Toxins, it has long been known, are excreted from the kidneys in the form of urine or broken down by the liver. They have never been known to be ejected through the pores of the skin. Dr Chin Khong Ling, a general practitioner with Healthway Medical, explains the colours as the product of a simple chemical reaction. “Toxins generally do not come out from our pores. It could be just a chemical reaction from the  salt water coming into contact with skin,” he said.

Ms Jessie Tong, senior lecturer at Singapore Polytechnic’s School of Chemical Life Sciences, agrees. “It is not possible to draw large amounts of toxins through the skin, which is a good barrier designed to keep things in the body. “Claiming to pull stuff across the barrier is impossible,” she said. She explained the process as nothing more than a “simple set-up” for electrolysis, a process which uses electric current to induce a chemical reaction. “If an electric current is passed through an ionic substance like saline water, chemical reactions at the electrodes can separate materials,” she said, adding that this could explain the colour changes.

But hard science is not enough to dissuade customers like Madam Ker Su Yong, 56. The retiree began the “treatment” in October, three times a week. She recently bought a footbath package at $500 for 20 sessions and has brought more than 30 friends into the fold. “I felt better and I think that is all that matters,” she said. Madam Ker said she no longer suffers from constipation.

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