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A beginner's guide to visiting a Korean spa

What is a Korean spa?

A Korean spa, also known as a jjimjilbang, is a go-at-your own pace spa where guests can enjoy several types of dry and wet saunas, relaxing pools, Korean food and the usual amenities, like massages and skin treatments. They’re usually open for 24-hours and have wifi, but leave the laptop at home if you want to get the full experience.

How do you prepare?

Be sure to wear comfortable clothing - nothing is worse than shimmying into skinny jeans after a day of relaxing! If you’re a person that shaves, try to skip doing so the day before to avoid irritating your skin.For an extra luxe experience, bring a sheet mask (Boscia’s sake mask always leaves me glowing, but you can’t go wrong with Tony Moly) and some moisturizer, although some Korean spas prohibit oils or lotions. Bringing some reading material is also a good call if you’re hitting the saunas alone.

What happens when you get there?

When you arrive, you’re given a locker key and a set of slightly-hideous-but-comfortable drawstring shorts and a t-shirt. Head into your gender-segregated locker room, change into your new outfit and ditch your stuff before heading into the poultice rooms.

If you want to order a service like a scrub (which you should, but we’ll get to that later) you typically order it at the front desk or they’ll tell you how to book an appointment.

What is a poultice room?

Poultice rooms are a series of dry saunas, each with a special purpose. You bounce between the rooms as you please, but be sure to take a break in the cold room between hot saunas and drink some water! You’re welcome to stretch out in the emptier saunas, but most patrons stay fairly quiet. It’s not uncommon for people to pop on their skin masks here or after finishing up at the water level.

Although each facility varies, there are a few popular types of saunas that appear frequently and each have their own purported benefits:

Red clay ball room - Sink into a warm sea of marble-sized clay balls that massage your muscles! This is a good first stop for beginners.

Salt room - This room is on the hotter, but spas often claim it has skin purifying benefits.

Gem room - Even if you’re not into the whole crystal healing thing, this is usually the prettiest room.

Clay room - This is typically the hottest room, but your muscles feel unbelievably loose after a visit.

Don’t be intimidated by the temperature - you can leave whenever the heat is too intense and recover with some delicious Korean food.

There’s FOOD?!

Yes! In the poultice room, there’s usually a built-in restaurant with authentic Korean cuisine. Be sure to leave your wallet in your locker though - you charge things to your account using your locker key and pay your bill when you exit. I prefer to eat after finishing my time at the poultice room, but you do you.

Now what?

When you’re done with the poultice room, you head back to your locker, strip down to your birthday suit and head into the water level.

I have to get naked?

Yes! Unlike the poultice rooms, this portion is segregated by gender. However, you must be naked. It may seem intimidating at first, but it can be a deeply body positive and affirming experience to be around bodies of every shape, size and color in a way that isn’t sexualized or airbrushed. Plus, it’s hard to stay uncomfortable when everyone else is at ease.

What happens in the water level?

First off, you shower before trying out any of the facilities. There’s usually shampoo and conditioner on deck, so scrub up before heading into any of the saunas or the pools. The pools vary in temperature, and it’s common practice to jump from the hottest pool to the coldest for its alleged skin-tightening benefits. Mostly you sit around and relax - float around, check out the steam and infrared saunas and be sure to soak for at least 30 minutes if you decide to get a scrub.

Skin scrub 1-0-1

This is the real draw of visiting a Korean spa. You’re placed on a plastic-y table on the water level and an employee rinses you off and covers your eyes with a towel before using an exfoliating towel to buff down your body. Although the scrub can reach some more intimate areas, your discomfort will pass as grey-brown pellets of dead skin start to roll off your body. It may seem a little gross, but the whole process is usually less than half an hour and the results are unbelievable.

Even those with crocodile-like skin will walk away glowing after sloughing off layers of grime and dead skin that even daily exfoliation can’t budge. After my scrub, I personally like to throw on a heavy moisturizer or even olive oil and sit in the steam room to let it soak in.

On your way out…

Drink some water - scrubbing, massaging and steaming are all dehydrating activities. Then you put your clothes back on, head to the front desk, pay your tab and enjoy all the benefits of your trip to the Korean spa.

Here are a few local options if you're ready to take the plunge:

Spa World
13830 Braddock Rd. Ste A10Centreville, VA 20121


Sun's Day Spa

7031 Little River Tpke
Annandale, VA 22003


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