Whether you consider a facial a yearly indulgence or you're a regular at Burke Williams, going to a Korean spa is like no other experience. I don't know what you've heard, but many of the rumors are true. Yes, nudity is not an option, and the vigorous scrubs might make you feel like a beached seal being slapped and skinned. But the truth is, the K spa can be truly relaxing and rejuvenating if you can just let go, which is kind of the point of going to a spa in the first place. Here's everything you need to know.
K spas in US cities are inspired by Korean bathhouses known as jjimjilbang. Traditionally, Koreans would go to these every week with their families to bathe and cleanse their bodies. These were communal spaces, and so are the modern ones we know now. There are typically separate areas for men and women, so there's really no chance of getting ogled or sexualized while you're in the buff. Women-only spas are also a thing and are probably the best bet for ladies who are at all nervous or shy about taking the proverbial plunge. Time to get over that, though—whether it's a women's or coed spa, behind closed doors, privacy is limited.
Just bring your body and a little dough. The entry fee is usually $15 to $40—a bargain compared to the Four Seasons, no? Some people like to tote their own toiletry essentials—shampoo, conditioner, skin care, makeup, a hairbrush—to freshen up afterwards.
You get one regular towel, maybe a smaller one as well, and possibly a robe or kimono. The robe is nice for lounging around, but when using the pools and saunas, nudity is non-negotiable. At coed places, a shirt and shorts are provided to wear in common spaces shared by men and women. If there's any doubt over whether to cover up, do as the Koreans do. Before entering the spa, you'll either get a key to a locker with a number or be instructed to choose any locker with a key on it. The key is normally attached to something wearable and is sometimes used to log any added services like scrubs or massages to pay for later. Stop at the smaller lockers first to remove and stow your shoes, then head to the bigger lockers to lock up everything else.
Time to strip. Don't even think about trying to get away with wearing a bikini. This is not the way, and you'll stand out more. Trust—any feeling of awkwardness dissipates within 30 seconds after realizing everyone is naked, and no one is looking at you. For first-timers, it might be hard to resist the urge to sneak glances at others—the diversity of shapes, sizes, colors, and grooming habits is actually an eye-opening, beautiful thing that you probably won't experience anywhere else. But get it out of your system fast because everyone's just trying to have a chill time.
After getting over the initial shock of being nude with strangers, don't forget to absolutely, positively shower before doing anything at all. It's the polite and sanitary way to operate here. Do a full shower with soap and shampoo, which should be provided. Make sure to rinse off in between every pool and sauna.
Now for the fun part! Most people like to start with the most basic hot tub. Many K spas also have some sort of hot tea bath. Soak in these for no longer than 20 minutes at a time. There may be a cold pool, too. Follow up a hot bath by taking a cold dip to promote good circulation.
After a quick rinse, head to the steam or dry saunas for a sweat session. If there are multiple options, like jade, Himalayan salt, or infrared saunas, it's fun to try them all, and each one has special properties for skin and body detoxification. Only stay in each for as long as you can comfortably handle. The temperatures can reach up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, which isn't for everyone. If you start to feel overwhelmed or light-headed after 30 seconds, don't force it. But if it's bearable without harming yourself, stay for up to 20 minutes at a time. Your skin will be glowing and your muscles will be so relaxed. Feel free to hit the cold pool after a sauna as well.
Whatever you do, don't forget to drink water frequently in between pools and saunas. All that sweating can be extremely dehydrating.
The signature treatment at most Korean spas is a really intense body scrub. A technician, probably clad in little more than underwear—hey, this is going to be a messy job—has you lie (naked still) on a vinyl or rubber table. What comes next is not for the faint of heart. You'll be touched in the most intimate of areas and probably scrubbed within an inch of your life. But the smooth, glowing, baby-soft skin will hopefully be worth it for you. The piles of dead skin on the floor may be strangely satisfying, if not totally freakish. Also, hair washing is sometimes included, so don't be surprised if it ends with that. Other typical spa services are often available, too; facial, massage, waxing, mani-pedi—name it. Like the scrubs, the massages might be a little heavy on the pressure compared to Swedish-style. Not all spas have private rooms for these treatments, but we're all adults here.
Ah, all that soaking, sweating, and scrubbing does make you hungry. Many K spas have a cafe serving Korean food (skin-friendly fermented veggies!), juices, and teas in-house to nourish that inner goddess. Some cafes don't even require you to put your clothes back on—but wear the robe! Please, wear the robe. Do not, repeat, do not step into the cafe nude.
There's usually an area reserved for resting or napping, with heated floors, thin mats, and blocks to rest your head. This is arguably the best part. Some spas are even open 24/7, and for a fee, you can stay the night. In that case, shower, soak, sweat, eat, sleep, repeat. Seriously, you'll be hooked. Our favorite Korean Spa's in Los Angeles include: Wi Spa & Natura Spa!