International Beauty Report: Bathhouse Love Affair

Korean women have some of the most beautiful skin I’ve seen along my travels to 40 of the world’s countries. Sure this Asian nation is known for off-the-wall products and intensive beauty rituals, but I can’t help wondering if the simple sauna has something to do with all the soft and glowing skin I’ve seen here.

‘Jimjilbang’ means ‘bathhouse’ in Korean, and for more than a thousand years they have been gathering places where steaming saunas, invigorating pools and waterfalls create a blissful world of water. After taking a dip, you can relax in one of the traditional charcoal heated saunas, or get your new age groove on in the jewel rooms where walls of jade and amethyst are said to emit healing rays.

Since living in this beauty-obsessed nation, I’ve discovered there’s nothing like languishing in a Korean bathhouse for hours on end, soaking in the hot pools, steaming to a pulp in the scented saunas and when my fingers start to prune, being scrubbed to a fine sheen by the industrious old women known as ‘ajjumas’ (Korean for ‘Grandmother’).

The most luxurious of these bathing paradises that I know of is found in the suburbs of Seoul. Dragon Hill Spa had me oohing and aahing around every corner, as I discovered the outdoor pool, rooftop restaurant, and giant pyramid shaped saunas proclaiming “training of the mind” and filled with surprisingly passable hieroglyphics. Hot rooms filled with burning coals and cold rooms containing full sized snowmen offered respite from the bustle of Seoul, while cascading fountains and waterfalls wash away the stress of everyday life. Overwhelmed by work? Head to the jimjilbang. Feeling under the weather after a raucous night out? Jimjilbang. Stubbed your toe? You guessed it. 

I’ll use any reason as an excuse to soak away the afternoon, and who knows? If I soak long enough maybe my skin will start looking as supple and glistening as my bodacious Korean sisters. 

Want to try in out but can’t afford to jet over to Seoul? San Francisco’s Imperial Sauna is the closest you’ll get to a Korean style bathhouse in the Bay Area.