How a white boy like me got into Korean beauty|
“What’s a nice Jewish boy doing in a place like this?”
It’s 11 AM on a Saturday morning and I’m walking into Wii Spa, a traditional Korean Spa in Los Angeles, for the first time. I’m a little nervous but just read the chapter on Korean spas in my skincare bible, The Little Book of Skincare, by Soko Glam’s co-founder, Charlotte Cho, so I’m feeling pretty confident. I get inside, check-in and head to the locker room when the realization that I’m about to spend the next few hours walking around, ass-naked, sinks in.
I take a deep breath, strip, do a quick pep talk, and walk into the steamy chamber of showers, baths, spas, and saunas.
This spa is the real deal and you are required to enter naked. I’m very comfortable with my body, but I don’t usually leisurely stroll around naked unless in private. I start to put on the provided t-shirt and shorts and realize that will make me stand out more in a room of naked men. I come to the conclusion that I need to suck it up and charge it. I take a deep breath, strip, do a quick pep talk, and walk into the steamy chamber of showers, baths, spas, and saunas. I join a group of middle-aged Korean and European men in the massive jacuzzi pool, anxiously waiting for my name to be called for my traditional Korean body scrub.
Soon enough, I hear my name and I’m trudging to the other side of the room to meet a Korean man who ushers me onto what appears to be a wet, plastic-covered massage table – in plain view of every person in room. In case you aren’t familiar with a traditional Korean body scrub, let me break it down for you: you get on the table face down, a bucket of water is dumped on you, and you are scrubbed head-to-toe. The process is repeated on the front side of your body, followed by a neck massage, shampoo, and final rinse. I feel awkward at first but as soon as the treatment begins I’m able to find a relaxing space in my head. I realize that this is normal, I’m the one freaking out, and I need to feel more comfortable.
I feel my body being intensely scrubbed from head-to-toe, no spot left untouched. Water is poured on top of me with a hose, like I’m cattle or livestock, to rinse off the copious amounts of dead skin being sloughed away by this man’s exfoliating mittens. The sensation is slightly uncomfortable, painful at times, but as I see these literal balls of dead skin falling off the table it feels oddly satisfying. All the spots I can’t reach alone are covered and suddenly the process just feels rhythmic and oddly normal.
While I feel slightly violated as my legs are pulled open and my inner thighs targeted, I quickly get over it realizing these men do this treatment all day long. I flip over, the process is repeated on the front of my body, and soon enough, it’s over. I get off the table, a little dazed, and go to rinse off in the shower. As I lather up, I gasp in amazement – my skin is as smooth as a newborn baby and I am positively glowing. I leave the spa for the day a few hours later and start going once a month – I’m hooked. You might ask yourself, “what’s a nice white Jewish boy doing in a place like this?” When you become a full K-Beauty convert like I have, you’ll understand – until then, I’ll do my best to guide you.
It all started when I read an article in 2015 on Man Repeller about sheet masks and was referred to a curated web store called SokoGlam. I bought my first sheet mask from them (still my favorite one to this day, Manefit Bling Bling Hydrogel Mask) and was hooked. I loved putting on a mask, taking a creepy selfie, and then reading all the “WTF?!” comments that followed. My friends thought I was being “extra,” but little did they know they would soon be asking me for help.
Now, I know a lot about skin but this Korean beauty information was all new to me. I started to actively read The Klog, a blog on SokoGlam that was started by Charlotte, herself. I eventually purchased an eye cream, then a gentle face wash, and quickly became fascinated with the Korean 10-Step Skincare Routine. The regimen seemed intensive yet completely practical, so I wanted to give it a try. I’ve always had good skin and wasn’t ready to invest in a whole new line of products. I ended up winning an Instagram giveaway through SokoGlam and the transformation into a full K-Beauty convert began.
I was skin-obsessed and took it to the next level.
Charlotte released her book around this time, The Little Book of Skincare, which gave me so much insight into Korean beauty culture for both men and women. I was hooked and watched my skin change from good, to glowing. I was used to receiving compliments on my complexion, but when they became almost daily, I knew I was on to something. Every product is like a light layer, all adding up to a final result of soft, clear, hydrated skin. It reminded of painting with watercolors or using Adobe Photoshop – it all started to make a lot of sense to me. My instinct told me to stick with it and sure enough, in early 2016 I started to see displays in Sephora that said “Trending: K-Beauty.”
I take pride when my friends working there now squeal “Chok chok!”
I began to explore more products and treatments from overnight sleep treatments, spot acne masks, and serums made using ingredients such as real diamond powder. I was skin-obsessed and took it to the next level. I went out on a mission to buy a cute desktop humidifier for my office. I started to frequent K-Town and discovered my favorite skincare shop where I proceeded to befriend the entire staff. I take pride when my friends working there now squeal “Chok chok!” when they see me (basically a Korean saying for clear, dewy skin).
The products and techniques work and my skin is living proof of that! My fixation has extended past beauty and into popular Korean culture – I’m addicted to kimchee, in love with Korean street fashion, and have a deep love for CL and (some) K-Pop. So much of the beauty culture makes complete sense to me which is why I continue to follow it. It also spoke to me on a personal level as the culture is geared to both men and women, so there was never any feeling of exclusion or awkwardness when discussing my skin issues.
With all of this going on in my life, my friends and family were bewildered with my latest obsession. I work in fashion so they’re used to my eccentric and eclectic interests, inspirations, and looks, but this was another level they hadn’t really experienced from me. There was teasing, telling me I look “hydrated” with a running commentary on my fair complexion.
By nature, I’m already very pale but have now become as fair as I’ve ever been. My skin is glowing and has a dewy sheen at all times, a direct result of the products I use. The teasing still goes on but I’ve converted at least 10 different individuals to the regimen and every single person comes back to me (even after the first 2-days) in disbelief of how amazing their skin feels. It works! If I didn’t believe in it, I wouldn’t be so passionate about it. To this day, I still receive a daily text or direct message from a friend or acquaintance asking me what they should buy off SokoGlam or if this $15 hydrogel mask is really worth it. My Korean friends love that I’m so into it and are always impressed when I tell them my newest KBeauty discoveries.
Most importantly, K-Beauty has taught me the art of self-care and self-love: I look forward to the end of the day when I take an extra few minutes to check in with myself and my body. It’s a beautiful experience that has shown me how to care for myself as a grown man. These days, I’ve created my own step-by-step regimen, incorporating all that I’ve learned from my Korean skincare education.
I think that my greatest takeaway personally has been the Korean Double Cleanse – first step clean with oil cleanser, second step clean with a water-based cleanser. That and sheet masks of course! While my K-Beauty journey is far from over, my ultimate dream would be a trip to Seoul. I can only fathom how much self-control I would be forced to exercise on an adventure like that! Until then, you can find me haunting the beauty aisles of K-Town or soaking at Wi Spa. Annyeong!