Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

Spas in South Korea February 17, 2014

Filed under: beauty,Spa Services — askanesthetician @ 7:30 am
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Or Why I Desperately Want to Visit South Korea Very Soon

Many of the spa's 22 baths and pools are located outdoors, including this saltwater foot bath and wading pool.

Please allow me to once again indulge my Korean beauty obsession.  I hadn’t been planning on writing another post about Korean skincare or beauty but after reading The New York Times article A Look at Korea’s Culture From the Bathhouse I felt compelled to write yet again about Korea and their beauty culture.  (As sometimes happily happens reading one article takes you to another related article or an interesting website so I’ll be sharing those links here as well.)  Previously I’ve written about Beauty in South Korea and my personal experiences trying a few different Korean skincare products (Korean Skincare Products: Tested).

I actually had an opportunity to go to a Korean spa (or Americanized version of a Korean spa) before moving back to Israel about a year and a half ago.  A branch of King Spa and Sauna opened not so far from my suburban Chicago home before I moved.  I really cannot come up with a good excuse why I never went since the admission is quite reasonable, it is open 24 hours 7 days a week, and a friend even recommended it to me. My loss to say the least.  Now I can only dream of hanging out in the salt room or the base rock room at this spa.  At least I now know one thing I will be doing the next time I visit Chicago (besides eating at my all time favorite restaurant) unless somehow I make it to South Korea first.

Anyhow, before I really digress any further lets talk about Korean spa culture.  The origin and the modern evolution of the Korean bathhouse is very interesting:

When South Koreans evoke the good life, they talk of a “warm back and full stomach.”

Nowhere has the Korean longing to lie on a heated floor (a feature of traditional houses) and eat one’s fill found fuller expression than in the jjimjilbang, the 24-hours-a-day public bathhouse.

But calling the jjimjilbang a bathhouse hardly begins to describe its attractions. …

The jjimjilbang is modeled on the public bathhouses that were popularized early last century by the country’s Japanese occupiers but eventually fell out of favor when showers became a standard feature of Korean homes. In their modern incarnation, the bathhouses are a reflection of South Korea’s relatively newfound wealth, but also a way to satisfy nostalgia.  …

The first public bathhouse was built here in 1925, mostly to cater to Japanese colonialists, but the institution quickly became part of Korean social life. Most urban neighborhoods had a bathhouse, as did small towns. Inside, patrons sat in or around large, sex-segregated baths filled with extremely hot water, gossiping and scooping water on themselves with gourds. Scrubbing other bathers’ backs, even strangers’, was common practice.

Many Korean adults share a childhood memory of being taken to public baths for no-nonsense, sometimes tears-inducing scrubs by their mothers. The bathhouses began adding amenities in recent decades as more people bathed at home. Those included steam rooms and professional body scrubbers, barbershops and hair salons, and communal sleeping rooms, where harried business people — often expected to work long hours and stay out late drinking with colleagues — could come during the day for a nap on a heated floor.

By the late 1990s, many bathhouses had turned into true recreation complexes, and going to one became as much a part of Korean social life as going to the movies. In 2006, there were more than 13,000 in the country, more than 2,500 of them in Seoul. Some can accommodate thousands of people. …

Some jjimjilbang have karaoke rooms, concert halls, swimming pools, even indoor golf ranges, as well as cafeterias and rooms to watch videos.

But a jjimjilbang’s reputation owes much to its saunas.

Some feature heated huts suffused with the aroma of mugwort (important in traditional medicine). Sometimes the walls are studded with jade and amethyst, which many Koreans believe emit healing rays when heated.

(From For All Kinds of Good, Clean Fun Koreans Turn to Bathhouses from The New York Times)

(This is not a political blog is any way, except for my occasional rant about letting everyone define for themselves their own idea of beauty, but I did find it interesting that the Japanese occupation of Korea produced such a positive, lasting effect on Korean culture in the form of bathhouses.  If you know nothing of the history mentioned above see this for more information.)

