Joyesa Temple, Seoul, Korea, ©2020, Cyndie Burkhardt.

Hello K-Beauty

Hello K-Beauty 970 1024 Cyndie Burkhardt

Seoul is the beauty capitol of the world and the phenomena of K-beauty, or Korean beauty, is firmly entrenched. So, it was a no-brainer when I visited the city to seek a treatment in this mecca of spa services and products for my skin complaints and hang-ups.

Sunbathing like a job

Throughout my 20s and 30s I was a devotee of facials and I kept appointments every 5-6 weeks. I loved the way my skin looked and I considered this due diligence part of laying a foundation for anti-aging, a radiant complexion, and a healthy glow. Having grown up at the shore with a solid tanning regimen throughout my teens and long past college, I accumulated years of sun exposure. Over the years, I watched as my grandmother increasingly visited the dermatologist to remove yet another sunspot. He said they were from sunbathing back in the day. If she was seeing the affects decades later what was my fate?

Facials to the rescue
K-beauty, Seoul, Korea, ©2020, Cyndie Burkhardt.

Facials seemed like a good antidote, with their exfoliation and cleansing, concentrated moisturizing, and grown up products. But then I stopped because it all became too costly and aestheticians I’d seen for years moved on. I’d have to start fresh, auditioning spas and technicians and investing in new relationships for a skincare routine I took seriously. I didn’t have the time, energy, or cash to start over.

My personal care habits were also changing. Products that smelled good and worked well consisted of lots of chemicals to deliver those benefits but they didn’t fit into my need to detoxify my body. Sadly, they had to go.

All images ©2020, Cyndie Burkhardt.

I missed the exuberant feeling of hitting the spa on a Saturday after a hardcore workout and pampering myself with a clean, clear, healthy face. No longer did I have industry insiders to talk strategy with or show me the latest innovation. I remained diligent on my own but noticed the difference in my fatigued skin. Damn.

Retail therapy

Then facial sheet masks, which originated in South Korea, boomed and became all the rage. Olive Young, a retail outlet similar to Sephora, is exploding with them and in case you forgot something there are more Olive Youngs than Starbucks—one every few blocks. Stacks of masks are overwhelming—so many brands, variations, and promises. I asked my new friend Jieun for a recommendation and she walked right over to Mediheal, where she helped me select a small stash.

Hanbang

K-beauty is a buzzword at home in the U.S. and I only knew it as a developing trend. Curious to navigate the skincare hub of Korea, I researched hanbang beauty. Hanbang is traditional Korean medicine that uses extensive herbs and particular techniques for holistic health. Hanbang skincare takes the same approach and seeks to maximize plant compounds to nourish skin for a beautiful and healthy complexion.

That really resonated with me, but how to choose a spa? I found The History of Whoo, a Korean heritage brand commissioned by the Korean government to create premium skincare that embodies the country’s cultural heritage and royalty. Triumph! Later I learned that the brand’s products are used as South Korea’s diplomatic gifts. I was in.

Whoo

A friendly young woman opened Whoo’s front door and greeted me with a smile. The minute I entered it felt like I was home. The staff probably wondered why I was grinning first thing in the morning. A hostess set me up with Korean green tea and a consultant discussed my facial concerns. Inside the treatment room a warm bed waited for me and the aesthetician explained each product. A few minutes into the facial thigh-high plastic leggings were slipped onto each of my legs. Once plugged in, they filled with air and pulsated, massaging my legs. Yes!! Like all good facials, this one included a robust shoulder and neck massage and finished with a thick moisturizing mask.

Back outside, the hostess presented me with another cup of tea and a traditional Korean pastry which I wolfed down before the consultant came over to review the aesthetician’s notes. She handed me several product samples and I walked out of there 10 feet taller, glowing.

Back in the game

My sun goddess days are long gone but forever loving the outdoors means conscientious skincare is a must for me, and not just my face. I know things like daily sunscreen, non-toxic products, and limiting exposure to direct sun can make a difference—along with getting a good night’s sleep, drinking lots of water, and eating healthy food. But one thing I enjoy has been missing.

Funny as it sounds, I’m crediting travel with reviving my interest in facials. It’s one of those unexpected delights that happens on the road—needing or wanting something and it shows up. Had I not chosen to visit Korea I’d be none the wiser. I can honestly say that experiencing K-beauty in its country of origin—through its royal cultural heritage no less—is getting me back in the game. Thank goodness for airplanes.

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