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Spa review: Ginseng-themed pampering from head to toe at the Sulwhasoo Spa

These days, just a mere mention of Sulwhasoo and you’ll have loyal fans from anywhere across the globe, all ready to rear their heads and endorse the Korean brand’s amazing, efficacious skincare products. Sulwhasoo is seen as one of the reigning luxury makeup brands coming out of South Korea these days, revered for its powerful skin-rejuvenating products that rely on the magic of ginseng-based traditional Korean formulas and healing philosophies. One trial of its cleansing products, I would argue, can convert even the staunchest anti-ginseng skeptics. Its sister brand under the Amore Pacific umbrella, recently launched in Hong Kong, is none other than haircare label Ryo, which has its equal standing in many an Asian haircare aficionado’s hearts. Celebrating its 10th anniversary, of particular note is the international debut of Ryo’s Beautiful Aging Care Series here in Hong Kong — its most prestigious line yet.

Partnering with Sulwhasoo Spa in Hong Kong, Ryo has created a special three-hour Heritage Ginseng Journey treatment, a comprehensive session that pampers you from the tops of your scalp to your feet — and a must-try for anyone looking to improve the health of their hair and skin.

The Beautiful Aging Care Series comprises a ginseng shampoo wash, a voluptuous, creamy hair mask and a series of ampoule serums meant to be massaged into the scalp. It incorporates a formula featuring ginseng and complementary medicinal herbs which aim to bring back the equilibrium of the ‘yin and yang’ in your scalp. In other words, these products work to replenish nutrients naturally lost in the skin of our scalp as we age, hence nourishing the roots that if left uncared for, can lead to hair thinning, dull, brittle tresses, and even premature greying. Certain herbs in the formula even claim to restore the healthy colour of your natural hair while strengthening and revitalising each strand.

I was told to arrive an hour or so before my treatment to properly settle into the spacious VIP spa room (available upon request with no extra charge) at the Times Square Sulwhasoo Spa branch. Pristine and minimalist, the room gave me a homey feeling, particularly as I was left to my devices. I wasn’t given much instruction besides to “freshen up” using the Ryo Beautiful Aging Care line, and freely use the in-room dry sauna. Thinking that the treatment would include a dedicated hair pampering session (like my previous experience at a hair spa), I used the products sparingly while in the shower, which I regretted later on. However, even with my horribly damaged bleached ends, the (silicone-free) hair mask blessed my tired strands, instantly making them look more plump, shiny and tangle-free. I wish I had kept it on longer for softer results. The ginseng shampoo wash gave fantastic lather with not even one pump of product, cleaning and giving my roots a bit of volume and life.

After showering, my hair dried very quickly to the silkiest soft touch — dragon’s beard candy-like almost — and definitely worthy of its own shampoo commercial. The medicinal scent of ginseng was more apparent during the shower, but once dried it was  barely noticeable.

When it was finally time for my treatment, I sat down for a foot bath, which used almost a kind of medicinal broth to soothe tired feet. I then laid down on my front for a back massage, and noticed that the tiniest hint of music in the background barely did anything to cover the noise of shuffling footsteps and talk in the hallway. The spa bed’s head support didn’t fit my face particularly well, either, but once the massage began, all of these minor discomforts melted away.

My therapist used firm knuckle strokes and a very acupressure-focused technique to roll out a lot of sore points across my back — particularly my lower back and shoulder. Moving onto a light arm massage, all the tension easily dissipated. After a little while, she moved onto applying the hair ampoule serum, starting from the nape of my neck, massaging it in with knowing strokes. As I flipped over, she continued applying the hair serum all the way to the front of my hair, with strong pressure especially around the temples. To prep for the facial section of the treatment, my therapist gave me royal face acupressure ritual, gently tapping and smoothing fingers across my cheeks and forehead to enhance blood circulation and the absorption of products later on.

Using Sulwhasoo’s Concentrated Ginseng collection, my facial treatment started off with a double cleansing step with an oil then a foaming cleanser. Afterwards, she gave me a thorough skin consultation under a bright light. I notably had dry spots on my forehead and around the edges of the nose — plus a slight blackhead situation. She combated this first with a gentle exfoliant. As this was left to set, I was given a blissful shoulder massage using a jojoba-based oil, as she pushed her hands vigorously from side to side across my decolletage and shoulders.

She then rinsed everything off with comforting hot towelettes, then applied Sulwhasoo’s signature First Care Activating Serum EX — which allows the skin to absorb other nutrients much better. Then, again under the bright light, she extracted the leftover blackheads and dirt mostly around my nose and T-zone. After a few sharply uncomfortable and inevitable plucks, my face was then lavished with a gold leaf serum, and massaged with a soothing facial oil. Surprisingly with this many products on my skin it didn’t feel heavy at all, just happily drinking in all the much-needed hydration.

In the peacefulness of the dark treatment room and near-silence, I found myself dozing in and out of consciousness in the penultimate step, where a thick, luxurious sheet mask was placed on my skin. I was able to take a short nap at this point, where my therapist stepped outside.

When she returned, the entire journey — and what an apt descriptor that is of this absolutely extravagant spa session — ended as she gave my hands and feet a final massage using the Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Cream EX. It was a final wake-up call as the lights came back on, and the dreamiest afternoon of my recent memory came to a close.

It wasn’t exactly the last thing on the itinerary as I was left with a plate of healthy snacks, liked dried fruit and crackers and tea as I got on with getting dressed. I was also free to use the entire range of Sulwhasoo skincare and makeup products on the vanity, and I happily tried on some sunscreen and a foundation cushion. I wistfully left the spa, albeit with renewed, glowing and brightened, plump skin. It’s perhaps sad to say that the three-hour Heritage Ginseng Journey is only available for female guests. But to truly treat your mother, sister, friend or loved one — or of course, yourself — this is one luscious gift you’ll want to consider next time you’re looking for a head to toe spa indulgence.

Ryo haircare products are now available at pharmacies and supermarkets city-wide. The Sulwhasoo Spa x Ryo Heritage Ginseng Journey is priced at HK$3,600 at Sulwhasoo Spa. Book your reservation at either spa branches: 8/F, World Commerce Centre, Harbour City, 3–27 Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, +852 2314 3288; 15/F, Tower 1, Times Square, 1 Matheson Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, +852 2114 4728

Evelyn Lok
Managing Editor
When not trying out the latest beauty and wellness trends, Evelyn is likely enjoying a perfectly balanced negroni or exploring some of Hong Kong's best new places to eat and drink. At Lifestyle Asia she covers everything from the biggest events in town to interviews with Hong Kong specialists, with topics spanning art, food and drink, health, tech, and travel.
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