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.

Skin Food

Tomato, broccoli, olive, cucumber. Although it may sound like the fixings for a fresh and healthy salad, these are some of the ingredients that are responsible for the smooth and silky skin of Korean women. Walk down any high street in major South Korean cities and the ubiquitous beauty stores are all advertising “packs”—the Korean version of face mask sheets—made from ingredients good enough to eat.  

Despite the fact that the white cloth with the eye, nose and mouth hole cut outs has a slight resemblance to Jason in the horror movie Friday the 13th, the masks are infused with an array of wrinkle fighting, softening, brightening, moisturizing, clarifying or age defying benefits depending on the particular ingredient you choose. Perhaps it is because I’ll be turning 34 next week and the Korean girl helping me could hardly have been out of high school, she recommended a broccoli mask for it’s skin smoothing properties, i.e. to diminish my ever-increasing display of wrinkles.

The broccoli mask advertises hydration and a healthy glow. After smoothing the serum-infused mask to my face, I had to lie down to ensure it didn’t slip off. After the prescribed 10 to 15 minutes had passed, the mask peeled off easily. My skin was covered with a slight sheen (but not at all goopy), which rinsed off easily with water. I’m not sure if anything miraculous was achieved after one use, but I certainly can’t deny that my skin felt soft and supple and at a price point of less than $1, it’s definitely a beauty routine I could develop a taste for. 

Various Skin Food mask sheets are available on the Korean company’s American website, theskinfoodus.com.

CONTEST: Enter to win one of the three masks featured here. Just leave a comment below. Contest is open from Feb. 1-7.

International Beauty Report: Korean Peeling Foot Mask

Editor's note: every month writer Leslie Patrick will pen a monthly column called International Beauty Report, in which she shares beauty finds from across the globe.

Let’s face it—dry and scaly feet are hardly a topic anyone wants to confront, but it’s even less appealing to be the unfortunate owner of these appendages. Whether obtained by wearing ill-fitting shoes, dry weather or genetics, calloused tootsies are just not pretty. 

Koreans prize smooth and creamy skin above all other points of beauty, as scores of shops dedicated to the epidermis attest. And in this skin obsessed culture, the feet are certainly not left out. 

I lived in South Korea for two years, and it was in one of the myriad skin establishments there that I discovered a product that has since become the new BFF of my winter-dry feet: Nature Republic’s Foot & Nature Peeling Foot Mask

The mint green pouch contains a plastic packet of booties filled with a medley of mild acids that eat away at dead skin. Fortunately, there are directions in English. The booties must be worn for 90 minutes, aka the perfect amount of time to watch two episodes of Downton Abbey. Then remove the booties and rinse feet in cool water. 

For the first day, or two, nothing happened and I assumed the foot mask was a dud. Then suddenly, miraculously, on the third day, great swathes of skin began sloughing off in a very reptilian manner. It was quite alarming at first, but amazing to watch soft pink skin emerge from seriously calloused cocoons.   

Korea has given us K-Pop, Samsung and kimchi, but what I’m most grateful for is the Foot & Nature Peeling Foot Mask.

We're giving away three Korean Peeling Foot Masks. All you have to do is follow Leslie Patrick's blog, The Chic Adventurer, by Feb. 15. Sign up here to enter the contest.

Leslie Patrick is an international freelance journalist focused on travel, culture and lifestyle. Her work has been published in Salon, Marie Claire (UK and Australia editions), Travel + Leisure, Islands, Monocle and United Airlines’ Hemispheres Magazine among others. To read more about her travels, visit The Chic Adventurer