[Hallyupedia] Korean Italy Towel (이태리타월)

연합뉴스 / 2021-05-29 07:00:21
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by Yun Ji Hyun / Cha Min Kyung

Korean Italy Towel
[ENG] Bath Towel, Exfoliating Bath Washcloth

▲ This photo captured from 11 STREET, a S.Korean shopping portal site, shows different colored Korean Italy towels. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Italy towels are washcloths or bath mittens used to remove dead skin or dirt when bathing in Korea. It is typically used in Korean homes and public baths. Italy towels are a small piece of cloth--the size of one's palm--with a rough exfoliating texture and green color. Recently, other color options for the towels such as yellow, red, and white are also available. Another term Koreans call the Italy Towel is 'Ttae-su-geon (때수건),' which is the combination of the words 'Dead skin cells·[때, ttae]' and 'Towel·[수건, su-geon]'.

▲ The Origin of Korean Italy Towels
Korean Italy towels are known to have been made at a textile factory in Busan in the late 1960s.

In the factory, which mainly produced towels, happened to import viscose rayon fabric that was produced in Italy while planning for a new towel. However, the fabric was too rough to use as a regular towel, so after long consideration on how to utilize the fabric, it was decided to be used for exfoliation.

Although it is not possible to confirm whether this story is true, given the fact that similar items were mass-produced since the 1970s, it can be assumed that the use of Italy towels has settled around this time.

The reason behind the name of these bath towels is due to the viscose rayon fabric used. Since the fabric was imported from Italy, it was added to the name of the towels. Additionally, the name seemed to have been used as a marketing strategy since products were regarded as "expensive" or "high-end" when associated with a foreign place or country at that time.

▲ Korea's 'Ttae-mi-ri' culture
Italy towels are a symbol of Korea's Jjim-jil-bang (public bathhouse) culture. The practice of visiting bathhouses or saunas and scrubbing one's body with a piece of cloth only began after the invention of Italy towels. 
▲ These photos captured from MBC's "I Live Alone" entertainment program shows Fabien Yoon, a French model based in S.Korea, using an Italy towel to exfoliate his body. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)


The dead skins that are removed by the Italy towels are produced from dead skin cells, sweat, and sebum. The 'ttae-mi-ri' culture did not exist in Korea until the Italy towels were made.

In Korea, public baths provide a service where a professional scrubber called "'Ttae-miri·[때밀이]" removes dead skin and exfoliates a bather's body. The scrubbing staffs are also called "Se-sin-sa ·[세신사]" or "Bath managers·[목욕관리사]." Although this job doesn't require any special licenses, there are specialized institutions that teach the skills of exfoliation. The price of 'se-sin' is usually around 20,000 won and the Se-sin-sa will scrub a person's entire body for 30 to 40 minutes.

From a medical point of view, frequently exfoliating one's skin is considered to be bad for the skin, however many Koreans have begun to rely on using exfoliators. Additionally, shower towels with smoother materials are used as an alternative to traditional Italy towels. Nevertheless, many Koreans still think it's refreshing to remove dead skin cells and excess dirt with Italy towels.

▲ Evolution of Italy towels
Korean Italy towels are now expanding worldwide. As interest in Korean culture have increased, Korean saunas and bath towels have also attracted attention. In 2015, Conan O'Brien, a famous U.S. TV show host, visited a sauna in Korean town on his show and received se-shin.

Since then, Italian towels have also been popularly sold on Amazon, the world's largest e-commerce company, as Korean exfoliating bath towels. This way, people are able to experience Korean-style spa treatments at a low price of five to seven dollars. The towels have also received relatively good reviews so far and are rated with more than four stars.  


▲ This photo captured from Amazon shows Korean Italy Towels being sold on the e-commerce website for 6.90 dollars. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Some users mentioned how, "All of the dead skin cells in the [their] elbows and knees are gone" and that "There is no need to use expensive exfoliators," in their reviews.

Even before it became popular on Amazon, foreigners who visited Korea in the 1990s bought Korean Italy towels as souvenirs. It can be assumed that foreigners usually buy Italy towels at the Namdaemun Market after receiving a se-shin at a public bathhouse in Myeong-dong.


▲ This photo provided by phone case brand Gomin2 shows a phone case design inspired by Korean Italy towels. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Nowadays, products that utilize the unique colors and patterns of Korean Italy towels are also available. For example, smartphone cases with the Italy towel pattern are currently being sold and when 7-Eleven sold Italian towel-shaped Jjon-deug-i, a traditional Korean snack, it went viral.



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