The Intense Korean Spa Treatment You Can Do at Home

All you really need is this one exfoliation cloth... and nerves of steel.
Publish date:
February 10, 2016
exfoliation, Korean beauty, spa treatments, spa, exfoliating tool, smooth skin

Once upon a time, I agreed to do a "girls outing" at the suggestion of my friend who is way into Korean spas. Being that there are a handful occupying the one block that constitutes K-town in Manhattan, she chose one she had visited before, and I tagged along.

There's a big difference in the Korean spas in Korea (aka Jjimjilbang) and their US counterparts. For one thing, the price. It's WAY more expensive here. Other biggie: the culture. You can camp out in a Korean spa for literally an entire day (or night). You can eat there, sleep there, soak there... I don't know what the etiquette is of overstaying your welcome or if someone just comes along and checks the pruney status of your fingers before telling you that you've had enough.

The spa we ventured to was $120 for the treatment package we all signed up for — the full body exfoliation. There were a bunch of pools with different pool water to soak in, a steam room, and sauna to sit in getting steamed or dried out, respectively. We pool hopped for a bit; one just had lemons floating in it, one was salt minerals, and one was cold water and ginseng (avoided that one). And then came the treatment.

Without mincing words, it was the physical interpretation of getting chewed out by your Korean grandma in a "It's for your own good!" sentiment. I was lying butt-nekkid on a narrow cello-wrap covered platform while said grandma threw buckets of warm water over my body (it smelled like there was a bit of sesame oil in it as well) and then WENT TO TOWN with the scrub cloth. For nearly an entire hour. Using an exfoliating cloth, my scrubber had the task of removing the dead skin from my body that has likely been a part of my body since puberty. And she did not phone it in.

Guys, this is not a "pleasant" treatment, and by no means is it for babies.

I had my eyes shut most of the time (in anticipation of a bucket of water being thrown at me periodically). She tapped me on the shoulder at one point to ask, "This your first time with the scrub?"

"Mhmm," I nodded, and then she pointed next to me to reveal HUGE WORMY SNAKE ROLLS OF GRAY DEAD SKIN. Seriously, these rolls were like spaghetti length, pencil-width rolls of dead skin. I probably just made a horrified face, to which she chuckled and got back to work, taking care of every crevice short of actual finger-banging (sorry for that imagery but I feel that you really need to understand the crevice situation). After a while, my skin was just kind of numb, and it went easy after that. A light body oil rubbed on afterwards and a nice cucumber facial and hair shampoo later and my body was, no joke, resurrected. My skin was like a newborn baby adult. I was smoother than a freshly shaved dolphin.

Victorious as I felt, the $120 price tag (plus tip) meant that this was relegated to treat yo'self territory — a luxury to be enjoyed once or maybe twice a year. What really did it for me was when I mentioned visiting that spa in K-town to a friend who goes to Seoul regularly, and she responded, "Uh, those are, like, $20 in Korea." I was aghast. Someone is willing to get biblically familiar with your disgusting dead skin for TWENTY DOLLARS?

It seemed wrong, and yet since it was so ingrained in the culture, it was no biggie. Women, men, children — they all got mega-scrubbed on the regs. Koreans might be the smoothest peoples, if I ever go there and haphazardly caress the limbs of random citizens to put this theory to the test.

So knowing that only three-ish items were used (give or take this woman's brute forceful dedication to eradicating dead skin), I thought, I could do this at home! Probably!

The good thing is that I recognized the types of exfoliation cloths used at the spa; they were the same ones my mom kept in the bathroom when I was growing up. A pack of three will run you less than $5.

While I don't have three different pools and a steam room to jump into at my home, I do have a serviceable tub and hot water. So I showered clean and then soaked in warm water for a while to loosen that outer layer of dead skin clinging to my bod. And then I, too, went to town with this green scrubby cloth to see little eraser-dust skins rolling away. The dead skin yield wasn't nearly as crazy as at the spa (also I didn't scrub as hard, it being a bit like a SAW situation), but for a DIY, it was pretty damn effective.

Afterwards I rubbed on a body oil and danced around with my newly smoothed bod. And then promptly cleaned by tub because it was properly wrecked.

Have any of you visited any Korean spas? I've yet to go to the famed Spa Castle in Queens (or the bigger one in Jersey — someone drive me, please), but I wouldn't say no to getting together another group of gals for a collective scrub.

Or if you grew up in an Asian household, have you ever had your moms chase you around with these exfoliating cloths as you wriggled away for dear life? Because that was a lot of my childhood. Ahh, good times.