I travelled to Seoul for fun, which for me, of course, meant trying out as many beauty treatments as I could — micro-needling, a cryo facial, LED light therapy, Botox, lip filler and more — in one day. Specifically, nine treatments in three hours all at one stop.
As a self-proclaimed skincare addict (“wackjob” to be precise), I’ve gone to the furthest reaches of the globe to experience some of the most unique treatments the world has to offer. Dead skin-eating fish at the base of a waterfall in Laos? Sold. Mud bath in the jungle of Tulum? Yes, please. Mud wrap from the Dead Sea? Sign me up.
However, I’ve always considered Korean beauty the holy grail of skincare and South Korea, the holy land. I had planned a last-minute solo trip to Korea in June 2023 as a bit of my own “Eat, Pray, Love” experience but with only two goals in mind: 1. eat all of the Korean food (one of my favourites) and do all of the skin care — within just four days of travel. Challenge accepted.
Before arriving in South Korea, I didn’t have an exact laid-out plan of action. I had researched different clinics and read the reviews but didn’t know exactly what I wanted done (while simultaneously wanting it all).
I landed on a clinic known to be “foreigner-friendly”, which just meant: they spoke English and had… decent enough reviews (yes, I know. Never settle for decent when it comes to treatments). This was not a particularly glamorous space; it was a bit akin to a factory. There was no luxury to be found anywhere but that was okay, I was on a mission.
My appointment was set for 10:30am in Hongdae and when I say I was there early, I was there early! I arrived at 9am sharp and decided to walk off my excitement, lapping the neighbourhood twice before my scheduled appointment time.
I entered the reception area, which resembled an overly crowded waiting room in a regular doctor’s office except that every person was covered in numbing cream or bandages. So, perhaps more like an average plastic surgeon’s office in Beverly Hills.
By 11am I had gone through a consultation with the sales representatives. I imagine others having more invasive treatments would meet a registered Doctor well ahead of time. In my case, however, I simply sat with a salesperson for about 10 minutes, who asked me what I wanted to do, keeping in mind that I had “pretty nice skin” (to which I replied, “I know.” I’m nothing if not humble).
On the spot, I decided I wanted “glass skin” — a phrase I’ve heard tossed around usually in reference to K-pop stars (none of whom I follow so I didn’t have an actual idea of what this meant. But I love the phrase). Quickly, the sales representative pulled out a treatment package that included:
• An aqua oxygen peel facial treatment
• A cryotherapy cryo facial
• A mesotherapy (micro-needling) Chanel injection skin booster
• A Korean modeling mask
• Various sheet mask treatments
• and LED light therapy
All for the low cost of around 2,000 HKD.
But of course, that just wasn’t enough when it came to my quest to “do it all”. I found myself blurting out that I wanted masseter Botox and lip fillers, neither of which I had ever done before or even wanted. But here I was. In the sales office of a Mediclinic in Seoul, South Korea. By myself, deciding that, yes, today was the day I did it all.
Read More: Our Favourite Hong Kong Facial Treatments
Soon after the consultation, the sales representative applied numbing cream to my face in a manner like applying sunscreen. “Oh, is this going to be really painful?” I asked. How naive I was.
I was taken to a large room lined with treatment beds, kept apart by small dividers that gave you just the slightest sliver of privacy. Here, I lay down and a team immediately got to work.
At this point, while I knew all of the treatments were starting, I felt nothing. Not only because I had numbing cream on but also because I had just signed up to stick needles in my body, in a foreign country, by myself. I am truly terrified of needles so it was adrenaline and fear that kept me going.
To start, my skin was prepped and a gel-like substance was applied to help soothe. Pre-soaked toner pads were used to remove any extra sebum left. Immediately after this, we went right into an “aqua peel”.
The Korean aqua peel facial treatment was exactly as it may sound: water being shot at your face in an attempt to clear out any “gunk” that may be trapped in your pores.
Without a break or any hesitation, we moved immediately onto the Botox. Yes, the Botox that I had hastily signed up for. As I’m lying on the bed, I hear someone say “Botox” and then nothing else as someone shoots me in the face with needles. At this point, I am full-body sweating because this abrupt turn without any clear warning was terrifying.
I happened to be live texting my friends throughout the treatment, but at this point, I’ve simply sent a “YIKES”. The rest of my messages looked like this:
It’s now 12pm, and we haven’t even made it halfway through. Immediately following the Botox attack, we moved onto microneedling which, comparatively, was not painful at all. I’ve heard many people say microneedling is incredibly painful but it’s possible that all the adrenaline from the anxiety of Botox was keeping me from feeling anything else.
To help cool down my face after all the poking and prodding, I had a cryo facial, which essentially felt like an ice cube being pushed around on my skin. Then, we moved on to the LED light therapy, where an LED box-like device was placed over my head with a sheet mask, to help my skin recover from the assault it had just experienced.
I was told we were at the last step of the procedures — for this room. We ended this round with a Korean modeling mask; a clay mask put on the skin wet, designed to harden and mould as it dries.
At this point, it’s almost 1pm and I’m over it.
As we move to a different floor for the cosmetic injectables, I’m now regretting all of my life choices that got me here and second-guessing them all.
Again, I find myself in a waiting room, this time, a smaller space with less bandaged clients. I’ve asked them twice to reapply the numbing cream because I am terrified of having a needle shot into my lips.
As I’m brought to a room by a nurse who does not speak English, I’m greeted by a doctor (or at least a man in a white coat) who speaks limited English and is coming at me with a needle.
Understanding that I am the one in a foreign country and I need to adapt to their language, not the other way around, I attempt to navigate using a combination of Google Translate and broken English to tell them: 1. I want my lips to look as natural as possible and 2. to ask if this will hurt.
The doctor simply smiled back at me and began to inject; I started involuntarily tearing up.
While it seems everyone in the world is constantly getting filler and Botox, none of them ever seem to warn you how painful it really is.
I was technically done in just five minutes, but I continued to text my friends for three more hours about how much pain I was in. It was that bad.
As I leave the clinic, the receptionist yells after me to not forget to grab medicine at the pharmacy. This stops me dead in my tracks. No one had given me a single second of aftercare instruction or informed me that I would be on medication for a full week. It was at this moment, that I learnt I needed to shield my skin for two days from the sun, could not use straws for two weeks and that I would be on antibiotics for an entire week.
All brand-new information to me, as I’m nursing my self-inflicted wounds on the way out the door.
So, the big question is: would I do it again? Unfortunately, since I’m a glutton for punishment — yes. While the experience was painful and terrifying, the results were unmatched. Plus combined with the cost, I couldn’t possibly say no! But maybe, I’ll wait a few more months…