I thought I knew how to bathe.
I’d only been doing it since I was a little kid. And I learned from the best: my mother, Deloris Belton, world’s cleanest woman from 1945 until about 2013. Whether it was a bath or a shower, with a washcloth, loofah or those little exfoliating gloves (all of which I use), I was getting properly clean.
Then came 2012, and the “my boss takes me to a day spa in New York City’s Koreatown” experience. At the time, I was the newly crowned head writer of the BET late-night talk show Don’t Sleep, hosted by T.J. Holmes, and my executive producer was Madeleine Smithberg of The Daily Show fame. Madeleine wanted to thank me for all my hard work, so she treated me to a scrub and massage at the Juvenex Spa on the fifth floor of 25 W. 32nd St. in Koreatown. It was a memorable experience for two reasons:
- I totally had to get surprise-naked in a day spa with my boss at the time—she’s a wonderful woman and probably the only boss I could do this with and have it not be a complete HR violation—which was hilarious in that “this could only happen to me” way.
- The woman who scrubbed me down was so good, so thorough, so “getting rid of dead skin everywhere” that I was as soft as a newborn baby by the time the experience was done. For at least a week, I couldn’t stop touching my arms and elbows, admiring the fresh softness.
I would talk about the experience, a lot, to people, and look back on it fondly for years. There were so many cool components to the spa—a hut that was a sauna in which you sat and sweated; a warm bath of lemons; a steam room that was almost borderline unbearable, but so good for your skin—that I truly wanted to go back and experience it again.
So, three weeks ago, I booked a half-day treatment for March 18, plunked down an ungodly amount of money on my credit card and did it.
My goal was to try as many services as I could. I went with the body scrub, a body wrap, a facial and a massage—in that order—while also still utilizing things like their sauna, steam room and that lemon bath (still lemony after all these years), aka the “Juvenex Jade Journey.” I initially blocked out four to five hours for this experience on my calendar and paid extra to receive a gift bag and lunch.
Here are my thoughts on each of the things the spa offered in which I participated:
My favorite two parts of this four-part excursion were the sauna hut, aka “the Jade Igloo Sauna,” and the three Japanese soaking tubs, featuring my fave, the hot lemon bath, which is exactly as I described ... a bath with lemons.
Why those two? Basically, I like a nice dry heat, which feels amazing after spending the winter in search of warmth here in New York City, and the sauna hut is pretty hot ’n’ cute. Plus, the soaking tubs are a pleasure, as long as you don’t get in the soaking tub of freezing cold water. (Seriously, who is that fun for?!!)
The best is the tub with all the lemons in it that is thankfully nice and warm and citrusy. Since I’ve done this journey before, I knew to avoid the cold-water tub at all costs. The other tub, one filled with minerals and ginseng and all sorts of good stuff, wasn’t full yet, so I didn’t get to try it a second time.
The other parts of the journey? There’s the Diamond Herbal Steam Sauna that makes me want to have an anxiety attack because it feels like the hottest of South American jungles and is difficult to breathe through. (You’re even advised to not stay in it too long because it could get dicey for your health.) Oh, and there’s the detox room, a baked-clay sauna that’s kind of cool-feeling on the inside, filled with rocks. You basically can just lie on the floor mat and fall asleep. I’m sure the room does something relevant to you, but I’ve never been quite able to grasp it, as I’m a spa newbie.
Picture this: So, they take you into this shower/bath area and you’re naked, right?
Just completely in the buck, stark nude, and you walk into this washroom and this Asian woman, who’s probably seen more naked people than your doctor, is there. She has her pants rolled completely up to her thighs and she’s barefoot because it’s about to get really, really wet in here.
There’s a giant vat of warm water, a bucket and a table. She takes the bucket, dips it in the water and sloshes it over the table, then tells you to lie down on it. You’re already kind of wet from your Juvenex Jade Journey, so it’s a little slippery, and if you’re terribly uncoordinated like me, you’re convinced you’re going to fall off this thing, especially after she takes that bucket and splashes water all over you.
I can’t quite remember if I had to lie on my stomach first or my back first, but either way, she covers you completely in soap, in all your crevices (except for the old nether regions), works one side at a time, then pulls out these little scrubbing cloths that might as well be a nicer version of what you would use to scrub dishes, and goes to town.