Unlike American spas which are seen as an indulgence, a special treat, Korean spas or bathhouses are meant for the entire family and as a place to spend the day.  Women (and men) in Korean follow a much more elaborate skincare routines than their American counterparts making skincare and body care a top priority for a large part of the population.  Since many young people live with their parents bathhouses are a place where young couples can spend quality time together outside the confines of their homes.  So if you are a Westerner forget everything you know about spa culture and open yourself up to a new idea of how to spend your day off.

Need more proof?  Frances Cha wrote about her day at a Korean bathhouse for CNN:

Visitors change into cotton shirts and pants handed out at reception. Then they head to communal areas.

There’s a tarot card reading station set up near the entrance, but most people beeline past this and head straight for the outdoor foot bath area.

Here there’s a large heated pool for wading back and forth, as well as private booths where couples often play games on their phones while perched precariously above pools of water.

Theme rooms

Spa Land has dreamed up a variety of themes for its many steam and sauna rooms.

These range from extremely hot (I couldn’t enter this one without yelping in pain) to extremely cold (the Ice Room has a cute, fake jellyfish aquarium) to the gimmicky.

How gimmicky?

The walls of the pyramid room are set at a 52-degree angle, “which has been said to be the easiest angle to collect energies from the universe,” according to the spa.

The SEV room “radiates electrons from SEV” meant to “metabolize your body rapidly.”

The theme rooms are fun to take pictures in.

The downstairs snack bar serves bingsu (a beloved Korean shaved ice dessert) and various vinegar drinks said to be good for the skin.

Customers can take the snacks and eat them all around the bathhouse.

Upstairs there’s a restaurant and cafe run by chefs from the Westin Chosun Hotel.

Alcohol consumption is limited to 500 ml per person, to prevent sauna accidents and overly rambunctious parties from disrupting the austere atmosphere.

Bath time

My favorite spot in the spa is the outdoor rock pool in the women-only bathing area.

I soaked under its sodium bicarbonate waterfall for a good 20 minutes before my appointment with the seshin ajumma (scrub ladies) in the scrub room.

For 25 minutes I beached myself on a plastic slab, and gave myself over to the capable hands of a professional scrubber.

Clad in black bras and panties (standard scrub uniform), she scoured my entire body with two loofahs.

“Young ladies are the most sensitive,” she said in an amused voice when I squeaked a little. “The older ladies always ask for the hardest pressure.”

I emerged red and raw, but wonderfully clean.

It was the best extra ₩20,000 ($18) I’ve ever spent in spa.

(From Korea’s Most Outrageous Sauna: Spa Land Centum City)

Back to The New York Times article  mentioned at the beginning of this post, the article does touch on the “darker” side of Korean beauty culture – conformity.  This takes the of form of plastic surgery, pressure to weigh a certain amount, and a strong need to try to achieve “perfection” as defined by the prevailing culture.  I guess it is always important to remember what an outsider may see as interesting and even “exotic” (I hate that word but sometimes there isn’t a better one to use) is actually a burden for those who are a part of that culture or country you are just visiting.

Bottom Line:  Despite the fact that I am now more aware of the conformity in Korea when it comes to beauty, and that does not sit well with me, I am still very intrigued by Korean bathhouse culture and Korean skincare practices and products. Since I am  “indulging” in Korean culture from afar I can pick and choose the aspects of Korean culture that I want to explore and experience making it easier for me to enjoy the best aspects of that culture.  Perhaps one day I’ll finally make it to South Korea or just visit a Korean bathhouse the next time I am in Chicago.

The original New York Times article that prompted this post lead me to discover two really interesting websites for information about Korea:

  • If I do make it South Korean for a visit I will be sure to read this entire website before going: Seoulist.
  • For reviews of Korean skincare and make-up I’ll be checking out this website: Lady Fox Make-up Blog

Photo from cnn.com

 

Beauty in South Korea October 1, 2012

Sometimes I think that this post should really be called “the post that keeps on giving”.  After having the initial idea to write this post I started researching the idea and found numerous references and blogs to help me with the post.  But then even when I wasn’t researching this post I would keep seeing information online that related to the post like Allure‘s blog post The Top Skin-Care Consumers Are … Korean Men? or New Beauty‘s Korean Exfoliation That Can Be Had At Home post.  Beauty is big business in Korea, and it is time that the rest of world really paid attention.

