While the Gangnam District may be ground zero in Seoul for plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures, there is another side of Korean beauty that is grounded in traditional medicine and wellness. Leaving the shock-value ingredients and fast beauty K-beauty trends behind, we took a dive into the more holistic side of the beauty scene with a list of some of the top spas, clinics, and wellness destinations in the South Korean capital.
Sulwhasoo Spa Flagship
Korean traditional herbal cosmetics brand Sulwhasoo is owned by AmorePacific. Architecture team Neri&Hu’s design of the space is grounded in the symbolic notion of lanterns in Asian culture—illuminating people’s travels, and also marking the beginning and end of a journey. Each of the five floors serves a specific function, together comprising an immersive experience in unveiling the Asian culture and tradition that underpins the Sulwhasoo brand. The design intent of identity, journey, and memory that grounded the project creates an experience that embodies the brand, engages the senses, and sets the bar for beauty retail.
If you don’t have time for a treatment and want to do more than shop the retail section, a 40-minute docent tour is available to learn more about the spa and brand but must be booked in advance.
Sulwhasoo Spa Flagship, 18 Dosan-daero 45-gil, Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea; +82 2-541-9270.
Yakdabang Bomdong Teahouse
This unique medical salon was founded by 16 traditional medical doctors to shatter the popular perception that traditional herbal medicines are bitter and taste like dirt. They have created a variety of teas and drinks to address various health needs. Customers choose from the menu, which lists six basic medicinal teas and 48 customized tea blends according to their current health condition or moods. While sipping the prescribed teas customers can have a consultation with a traditional medical doctor or soak tired feet in a relaxing aromatherapy foot bath.
Yakdabang Bomdong, 12-13, World Cup buk-ro 6-gil, Mapo-gu, Seoul
Pyunkang Oriental Medical Clinic
With a four-decade history, the clinic is one of three major Korean oriental medical clinics that specialize in skin treatments, such as sensitive skin and atopic dermatitis. Its philosophy is to promote healthy skin by restoring its ability to self-heal. More than 150,000 patients have been treated using systematic treatment principles. Dr. Seo Hyo-seok, the founder and head of the clinic, believes there are two key components to completely curing the body—one is understanding the cause of disease, and the other is strengthening the immune system.
Pyunkang-Hwan is the herbal medicine developed by Dr. Seo Hyo-seok, based on the oriental medicine principle that strength originates from the lungs.
Pyunkang Yul, the clinic’s skincare brand, is centered around two Korean medicinal roots; Hwangryun for normal to oily skin and Hwanggi for dry skin. The waterless formulas are a concentrated brew of traditional Korean remedies in a bottle.
Pyunkang Oriental Medical Clinic 5 Supyo-ro, Chungmuro 2(i)-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul, South; Korea; +82 2-757-1717
The Shangpree Spa started with one bed in 1990 and has grown to multiple locations with a global celebrity following and a reputation for having the best facials in Seoul. Founder Dr. Wol-Hee is well known in academic circles, holding a Ph.D. in cell biology and is often referred to as one of Korea’s top estheticians. Facialists at Shangpree undergo three years of training before taking any clients; they are trained in the philosophy of holistic therapies that get to the root cause of skin issues. Protocols integrate European advanced technology and Asian healing therapy. The spa is included in every K-beauty Seoul spa round-up for good reason—the services are the real deal, and their dry contouring techniques are memorable, transformative, and deserve the hype.
Shangpree Spa, 655-17 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea; +82 2-511-2951
Donginbi Spa 1899
The Korea Ginseng Corporation has been a leading expert in red ginseng since 1899, with a 120-year history cultivating the root and exporting the world’s finest red ginseng products under the brand name CheongKwanJang. Donginbi is the company’s prestige skincare brand, and the brand spa follows professional protocols with red ginseng as the star ingredient. Services are organized into Single Care, a facial, body, or foot-focused massage with antioxidant-rich red ginseng oil, Multi Care, targeting various needs for your face and body, and Full Care, treatments that cater to your body from head to toe.
Donginbi Spa 1899, Three locations in Daechi, Myeongdong, and Haeundae
Traditional Oriental Forest Land
Located in downtown Seoul, this traditional Korean sauna or jjimjilbang is heated by natural oak wood-fired heating. It looks like a forest in the middle of the city and offers saunas, baths, and a huge kiln full of firing charcoals where everyone gathers around and enjoys Korean snacks.
Traditional Oriental Forest Land, 51, Bongwon-Dong, Seodaemun-Gu, Seoul; +82 02-365-2700
You don’t need to leave Seoul to get some peace and quiet. Bongeunsa Temple, founded in AD 794, is located in the heart of Gangnam right across from the busy COEX Mall and Exhibition Center. The shrines and halls of the Buddhist temple are situated on a tree-filled hillside stand in direct juxtaposition to the corporate high-rises that surround it. Bongeunsa has one of the most popular templestay programs that range from a few hours to a couple of days.
Bongeunsa Temple, 531 Bongeunsa-ro, Samseong 1(il)-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea; +82 2-3218-4826
Chaum Life Center
Chaum Life Center is a diagnostic and wellness medical clinic that merges Western and Eastern medicine with an innovative approach to full-body diagnosis programs and offering customized healthcare programs to members and VIP foreign clients. The 250,000-square-foot facility was opened in fall of 2011 by Korean doctor Kwang Yul Cha, a leading specialist in fertility and stem-cell research. The sprawling center is comprised of a health club, a destination spa, and a futuristic-looking medical clinic, with features including a meditation garden, a teahouse, and an indoor/outdoor swimming pool. The Chaum Life Center operates as a private medical club but guests can take advantage of the facility’s services through individual treatments and packages. “Our approach is comprehensive and holistic, not reactionary,” Cha said. “The goal is not to deny aging; it is to age in the most beautiful and healthy way possible.”
Chaum Life Center, 442 Dosan-daero, Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea; +82 2-3015-5000
Photo: via Sulwhasoo