|*Not the author's actual feet|
One of the things you can't help but notice about Seoul is the superabundance of shops that provide skin care and beauty supplies. Korean women( and men) take their personal appearance and grooming very seriously, and skin care here is a booming business You literally cannot walk down a street in any shopping district without passing a store selling makeup, hair, or skin products, and more likely than not you will see many more than one. You can find pretty much any kind of product or treatment that you could ever imagine in these stores, as well as a whole lot of other stuff that you probably could not think up if someone paid you. In fact, before I even moved here, one of the first things I was told to do in Seoul was to go to the 'Dr. Fish' cafe, where, - for a fee - I could put my feet in a tub of little fish who would nibble all of the dead skin off my feet while I sipped on a latte.
It is, apparently, one of the Must-Dos while you are in Seoul, but I haven't quite summoned up the nerve. To begin with, I know that fish are not that smart, which leads me to wonder how they can tell the difference between dead skin and the stuff that's not dead yet. I mean, after a while, they must eventually get to the live skin, and, even if they do spit it out right away, where does that leave you? We all know what happens if piranhas smell blood. There's no telling what these seemingly-benign little fish could do if provoked . On top of that, I have never met a living human being who has had this done, although everyone claims to know someone else who has done it. I'm not ruling it out, mind you: I just plan to do further research before I allow any fish - no matter how seemingly mild-mannered - to make a meal out of my feet.
However, despite my reluctance to take the plunge with the fish, I will be the first to admit that my feet are looking (and feeling) a little rough these days, which is not surprising when you take into consideration all the walking I've been doing. In addition, I have never had particularly soft, smooth feet anyway, probably due to a bad draw in the genetic lottery. Whatever the reason, I have spent most of my adult life suffering from hard, calloused feet, and now that I'm racking up the miles on the sidewalks and subways of Seoul, things are not improving. Over the years, I have tried a variety of methods - mostly unsuccessful - for keeping the skin of my feet soft and supple, usually involving a variety of hydrating unguents and salves, followed by applying one or more pairs of socks - usually quite thick, and usually at bedtime -, much to the amusement of Mr. Logical, who looks forward to the opportunity to exercise his wit with oh-so-hilarious phrases like, "heel truss' and 'foot lube.'
Anyway, given my unhappy track record with my heels, I was intrigued when my friend, B, told me about a product she'd picked up at one of Seoul's most ubiquitous skin-care emporiums, The FaceShop, of which there are approximately 10 gazillion per square hectare. Now, as a rule, I don't do a lot of shopping for skin care products at specialty stores, mostly because I am so clearly out of place in them. When I walk into a skincare and makeup emporium staffed with dewy, fresh-faced cosmetic and skin specialists, I feel immediately guilty, as though they all can tell, just by looking at me, that I buy my skincare products off the shelf at Target and most of my makeup (when I wear it) comes in a blister pack. They probably also know - or suspect - that I am not getting regular facials, don't use a specially-tailored-for-my-needs 4-step skincare regime, and did not bother to apply a broad-range SPF sunscreen that morning (well, it looked like rain.) Whether they are really this perceptive or not, I do not know, but it is a fact that they seem to all descend on me at once, because it's clear that I need their help. I think we can all agree that pity is really an awful basis on which to build any relationship - yes, even in the sales arena - so you can understand why I just steer clear of such places, and why it came to pass that I had never heard of this product:.
B explained to me that it was designed to remove dead skin from your feet. The mode d'emploi sounded simple enough: you put your feet into these little plastic booties, she said, and then you poured these little packages of liquid into the booties, after which you sat there for 90 minutes letting the liquid do whatever it did. When I asked what the liquid was, B admitted that she didn't know, but that she was pretty sure that it was "some kind of acid." Further questioning revealed that 1) she had survived the treatment and 2) she did not notice any significant difference in her feet immediately after the bootie/acid session and felt that it had been a failure. Fortunately her faith in the FaceShop was restored three days later, when her feet began to peel with a vengeance all over Seoul, eventually leaving her with buttery-soft feet and a deep appreciation for the product, if not for its slightly delayed timing.
Naturally, I couldn't ignore such a ringing endorsement, and made plans to buy myself some of this miracle foot peel as soon a possible. If you are questioning the wisdom of my soaking my feet in an unidentifiable acid solution, let me just say that it seemed like a good idea at the time, and we'll leave it at that.
So, I bought myself some.
Now, I was not so naiive as to really believe that my feet would come out as soft as a baby's, but you have to give them credit for clever marketing. Even though I can't read a word of Korean, the message came through loud and clear, and I was more eager than ever to soak my feet in their magical acid even if I only came out with the feet of a 20-year-old.
I should probably state here that, while it clearly says 'Foot Peeling' in English, that is the only English you will find on the entire box and/or its contents. Fortunately, the method is explained in step-by-step pictures which walk you through the entire process. Of course, there was quite a lot of Korean writing in very bold black print which probably said something like, "DO NOT USE THIS PRODUCT WITHOUT THE ADVICE OF A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL. ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE AN AMERICAN WOMAN OVER THE AGE OF FORTY.BLAH BLAH BLAH SCARRING BLAH BLAH BLAH DANGER BLAH BLAH 3RD-DEGREE BURNS."
However, since I don't read Korean, this did not concern me, and I optimistically began the process.
First, I unpacked the supplies, which consisted of two thin plastic misshapen booties which looked very medical,
and two cute little foot-shaped pouches of the magical foot elixir.
So, once I had the booties on, I opened up one of the pouches and did what any normal person would do: I smelled it. It immediately evoked some very powerful and unpleasant memories of a liquor that I once drank while in college by the name of "Old Granddad," which is described by the Bourbon Observer as being in the category of 'economic' bourbon. However, I reasoned that - based on the effects I remembered it having on my central nervous and digestive systems - if this stuff was actually somehow related to 'Old Granddad,' it was entirely capable of removing any number of layers of my epidermis, and possibly some of my toes. Thus reassured, I poured the packets into the booties, tied them up, and sat down to see what would happen.
What happened was pretty much nothing. I sat there for 90 minutes, enduring the scorn and mirth of my husband and offspring, who enjoyed quite a bit of speculation about the potential outcome of this project, and debating the merits of hideously scarred skin vs. no skin, just bones (kind of a Pirates of the Caribbean look) vs. nubs with no toes. Oh, they had a merry time of it, especially since I could not get up and take any sort of retaliatory action as I was concerned that the Old Granddad might leak through the bootees and destroy the finish on the hardwood.
In this way, the 90 minutes crawled by, and I was finally able to follow the directions on the back of the box and go rinse my feet off. As B had described, my feet looked pretty much like they had before I had started. However, I reminded myself that B hadn't seen results until 3 days after the treatment. Furthermore, the pictures on the box were pretty clear that, after you rinsed your feet off, the next step would, at some point, look like this:
which I think we can all agree, while not attractive, seems like it would effectively address the dead-skin issues without the need to resort to something as extreme as fish. My guess is that the directions say something along the lines of, "In a few days, your skin will begin to flake off in great sheets. Do not plan on doing any shoe-shopping during this time."
However, as a perennial optimist, I am looking past the flaky-foot phase and on toward the prize. The next time you see me, expect this:
I don't know if that's Korean for 'sparkly feet,' but that's what I'm hoping for.