What Are Korean Body Scrubs?

Woman at spa

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Korean body scrubs are an important part of traditional Korean culture. In Korean bathhouses, called jimjilbang, people go once a week to sauna, steam, soak, and scrub each other happily with brightly colored mitts.

Here in the U.S., Korean body scrubs are performed by spa therapists -- and they are MUCH more effective than American-style salt scrubs or body scrubs. Korean body scrubs also done in conjunction with a trip to a Korean bathhouse or spa, where you spend time in saunas, steam rooms, and baths. This helps prepare the skin for the scrub.

What Happens During Korean Body Scrubs

First, you leave your shoes and clothes behind, and if it's a same sex Korean bathhouse or spa, you'll probably be walking around buck naked. You rinse off in the shower but don't use soap.

"Traditionally, Korean body scrubs are prepared by having the client soak in warm to hot water," according to Myung Yi, owner of Juvenex Spa, a Korean spa pioneer in Manhattan. Ten to fifteen minutes is a minimum, but longer is better. It softens up the skin and prepares it for the scrubbing!

At Juvenex, you can make a luxurious private hot bath part of the treatment with an add-on bath, or you can soak in the various pools that are available. After that, they recommend some time in the mugwort steam room. Mugwort is used as herbal medicine and herbal tea in Korea, and it promotes detoxification.  

The intense Korean cleansing process, called session, involves being rubbed all over with a Korean Italy towel (and no, that's not an auto-correct). It's a colorful, thin mitt with a sandpaper-like texture to scrub away the body of all the dirt and layers of dead skin that accumulate naturally. 

Myung Yi said Koreans use water, scrubbing mitts and milk (which has lactic acid, an exfoliant) because it's gentler on the skin than sea salt and gets a better results. I was certainly convinced by the results. The Korean body scrub also helps with the whole detoxification process by giving the skin a thorough cleanse, he says. And it improves blood circulation, which makes the skin is healthier.

The Dead Skin Comes Off In Thin Grey Ropes

When I got my Korean body scrub at Juvenex, my therapist took me behind a partial wall, where I could still hear chit-chat in the rest of the spa. Korean spas are more social than American spas. I lay on a massage table in a disposable swimsuit, and the therapist doused me with water, squirted warm milk on me, and ran a pair of exfoliating mitts over my lower legs. 

Oh, the horror. She showed me how the dead skin cells rolled up into thin, grey ropes, and I couldn't believe how much was coming off came off. Sometimes I could feel the old skin on the table like crumbs. 

Heidi was nothing if not thorough. As I lay on my front, and she stretched out my arms to exfoliate my armpits. No one has ever done that before. I lay on both sides, with one knee bent so she could exfoliate my inner thighs. Another first. Then she flipped me a few times because I had so very much to exfoliate. That's a little embarrassing for a spa regular like me. 

I kept wanting to look at what she was getting off, but she told me to relax. When no more skin came off, she announced herself satisfied, and poured bowl after bowl of warm water over me to wash away the dead skin. That was delicious. 

She rinsed me with milk, which is nourishing for the skin. She placed thin slices of cool organic cucumber on my face and gave me a thorough hair wash. When I was finished, I honestly have never had a better body scrub. It left my skin feeling softer and -- truly -- younger looking.

Afterward, you can continue the detox process with time in a Korean sauna. Now that your skin is squeaky clean, it will be easier and more beneficial.  

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