Wow, heading to a Korean spa right now would be pretty great, right? But, ugh, it’s so far away, and it’s cold out, and it would require you to leave your apartment. But, hey, great news, there is no reason whatsoever to head outside—you can hack that bathhouse experience from the comfort (or laziness) of your own home.
First and foremost, if you haven’t had the pleasure of visiting a Korean spa in your lifetime yet, don’t worry, this is for you, too. The authentic spa version can be enjoyed for hours, where you can hop between hot and ice cold baths, sauna and steam rooms, to a scrubbing area where you’ll feel like they are possibly rubbing off all your skin (in a great, kinda painful, but epic glowing way). You’ll get that “cleaner-than-clean” feeling.
Traditional public baths in Korea are a place free of vanity or inhibition (most bathers are nude), where generations are brought together in the simple act of cleansing. It’s considered a daily ritual and a form of bonding.
It’s normal to walk away from the bathhouse relaxed, super clean, and exfoliated head to toe. And oooohhh, girl, you’re skin is going to be glowing.
So how to get this traditional experience in your own bathroom? It's going to involve exfoliation with a special mitt, some clever bathing tricks, and a few bonus facial hydrating hacks. Let's do this.
This is the part where you’re really going to shine (literally). We’re going to take a page from the famous Korean scrub treatment "seshin," which is the revelatory and extremely effective exfoliating treatment that can be found at Korean bathhouses. In a traditional bathhouse, you’d usually head to the sauna first, then strip naked, and someone would scrub your entire body with a brightly colored mitt, each color denoting a different level of grit. You’ll polish the skin, which in turn activates circulation, thusly encouraging a healthy, vibrant glow. The dead skin, "tdae" in Korean, visibly rolls off your body, leaving you perfectly clean and soft.
You’ll need to grab an OG iconic Korean bathhouse exfoliating mitt or the super chic modern iteration.
Italy Towel, Asian Exfoliating Bath Washcloth, 8 count, $6.90, is the budget-friendly version of the bath mitt. Can’t beat that price either.
Binu Binu, Seshin Korean Scrub Mitt, $22, is the gorgeous, modern version, and is made of 100 percent plant fibers for a deep (earth-friendly) scrub. So chic you’ll want to display it loud and proud for all to see. (The entire Binu Binu brand is actually inspired by the ritual of the Korean public bath, and was created by the previous fashion product director Karen Kim in Brooklyn. They make the chicest, minimalist soaps and bathing products around.)
You’ll first soak in a hot bath for a bit, or steaming in the shower is great too. Go through your whole regime: wash your hair, cleanse your body with soap and rinse well, do your facial massage, use a hair mask, and while it’s absorbing, wet your mitt. It should almost feel like a bit of a workout, so do it on a day where you’ll have a bit more time to scrub. Use gentle pressure and start massaging the mitt around your body. If possible, enlist a friend or partner to scrub your back in the spirit of communal bathhouses. Otherwise, use the mitt, or a scrub towel (just a bit bigger than the mitt) and hold each end with your hands to do it yourself.
Hot & Cold
“There are cold and hot pools at the bathhouse, where you can move back and forth from each one to create a sense of supreme relaxation and well-being,” says Karen Kim, founder of Binu Binu.
To mimic at home, Kim suggests trying out hydrotherapy in your shower. “Alternating between cold and hot, to promote relaxation, invigorate the body, reduce inflammation, and improve circulation.”
Bouncing off that idea for the bath, try the Korean bath technique called the "Ban Shin Yok" or "half bath." Alicia Yoon, the founder of K-beauty mecca Peach & Lily, previously told us how to DIY at home:
“You sit in a hot bath that comes up to the belly button. You keep belly button up and arms out of the water for about 20 minutes. The contrasting coolness on the top of your body and heat on the bottom of your body helps to stimulate circulation that will help bring more nutrients and oxygen to all organs, including skin. It's invigorating and easy! Try a sheet mask while doing the ban shin yok to get more out of it.”
After you’ve steamed and scrubbed, it’s traditional to finish with a natural, nourishing body oil. “This seals in the moisture at the optimal time, when your skin is freshly clean and damp,” says Kim. The trick to hydrating skin smarter is applying oil on damp skin, so have it right by the shower to apply as soon as you hop out. Grab a high quality one with super moisturizing capabilities, like one of our favorites Osea Undaria Algae Oil, $48, which has a base of brown marine algae for super hydration. Or leave it to Korean beauty expert Dr. Jart and their Ceramidin Body Oil, $23, which is a pro mix of botanical oils to prevent moisture from evaporating.
Bonus Bathing Round
You did it, you created a little Korean spa oasis. Want a few extra gold stars? Add in one or two additional, very Korean tips.