For first-timers in a Korean bathhouse, stripping naked and soaking for hours in tubs with strangers often comes as a jolt.
The scrub corner in any jjimjilbang (Korean bathhouse/sauna/spa/adult playground) is the section newbies find most alarming.
This is because the scrub corner traffics in a completely different kind of naked intimacy -- one in which a grumpy Korean woman in black lace underwear uses a coarse towel to scrub every corner of her guest/victim's body.
For most, it's a punishing, yet oddly satisfying experience.
It lasts about 40 minutes -- or a few minutes longer than you'd find yourself in the ring for a championship prizefight.
Good Korean scrub
The intense Korean cleansing process (called "seshin") entails soaking the body in hot water, then rubbing it with a "Korean Italy towel" -- a colorful, thin loofah with a sandpaper-like texture -- to rid the body of all the gunk, dirt and layers of dead skin that accumulate naturally.
Rolls of dark, gray skin fall away as the ddemiri (scrub mistress) works away, revealing soft, pink layers of skin underneath.
It's an extraordinarily rejuvenating -- and, again, painful -- process that locals embrace as a weekly ritual with family and friends.
Men and women have separate bathing areas and get scrubbed by members of their own gender.
Korean scrubbing rituals have typically been embraced by few Westerners -- assorted Hollywood stars have gone in for quick sessions in LA's Koreatown.
Otherwise, the technique is largely unknown.
Over the past year or so, however, according to Seoul's Dragon Hill Spa head of public relations Hyun-Kyu Sang, the number of foreigners coming for scrubs is increasing.
"We've been noticing tourists coming to Korea and staying two nights at a hotel, and one night here, at the spa," says Sang, explaining that many foreign visitors opt for package deals that included a seshin option.
"A lot of tourists come to Korea and come here first, with their luggage, and get scrubbed to start their visit," he says.
Is the Korean-style scrub on its way to becoming the next global beauty trend?
If it is, we want to be among the first to check it out.
That's why we went to Seoul to ask the best scrub mistresses for tips on getting the most out of a scrub session.
1. Don't touch the shower gel
While many bring their own fancy shower gel to the bathhouse to lather up before the scrub, it turns out that bar soap, not the liquid kind, is actually the way to go.
"Use the soap provided by the bathhouses during the pre-scrub shower and soak," says Kim Jung Yeol, who's been a scrub mistress at the Dragon Hill Spa in Yongsan, Seoul, for more than a decade.
"If you use body shampoo, the skin gets too slippery to scrub properly, and the 'dde' (dead skin rolls) doesn't come off nearly as well."
2. Soak for 30 minutes in medium-hot water
Impatient scrubees bolt out of soaking tubs after five or 10 minutes.