What Is a Korean Spa?

gold-lined sauna at Spa Castle in Queens

Spa Castle NY

Korean spas are growing in popularity in America, especially in places that have substantial Korean populations such as New York, New Jersey, and Los Angeles. But Korean spas are definitely not just for Koreans.

Korean spas offer a range of experiences ranging from day spas that offer inexpensive Korean body scrubs in a roomful of women who work in their underwear (same-sex treatments only), to elaborate sauna or waterpark facilities where you can spend the day, hang out, eat, and get treatments.

"Spas for Koreans are a place to sweat and talk with their friends," says Myung Yi, owner of Juvenex Spa, a Korean spa pioneer in Manhattan. "American spas are mostly focused on treatments, whereas Korean spas are focused on meeting and spending time with friends."

Body Scrubs

Koreans take their body scrubs very seriously. First, a client soaks in warm to hot water for 10 to 15 minutes to soften up the skin. And while American spas use salt or sugar to exfoliate, Koreans use milk, water, and a scrubbing mitt because it's gentler on the skin and gets a better results. The scrub helps with the whole detoxification process by "opening up the pores for a deep clean," Myung Yi said. "With the improved blood circulation, the skin is healthier."


Korean spas also use natural materials, such as jade in the sauna. "Koreans and other Asians wear jade as jewelry because it improves the overall health, promotes stress-relief and is good for arthritis," he says. "When a person sweats in a jade sauna, there isn't any odor from the sweat."

A mugwort steam sauna lets you breath this traditional herbal medicine through the nose, promoting detoxification of the body. Finally, a low heat sauna is made of baked clay, because "earth is believed to be the source of human body and it is what our body feels the most comfortable with. This helps with relaxation of the body and detoxification."


Finally, Korean and Asian massage is focused on pressure points. "It can be little painful for some people, but after the massage, the body is fully relaxed," say Myung Yi.

Best Korean Spas in the USA

One of the most popular Korean Spas is Spa Castle New York in Flushing (Queens), New York is a huge, 100,000 square foot water park modeled after Korean spas. A huge four-season outdoor spa pools has aqua jets at each “station” to target different pressure points throughout the body, soothing muscle aches and pains while increasing circulation and digestion, soothing any muscle aches, strengthening the immune system, and even facilitating weight loss.

Inside are seven specialized saunas, including one lined with real gold, which in ancient times was used for numerous medicinal purposes.  Other gorgeous saunas are made with jade, loess (a very fine type of soil), and Himalayan sea salt, each with its own temperature and purpose. A color therapy sauna is thought to balance the body's chakras, or energy centers, while infrared saunas are said to have numerous physical benefits. You can also get private spa treatments here. Bring your own swimsuit and towels, or Spa Castle has rentals available at its facility. Spa Castle is definitely the most spectacular and lavish (think gold and jade saunas) at three locations: Flushing (Queens), New York; one in Dallas/Fort Worth; and its latest luxury concept, the Premier Spa Castle on 57th Street in Manhattan.

At King Spa Fitness, a 40,000 square-foot spa in Palisades Park, NJ, you can spend the day detoxifying, relaxing with friends, and getting treatments. As soon as you enter you take your shoes off, and you're in a same sex locker room where everyone goes around nude. (No fluffy spa robes here!)

You get a pair of shorts, a t-shirt for the co-ed areas, where different saunas of varying temperatures and themes are found. The amethyst sauna, gold pyramid sauna, ice sauna, and bulhanzungmok or "hot sweat" room. (You also get a cap to protect your hair from the heat.) Each sauna is supposed to have different benefits.

Back in the women's locker room, there's a herbed steam sauna, a heated mugwort room, and a hot sweat room where you can go nude. This is also where you would get a scrub and/or a massage -- not in a room by yourself but lying alongside other customers. You probably won't be catered to with all the gentleness you expect from a typical American spa.

Not all Korean spas are alike. Some are much less elaborate, and some are even more over-the-top. 

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