Dead skin is coming off—everywhere. So much dead skin you wonder what have you truly been doing in your shower all these years. It feels like so many layers of deadness come off that you might have lost at least a pound. It is amazing, albeit a little awkward, since you’re a full-grown adult getting a bath from an unfamiliar Asian woman you just met.
In 2012, the first time this happened, all I could think was how my mother was literally the last person ever to give me a bath, and I was maybe 3 or 4? Six years later, since I now knew what I was getting into, it was less awkward and more like just a spending of time at the world’s most thorough, low-grade water park, getting bucketfuls of water splashed on you to wash off the salt scrub.
Afterward, you are so clean, you are singing Outkast (Ain’t nobody dope as you, you’re just so fresh and clean). There are also options to get your face washed (yes!) and your hair washed (just got these goddess locs, so no). In 2012, I don’t remember getting my hair washed, only that my blowout was ruined and, at the time, I had no curly-hair products to fix that mess, so I had to make an emergency hair appointment for that Monday with a kind, funny Dominican-American woman.
Not as exciting as the Juvenex Jade Journey or as thrilling as the Korean-style scrub, the body wrap consisted of my being slathered in something that suspiciously smelled lightly fishy (seaweed?) and wrapped like a burrito while inside that baked-clay-sauna detox room. Since I couldn’t really move and I was in the least exciting room in the spa, I did what I would suggest anyone do: I took a nap.
After washing off the gunk they covered me with for the body wrap, I dried off and took a seat to learn what lunch would be. It was then that the kind woman from the front desk brought me a comically large envelope of nothing but menus from nearby restaurants. Immediately, I realized I probably shouldn’t have sprung for the “special” half-day package if this was what was going to be lunch.
But at the same time, I’d been in the spa for hours at this point and was starving. (My appointment started promptly at 9 a.m.; by noon, I was ready to chow down.) Since I was pretending to be healthy, I had the staff order me a salad and some chia-seed vanilla pudding. When lunch eventually arrived, it was served along with some green tea, Champagne and freshly sliced pineapple for dessert.
So, maybe, yes—get the spa lunch if you know you’re going to be hungry and still have two more treatments to go. In 2012, we did not get lunch at the spa; instead, we chose to go to a nearby Korean restaurant and have bibimbap. At the time, it was my first time having it, and it was amazing. Everyone should eat it.
I had never had a facial in my life, so I had no idea what to expect. But what I got was pretty awesome. It involved lying on my back on a bed while a woman gently cleansed and scrubbed my face. But the part that got the real results, folks? Blackhead extraction. This amazing woman straight up squeezed sections of my face until my pores were invisible. Yes, it was mildly uncomfortable, but you can’t knock those results.
I looked at my face in the mirror over and over, marveling at how beautiful and even my golden brown skin looked. It was like I didn’t even need makeup, it was so glowing. To be honest, this is the one treatment I might come back for on the regular because I could save so much on Fenty Beauty.
Do you have a thing that in theory you want to like, but in practice you never actually enjoy? I have a friend who has that thing with alcohol; whenever we go out, he always asks to sip my wine or my cocktail, knowing damn well that he does not drink alcohol because he hates the taste.
Well, this is me with massages. In theory, I always want a massage, but when I get one? Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow! While the masseuse was skilled and talented enough to find every knot in my body, that shit did not feel good. It did not feel good at all. I grimaced through it, only complained once about the pain, then went back to wincing. The only parts of me that can tolerate a massage without wanting to jump out of my body are my hands and feet. Those can take a massage all day. But the rest of me? Hard pass.
While the spa lunch was a bit of a disappointment (not the green tea, Champagne and pineapple—that was cool—but the fact that it was just going through a billion menus and finally giving up to pick salad? no), the gift bag was not! I received a pack of Repiel Korean face masks and Dr. Grandel’s Hydro Active moisturizer, which on Amazon.com is worth about $40. Personally, I can’t wait to try both.
So, even though the spa set me back a grip, I will definitely be back—at least for the facial and Jade Journey.
Also, whether it’s a gift or you’re plunking down your hard-earned cash, find a spa that does a traditional Korean salt scrub. It’s worth it, if only to give your body that “new car” feel.