I became interested in the beauty industry in South Korea when I read the following in Marie Claire magazine:

“Ninety percent of the skincare products I use are imported from South Korea. They’re about 12 years ahead of the States in terms of technology,” says Mary Schook, the beauty guru and New York-based owner of M.S. Apothecary. In the skincare world, South Korea has become the new France. It’s outpacing other countries in beauty innovation faster than you can say “glycolic peel” (which in Asia is totally démodé, by the way).

“Koreans aren’t about stripping the skin until it looks like something you want to ice skate on. They’re into nurturing it,” says Schook, who also introduced eyelash extensions (yup, a South Korean invention) to New York almost a decade ago. She’s like our Christopher Columbus to Korea’s New World.

For the past decade, South Korea has been a buzzed-about secret among beauty diehards. “It’s so funny that Americans are only now getting wind of it,” says Sang A Im-Propp, a Seoul-born, Manhattan-based handbag designer who has modeled in ad campaigns for AmorePacific, a popular Korean cosmetics brand. (She swears by the Time Response Skin Renewal Crème.) But the secret’s out.

Korea’s skincare boom goes back to its famous beauty regimens, which, for the average Korean woman, includes roughly 18 products per day. Dr. Seung Yoon Celine Lee, a dermatologist based in Seoul, attributes the obsession with flawless skin to royal aspirations. “Bright skin meant that you came from a noble family. The concept carries on,” she explains.

“The demand for whitening helped create new technology treatments, such as lasers and photo facials,” adds Dr. Susanne Bennett, a Korean-American holistic doctor who lives in California and specializes in antiaging skincare. (Lee points out that laser treatments in Korea are so omnipresent, they now cost 80 percent less than they do in the U.S.)

(Read more: Korean Skincare and Beauty Products – South Korean Perfect Skin Beauty Secrets – Marie Claire)

This little article really got me interested in the beauty industry in South Korea so I kept searching for more information.  I learned the following from the website Cosmetic Business in the article South Korea – Riding the Korea Wave:

In common with other Asian nations, demand for perfumes and make-up is low. Skin care is the dominant category, particularly with regard to moisturising and whitening products. However, South Korea’s skin care market has its own idiosyncrasies. The current trends are for BB creams (sparked by the surgery creams pioneered in Germany, which are currently hugely popular amongst Koreans as foundation) and organic and/or herbal ingredients.

There is considerable brand variety in South Korea. For example, Amorepacific offers ten lines, while L’Oréal offers 14 of its 33 global brands. South Korea’s most popular brand is Amorepacific’s Sulhwasoo. Launched in 1997, it is a premium skin care brand whose ingredients include ginseng, a herb that Amorepacific pioneered as a cosmetics ingredient 35 years ago. Sulhwasoo includes skin care foundation but no other make-up.

“Asians believe that clean, clear skin reflects beauty, rather than colourful make-up. Maybe the high penetration rate of high definition TV helps,” says Lee [Seon-joo of Amorepacific’s investor relations department]. “We use natural, organic and herbal medical ingredients, such as ginseng, green tea and bamboo extract for our skin care products. We always try to find something that differentiates.”

Other sub-categories are catching on. “UV protection is very strong, anti-ageing is very strong,” says the foreign company executive. “In the past, Korean men did not have a skin care routine. They rarely even used aftershave. Now they use skin care – toners, lotions, essence and even eye cream. Men’s products are soaring.”

Amorepacific, which offers men’s lines for most of its brands, including Sulhwasoo, Hera and Laneige, launched a hair loss shampoo last year and is working on a range of specialised functions. “We are trying to upgrade our brand with more functional products,” Lee adds. “This trend is hot in the market right now and will get bigger in coming years. The functional shampoo category is growing strongly.”

