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  • Writer's pictureCarol Anne Mills

What is a Jjimjilbang? And what to Expect...

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

Living in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, we get to experience a vast amount of different cultures, their customs and traditions. One in particular I've come to enjoy is going to a Jjimjilbang (pronounced "J-jim-jil-bang") also known as the Korean Spa.


As someone who loves to travel, I have thoroughly enjoyed spas throughout the world. I've visited indoor water spas in Germany getting a massage with nothing covering me but heat lamps, been scrubbed with ground-up cocoa beans around my pregnant belly in Mexico and soaked in clay baths in Calistoga. I frequent Glenn Ivy hot springs where I coat my body in red dirt mud while basking in the sun for hours. As a fan of natural hot springs in general throughout the west coast, I sometimes have had to hike 15 miles to get to the naturally volcano heated water baths at times-even surrounded in snow and ice. I've also been an annual pass holder to Burke Williams (a swankier upper class spa) and was 'forced' to visit on a monthly basis, as well other various spas throughout Mexico and U.S. I even participated in an Native American Sweat Lodge once (this was my least favorite) as I had to wear a long dress that covered my ankles, not be menstruating and a few other heinous rules that made no sense (which is not fun for someone who is not a fan of absurd rules). I have done colonics and various other Eastern medicine body services, so I think I might be able to refer to myself as someone who is quite proficient when it comes to body treatments and indulgences.


Here in Torrance, California, my friend Deanna and I went to the Riviera Health Spa. We have gone many times but this is the service we choose today to give a sample of what Is offered. I can proudly say that the Jjimjilbang aka Korean Spa really leaves no stone left unturned. It truly is a FULL body treatment.


I prefer to work out before going to the spa. I really like to get my pores opened up and pouring out sweat to help release toxins. If I had had more time I would have taken a shower before the gym and self scrubbed with sea salt or sugar to open my pores even more. I checked in, put my shoes in my shoe locker and found my clothing locker identified by the electronic wristband. I took a quick shower and brushed my teeth (toiletries all provided by the spa). I put on the atrocious uniform. I refer to it as the "Orange is the New Black" uniform as it really does look like something you might find in a women's prison (not that I'd really know).


I always bring an insulated stainless steel water bottle filled with filtered water and ice as you will need to be consuming lots and I like my water cold and available (like my men). They have water throughout the facility but offer disposable 1 drink cups that are quite wasteful. Plus I like to bring my water around with me. I also bring a mask for my hair and face that I quickly apply. Then it's off to the saunas (included in the price of the treatment) which is in the co-ed part of the facility.


First the Himalayan Salt Sauna, this is my favorite sauna. The walls, ceiling and floors are covered with this 50 million year old salt containing calcium, magnesium, iron, sodium, and selenium. The salt helps clean your pores. We like to lay about with our heads on the wooden pillows, pour the hot salt rocks across our tummies and whisper into each other's ears the trials and tribulations we may be experiencing at the moment. We try to stay in each sauna for at least 15-20 minutes while alternating between the cold sauna.


Second is the Jade sauna. This sauna smells sweet to me. The walls and ceilings are adorned with different color decorative jade stones. They claim that it helps lower cerebral temperature and works as a massage for the brain. The sodium and minerals contained in the walls help balance hormones and therefore is a main attraction for us chicks.


And lastly we like the clay sauna. The ceilings, walls and floor are made of clay which they claim is 'living' material that will help detoxify the body. Clay apparently helps diabetes as well (who knew?). This room had at one time too, a gigantic pit of what looked like Cocoa Puffs/Clay balls that was truly lovely to lay in and throw the hot balls about your bod. But it was virtually impossible to get out of and I sometimes found the clay balls in pockets and orifices as I was about my way. At some point, they went away with this lovely pit. Not sure why. Perhaps the mess?


Then it's off to the tubs in the separate women/mens areas (also included in the price of the treatment). We take off our sweaty duds like a prom dress after midnight and we meander about naked as a jaybird amongst the wet area. Clothing is NOT optional in this area and there are all body types - big and small, young and old in an array of colors. First the shower and then we alternate between the hot, cold and hotter hot tubs. The steam room is in this area as well as a traditional sauna with lava rocks. I tote around my eucalyptus spray for an added experience.


At some point our number is called in a strong Korean accent. It was our turn for the Honey Scrub Combo and so Deanna and I make our way to the treatment area. The attendants in the treatment area are wearing see-through bras and panties. We are asked to lie first face down then up as we are treated to a lovely feeling as our bodies are washed with delicious smelling sudsy soap. Then comes the scrub. Now if you have ever been bitch slapped, you will have an idea of what is involved. You are to lay on all four sides of your body as they scour every square inch with scratching scrubbing mitts. This process takes about 30 minutes and you are covered in what looks like eraser remnants. It actually really hurts (and I tell them to hurt me more as I want my money's worth). They are all business about this procedure. They spread your legs and get right up into your girl parts like you are a piece of fish they are cleaning for dinner. Periodically along the way they are constantly dumping bowls of hot water over you to keep you warm. Then they clean you up and send you off to shower off all the soap and skin while they clean and dry your table.


When you return and lie down, they dry you off and cover you with towels. They may climb up on your back and do some acupressure. And then....they drizzle you with hot honey all over your body and begin massaging you. We are not talking about a little bit of honey but rather a whole bottle of hot honey. The honey oozes around my curves while encasing me in it's protectant nectar. Keeping me warm while they caress and massage. At some point, you are flipped over and freshly grated cold cucumber is applied to your face and neck. You are then given a scalp massage with peppermint and eucalyptus oils too. Some attendants will apply those oils to your neck and shoulders too. Each attendant has their own specialty. Today, after removing the cucumber from my face, my attendant squeezed it all over my chest and then rubbed it in. Your back and neck are kept warm with hot towels. You just kind of go with it.


At some point they start washing and conditioning your hair while scrubbing your scalp. Such a delightful experience. When they are all done they squirt milky, oily water all over your body and hand you a bowl to splash upon your chest and face. I call this the "Money Shot". Then you are done. 75 minutes of pure indulgence. To wrap things up, we then go sit in the traditional dry sauna with the lava rocks for 10 minutes so the honey and oils can fully penetrate our skin.


So what does this cost? In this instance, we paid $95+tip for a 4 1/2 hour experience at the spa but we did drop into their onsite restaurant at some point to have some nosh. I opted for the tofu spicy soup with kimchi and other sides (extra).


Walking out the door, you feel so clean. Like "Never felt this kind of clean before". Normally when you leave a spa, your skin feels amazing. But when you leave a Jjimjilbang, your insides match your outsides which is the epitome of a pure healthy feeling. There must be some truth to those elements in the saunas working their magic on you.This is a complete body experience that I just have never received from an American spa before. There are at least 10 or more Jjimjilbangs in the Los Angeles area. I've been to only 2 of them but I will make an effort to visit all of them and provide my opinion going forward.


See you at the Jjimjilbang!


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