Before traveling to Seoul, South Korea, last month, K-pop stars fully hyped up facials available there for me. Tiffany Young once told me she used to visit her dermatologist once a week for a treatment. During a short video interview with SF9, members also repeatedly told me they swear by Korean facials. Needless to say, I knew getting a facial would be one of the first things I did once I landed in South Korea. During my one-week stay, I ended up getting four, in total. (Disclaimer: Dermatologists recommend only getting one facial a month, but when in Seoul, as they say.)
Of course, innovative facials of the acupuncture, cryotherapy, gemstone, and Hydra varieties exist in America. You can also get treatments with unexpected ingredients, like salt, weed, and champagne. But most take place in a spa and the overall experience is basically the same: you tuck yourself into a special bed while an aesthetician goes to town on your face.
In Seoul, facials go beyond the confines of day spas and holistic centers. I ended up at a public bathhouse, a "life center," and a Korean traditional medicine spa. Although I spent a lot of time in dermatologists' offices while in Seoul to learn more about acne treatments and injectable trends, I decided to forgo the hyped-up medical facial because breakouts haven't been my skin's major concern lately. Keep scrolling to find out more about my week of facials in Seoul.
1. Full Body Experience
My formidable first moments in Seoul were spent as most in life are: naked. I got to the city late Saturday night, and at 10 a.m. the next morning, I made my way to Sparex, a jjimjilbang (or public bathhouse) located in a basement across the street from the Dongdaemun Design Plaza.
After sweating in saunas of various temperatures, I stripped down and soaked in three different mineral baths to help soften my skin. Then, I laid completely naked on a cushiony plastic table located between two other occupied areas. A woman clad solely in a pair of sheer red floral underwear — let's call her spajumma (spa plus ahjumma, which is the Korean word for aunt) — scrubbed my entire body before commencing the facial.
First, my face was oil cleansed. Then, it was slathered in yogurt straight out of a mini Dannon carton. Next, she topped it with some sort of cucumber pulp mixture. All I needed was a sprinkling of dill to complete the tzatziki recipe. Then, my face was covered in pink netting to keep everything in place while my spajumma wrapped warm, wet towels around my limbs and slapped them. After removing them, I winced in pain as she ran a stick-like tool all over my body in a way that felt like full-body gua sha. Once she was done, she washed off the mask, topped my face with more yogurt, and washed my hair.
Once every inch of my body was scrubbed, massaged, and cleansed by a mostly naked woman, my skin didn't show any signs of the 14-hour flight. Instead, it was bright, hydrated, and dewy. (In my jet-lagged state, I forgot to capture my radiance.) My back and arms, on the other hand, were left with bruises from the gua sha-ing.
2. Generally Ginseng
The next stop on my Korean facial journey was Spa 1899. Owned by the Korea Ginseng Corporation, which produces drinks, snacks, and cosmetics made with red ginseng, everything used on my skin was spiked with the country's most treasured root. Ginseng, if you didn't know, does a little bit of everything to improve skin — it brightens, soothes, evens, and firms. The list goes on, but I'll stop there.
As I was still recovering from the intense jjimjilbang experience, I made sure to select the medium pressure option on the questionnaire given to me when I got to the spa. This facial ended up being so relaxing that I fell asleep toward the end of it. No extractions were involved, so the treatment was pain-free. While I was awake, the aesthetician focused on cleansing and gently massaging not only my face but also my chest — boobs and all.
Overall, it was a quintessential facial experience that you typically get in the U.S., sans boob massage. My skin looked incredibly plump and glowy afterward, so I highly recommend this as an intro Korea facials.
3. Stem Cell Technology
The streets of Seoul's Gangnam neighborhood are lined with plastic surgeon and dermatologist offices. Some of them are all-in-clinics with cafes, pharmacies, and hotels inside, so you can undergo whatever procedures your heart desires and recover from them without checking into a hospital or going home straight away. There's also a place called Chaum, which classifies itself as a "life center." It's made up of five floors of medical, wellness, and holistic facilities. You can begin the day with a full physical, including DNA testing, a vision exam, an EKG, and a pap smear, and end it with a facial based on your medical results.
