If 2017 already has you feeling stressed AF, know that you’re not alone. Some bad news—this state of emotional tension is probably screwing you over, clearing the way for everything from headaches to cancer (thanks WebMD). Some good news—there is something you can do about it, other than going feral and leaving the modern world behind in favor of a cabin in the woods.
While the specific health benefits of spas are highly touted but generally unproven, one thing is for sure, taking time out from a busy schedule never hurt anyone. Think of it as a mental cleansing of the slate before your next big adventure. And with budget friendly Korean spas gaining popularity stateside, you won’t even have to break the bank to do it. Los Angeles, New York and New Jersey are just a few Korean spa hot spots. (Heck, Los Angeles’ Wi Spa is so popular it’s rumored that Hollywood types often use it as a defacto clubhouse). But chances are more are on the way.
Want to join the chill set? We’ve run down what to expect at your first spa visit.
Most obvious benefit first: entry at Korean spas are generally cheaper than their western counterpoints. (In Los Angeles entry fees run between $20-$40, although there’s usually some kind of Groupon deal going down). Many of them even run 24 hours a day, so for a small extra overnight fee you could really get your money’s worth and just never leave. If you’re there late at night you’ll probably see a few wise souls using the facilities in lieu of a hotel room.
This is probably the biggest worry of first time Korean Spa attendees. While high school gym-like uniforms are issued for the coed areas, the gender segregated saunas and tubs are strictly no-clothes affairs. Sure it can be awkward at first, but think of it as a chance to embrace body positivity. Cover yourself with a robe or towel if you must, but remember: if the older woman in the corner shower scrubbing every inch of herself is completely unbothered by the situation, why should you be? Besides, there are more vulnerable positions to be in than laughing in the hot tub with a few friends.
… Which brings us to treatments. Most of them take place in a single public room on plastic covered beds, which are regularly doused with buckets of warm water for both temperature control and sanitation (read: you will get wet, which is totally fine, because remember … you’re naked). Korean spas generally offer all the same treatments as their western counterparts, so facial, massage, scrub—pick your poison. Just keep in mind—masseuses believe in hard pressure. This is particularly true of the scrub, a Korean spa mainstay. Thigh, breast, wing—it doesn’t matter, everything will get vigorously worked over. Sure, it can be intimidating to see your skin come off in sheets that resemble pencil eraser shavings, but the glorious post-scrub glow will be more than worth it.
Cafes at Korean spas generally serve … you guessed it, Korean food. Everything tastes better with a pinch of salt, right? So load up on the delicious galbi (barbecue), kimchi (fermented cabbage) and bibimbap (rice and veggie hot pot). Don’t worry too much about the sodium—you’ll sweat it all out in the sauna anyway.
In the Korean culture there’s a hot room for pretty much anything that ails you. Got arthritis and in need of some stress relief? Try the jade sauna. Looking for respiratory purification? Head over to the salt sauna. Ready for heavy metal detoxification? Take a trip to the clay room. (For added heat, don’t forget to cover yourself in the tiny balls of clay that bring to mind some kind of adult Chuck E. Cheese attraction). Just make sure to hydrate and take it slowly—with a recommended 10-20 minutes per room and temperatures that top out at over 200 degrees Fahrenheit, sauna hopping is thirsty work.
Inspired by the tradition of the Korean bathhouse (you know, the place people bathed before running water at home was a thing), modern Korean spas are big on community. So throw on your shorts and T-shirt and hang out in the jimjilbang (aka the coed area). There you can grab a nap, catch up on your reading, watch some TV, check your email or hang out with your buddies between sauna trips. Who knows, you might even make a new friend.
Wi Spa, Los Angeles, California
New York Spa and Sauna, Queens, New York
Olympus Spa, Lynwood, Washington
Juvenex, Koreatown, New York
Spa Palace, Los Angeles, California
Laura Studarus is a Los Angeles-based writer. Sometimes she can go several hours without a cup of tea.