made in korea

These Korean Spa Mitts Scrub Me to Baby Softness

Yes, the Olympics are underway in Pyeongchang, and with all the feats of skill and speed and artistry on display in South Korea, now felt like an appropriate time to celebrate all of the delightful things that originated in the country. From miracle-working beauty products and addictive snacks to Ultra HD electronics and the world’s best dishwashing gloves. Welcome to Made in Korea week on the Strategist.

Within 48 hours of moving to Los Angeles 20-some-odd years ago, I’d already had six people talk my ear off about the city’s plethora of jjimjilbang — more commonly known as Korean spas. A good jjimjilbang is a wonderland where you can sit in multiple saunas, stew yourself in a hot tub of medicinal mugwort tea, take a catnap in a room with heated jade floors, and indulge in a myriad of stellar spa treatments. Some jjimjilbang are even open 24 hours a day. I once locked myself out of my apartment at 3 a.m. and had no idea what to do, so I flagged down a passing taxicab and went to the Korean spa to sleep until it was late enough to call my landlord.

The best treatment for your spa dollar at the jjimjilbang is the classic full-body Korean scrub (and I’m talking full body — you lay flat on a table, totally nude, and they scrub you from head to toe), which is traditionally performed using an inexpensive pair of brutally simplistic green scratchy rayon mitts, officially and inexplicably called “Korean Italy towel.” At the end of your treatment, you’re left with the skin of a soft, supple angel — and you’re also surrounded by tiny pills of dead, grey skin. It’s utterly disgusting and truly glorious at the same time.

I bought a pair of my own green scratchy mitts like the ones they use for this treatment immediately after my first visit all those years ago, hoping I could replicate the experience at home. I can’t seem to scrub my own bum with quite as much vigor as the spa attendants do, but I’ve still managed to slough off an impressive amount of dead skin and blackheads with them over the years. They work best when you let your skin soften in the shower a bit first, so wait at least five-ish minutes after hopping in to use them. They’re technically mittens, but are more like two squares sewn together. Fit them tightly over your hand (they shrink in the water) and use long strokes in a single direction — not circles — to tackle areas that need exfoliating.

The instructions say to use them for a scrubbing session with just warm water, but I use them at home the same way they do at the Korean spa: with plain old bar soap to scrub and clean at the same time. The instructions also say not to use them on your face, but I totally do — just don’t use quite as much elbow grease on your face cheeks as you would your other set of cheeks. And if you have chicken skin on the back of your arms or rough elbows, these cheap little green mitts are the heaven-sent solution. While my favorite spa attendant swears I should only be using mine at home once a week, I use them daily — I just don’t go as nuts as she does.

Very similar to the Korean mitts, in a more straightforwardly mitten form, these Turkish hammam gloves are also made of rayon, and writer Rachel Raczka sings their praises: “I didn’t notice clumps of dead skin washing away, but I did find that it created a sleeker-than-usual surface for shaving and soaking up moisturizer. It wasn’t until a few days of regular use that I noticed the bumps on my arms and legs had faded, and the rest of my bod appeared healthier and glowier from consistent use.”

Cure Natural Aqua Gel

During our Made in Japan week, writer Jinnie Lee told us about the Japanese exfoliator that gave her youthful, glowy skin — it became one of our bestsellers of 2017. Says Lee, “Ever since using it, my skin has felt softer, fresher, and even more youthful — never dried out or tight. My friends have started referring to me as ‘Babyface.’”

If you have callused, dry heels, you definitely need to try Baby Foot. Writer Molly Young calls it a podiatric miracle: “You insert your bare feet into the booties, tape them shut, and wait an hour. Then you remove the booties and rinse your feet. Nothing happens. A week later, your feet slough pieces of sliver-thin, leathery dead skin that range from the size of a Tic Tac to the size of a pita pocket. This continues for about 48 hours until your feet are reborn. The process does not hurt or itch. In fact, it feels wonderful. Your feet look like they’ve just received the world’s most expensive pedicure.”

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These Korean Spa Mitts Scrub Me to Baby Softness