I didn't have an entire day to devote to analyzing every square inch of my body, so I got Chaum's signature Evercell facial. The universal offering is effective for every skin type. As the most extensive, high-tech treatment I got, it featured facial muscle stretching (or FMS) and a proprietary stem cell ampoule applied via microneedling. All the while, the piano music playing sounded like a mashup of the Parks and Recreation theme song and Sims soundtrack. The usual spa nature noises stress me out, so I was into the piano vibe.
The nearly two-hour experience started off with cleansing and mild exfoliation. Then, it got to the more intricate parts like the FMS. According to a doctor who I chatted with before the treatment, forks surging microcurrents into your skin give your facial muscles a workout and create an instant lifting effect. People often get this facial before Botox or other fillers, and they typically end up needing less of the injectables than usual. The aesthetician seemed to use the special forks to massage different products into my skin. As she did so, the machine made a weird alien noise as if it was communicating with the extraterrestrial to prevent wrinkles.
The FMS was followed up by Chaum's special stem cell ampoule made from plants to help rejuvenate, brighten, and hydrate skin. It was engineered by researchers at Chaum's mother hospital. The aesthetician ran a gentle microneedler all over my face before drizzling on the ampoule. Then, she FMS'ed my skin some more. At this point, I realized she never touched my face with her fingers. The forks worked in their place.
Finally, my entire face and neck were covered in a soothing green rubber mask with only my nostrils free. Then, the aesthetician massaged my décolletage to promote lymphatic drainage. My boobs were once again invited to the party.
After leaving Chaum, I headed to dinner with some friends sans makeup and felt great about it. My friend repeatedly told me how glowy my skin looked, not knowing I'd just gotten a facial.
4. Clay Snake
The day prior to leaving Seoul, I stopped by Yeo Yong Guk, a traditional Korean medicine spa. All treatments are based on your results of an O test. The herbalist puts a set of unmarked essential oil vials in front of you. Next, she directs you to touch certain ones with one hand, and with the other, you press your thumb and index finger together with as much pressure as you can. Then, she tried to separate your fingers. If they do, the oil doesn't work with your body. If she can't part them, then the oil is compatible with your body. I have no idea which ones were right for me, but the test determined which oils were used during my facial and the tools used, as well as my sasang constitutional type. Supposedly, I'm a So-Yang, which means I'm creative and emotional (correct) and should avoid chicken, ginger, and citrus because I have weak kidneys.
Once in the treatment room, my face was cleansed several times. Then, the aesthetician methodically poked every single part of my face and abdomen with a snake made out of clay to help with circulation. It seemed to have a snaggle tooth, so I flinched every time she stabbed my skin with it. Every time I explain this facial to my friends, I feel like I'm making it up. One of them even thought I was referring to a real, live, breathing snake covered in clay the whole time I was recounting the experience to her and was terrified — not of my face being poked with an actual snake's fangs but of how hygienic the unconventional treatment would be. No snakes were harmed during this facial, though.
The most relaxing part of the treatment was a mud mask. The aesthetican covered my face with gauze before completely covering my face and neck with the mask. She kept it on for 15 minutes while — you guessed it — massaged my boobs.
Afterward, my tour guide for the day said my skin looked better than it did with BB cream, which I had on before the facial. I will admit that I did break out a couple of days later, but after a week, my skin has looked the best its look since, probably, the day I was born.
Devon's trip to Seoul was made possible by the Korean Tourism Organization.
Read more about Korean beauty:
- I Tried Allure Korea Editors' Favorite Foundation, and It's Actually Amazing
- The Cherry Blossom Hair-Color Trend Is Everywhere in Korea Right Now
- These Are the Biggest Makeup Trends in South Korea in 2019
Now, watch Tiffany Young try nine things she's never done before:
Originally Appeared on Allure