A bathing area inside one-person sauna Heum, located in Gangnam, Seoul. (Heum)
For the first time in nearly two years, Bae Eun-jin, a 35-year old office worker in Bundang, Gyeonggi Province, recently had a proper Korean sauna experience -- soaking her body in hot water and getting a full-body scrub.
The only difference was that the bathhouse she visited was set up for a single customer only.
“Since I was the only customer there, I felt safe from infection risks. I loved the quiet atmosphere without any distractions from other people,” said Bae, who used to get “seshin,” a Korean body scrub treatment, and body massages at a public bathhouse once every two months before the outbreak of COVID-19.
A one-person bathhouse in Suwon furnished with a bathtub filled with warm water and a bed where customers get seshin. (Courtesy of Bae)
A “seshin shop for one person,” the parlor is one of a growing number of bathing salons in Korea that serve only one customer at a time, drawing sauna lovers who have refrained from visiting public bathhouses amid the pandemic.
It has a bathtub filled with warm water, where the guest soaks for some 20-30 minutes, which makes dead skin cells come off more easily during scrubbing.
Then the guest lies naked on a bed. A sauna attendant will then start to scrub the guest’s entire body to get rid of the dead skin.
Once scrubbing is done, the guest takes shower and gets ready to go home in a separate locker room.
“All the bathing spaces were all clean and neat as I use them by myself. Also, I could adjust the temperature for bath water, which is usually not possible in public bathhouses. A personalized service made me feel like I’m being served,” Bae added.
A 50-minute session at this single-person bathing parlor costs between 40,000-50,000 won ($31-$39), which is almost twice as expensive as body scrubbing services offered by multi-use bathhouses.
Prices can be over 100,000 won in some private bathing salons in Gangnam, Seoul, an affluent area where premium beauty and skin care services are common.
Despite their high price tag, those who miss the weekly or monthly ritual of having a relaxing bath and ridding the body of the dirt and layers of dead skin are starting to visit these small bathhouses.
“More than 30 customers visited our shop last weekend. Some of them even came from other cities to get a private seshin service. It’s been only three months since I opened the shop, but I already have a lot of regular customers,” said the owner of Gyeol, a private bathhouse in Gwanggyo, Suwon.
Single-person bathing salons started to emerge late last year, with most of them also women-only.
Meanwhile, the growing popularity of individual saunas has opened up new opportunities for many seshin providers, who lost their job after their employers closed due to the coronavirus.
As of May, a total of 707 public bathhouses nationwide have closed down since 2020, according to data from the Ministry of Interior and Safety.
“Even though the government eased social distancing rules, local public saunas are still struggling due to a loss of customers and revenue. The rise of one-person saunas will reinvigorate the virus-battered public bathing industry,” said Kim He-sun, an official at the Korea Federation of Public Bath Industry.
In response to growing demand for private bath experience, some local producers of bathroom furniture and accessories have launched private bath venues for customers opting to relax alone.
A small bathhouse built by Inus in Huam-dong, Seoul. (Inus)
In Huam-dong, Seoul, near Sookmyung Women‘s University Station, there’s a small bathhouse built by Inus, a company specialized in bathroom interior design and bath products, which opened in February. The place is furnished with a bath tub as well as a separate resting area where people can take a nap on a couch or drink coffee.
Customers can reserve the place for a minimum of six hours, which costs 53,000 won.
By Choi Jae-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org