Something else that fascinates me about the beauty industry in South Korea is how skincare has been embraced by men there.  According to a report by CBS NewsMakeup Grows In Popularity Among Men in South Korea –  South Korea has become the male make-up capital of the world.  (For some counter perspective on this fact check out this article in The New York Times about how American men are embracing the use of eye creams, yet hide their use of these creams.  It should also be noted that American men are starting to use cosmetics to enhance their appearance but the trend is nowhere near what is happening in South Korea)  According to the CBS report:

South Korean men spent $495.5 million on skincare last year, accounting for nearly 21 percent of global sales, according to global market research firm Euromonitor International. That makes it the largest market for men’s skincare in the world, even though there are only about 19 million men in South Korea. Amorepacific, South Korea’s biggest cosmetics company, estimates the total sales of men’s cosmetics in South Korea this year will be more than $885 million.

The metamorphosis of South Korean men from macho to makeup over the last decade or so can be partly explained by fierce competition for jobs, advancement and romance in a society where, as a popular catchphrase puts it, “appearance is power.” Women also have a growing expectation that men will take the time and effort to pamper their skin.

Evidence of this new direction in South Korean masculinity is easy to find. In a crowded Seoul cafe, a young woman takes some lipstick out of her purse and casually applies it to her male companion’s lips as they talk. At an upscale apartment building, a male security guard watches the lobby from behind a layer of makeup. Korean Air holds once-a-year makeup classes for male flight attendants.

While U.S. cosmetics companies report growing sales in male cosmetics, American men are often wary of makeup. “Men Wearing Makeup a Disturbing Trend” was how American columnist Jim Shea titled a recent post.

In South Korea, however, effeminate male beauty is “a marker of social success,” according to Roald Maliangkay, head of Korean studies at Australian National University.

Amorepacific Corp. offers 17 men’s brands, with dozens of products to choose from, and operates two Manstudio stores in Seoul that are devoted to men’s skincare and makeup.

South Korean men are barraged daily with messages in popular media suggesting that flawless skin is a crucial part of any plan to get ahead at work and romance.

“In this society, people’s first impressions are very important. A man’s skin is a big part of that impression, so I take care of my skin,” said Kim Deuk-ryong, a 20-year-old student.

It wasn’t always this way. The ideal South Korean man used to be rough and tough.

Things began to change in the late 1990s, when the South Korean government relaxed a ban on Japanese cultural goods, exposing South Koreans to different ideas on male beauty, including popular comics featuring pretty, effeminate men.

James Turnbull, a writer and lecturer on Korean feminism, sexuality and popular culture, said the economic crisis that hit South Korea in 1997 and 1998 also played a role in shifting thinking. Struggling companies often fired their female employees first, angering women who had already seen their push for equal rights take a backseat to protest movements against Japanese colonizers and the autocratic governments that followed.

“The times were ripe for a sea-change in the popular images of men in the media,” Turnbull said. Women, as a result, began questioning the kinds of men society told them they should find attractive.

In 2002, large numbers were attracted to a hero of South Korea’s World Cup soccer team, Ahn Jung-hwan, who became a leading member of the so-called “flower men” – a group of exceptionally good-looking, smooth-skinned, fashionable sports stars and celebrities who found great success selling male cosmetics. Men everywhere began striving to look like them, with the encouragement of the women around them, and a trend was born.

A decade later, ads featuring handsome, heavily made-up male celebrities are an unavoidable part of the urban scenery.

Personally, as I already stated, I find the beauty industry in South Korea fascinating.  As a matter of fact I thought it would be great fun one day to take a “beauty vacation” to South Korea to explore products and procedures up close.  Anyone want to join me?

Further Reading:

As I explained at the beginning of this post I found lots of information about the beauty industry in South Korea while researching this post online.  Here are some of the more interesting things I found:

       Skincare Tips:

       Shopping for Beauty and Skincare Products in South Korea

        Korean Skincare and Beauty Brands to Check Out

        Learn about Korean Spa Culture

        Related Articles

Image from ourvanity.com

 

 
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