The K-beauty reign just won’t let up. From sheet masks to the revolutionary BB cushion foundation, Korean beauty products continue to climb in the international markets.1
Since the introduction of the ubiquitous BB cream, Korean cosmetics has seen an astounding amount of growth worldwide. Despite doubts about the strength of beauty products breaking into the international market, it seems that cosmetics are experiencing their second big wave.
With the convergence of cosmetics and medicine, the enhanced skin care benefits of beauty products, and KRW 3 billion in exports (44 percent growth in one year), the cosmetics industry has reached KRW 10 trillion in annual revenue, ushering in “K-Beauty 2.0”. Korean cosmetics second big wave.
Cosmetics using traditional Korean medicine, or Hanbang (한방), have seen a tremendous amount of growth in the Korean beauty market. Hanbang cosmetics are specifically engineered with ingredients from traditional Korean herbal medicines. Hanbang’s holistic approach to skin care is on trend as consumers seek a more natural take on skin care. One doesn’t have to look far to see consumers flocking to Hanbang products. Prestigious Hanbang brands like Sulwahsoo have seen tremendous growth and have given birth to cult-classic products like First Care Activating Serum. Another Hanbang-based brand, Whoo, reported record first-quarter revenues in 2016.
The China Factor
Entry to the Chinese market, led by AmorePacific and LG Household & Health Care, has also been a factor in the growth of K0beauty abroad. Though they are competitors in Korea, AmorePacific and LG are teaming up to target the Chinese market. Chinese consumers are known to gravitate toward foreign brands, due to trust issues with shady ingredients and the high number of counterfeits. Innovative products such as AmorePacific’s BB cushion compact, paired with the reasonable price point of most cosmetic items, also attract Chinese consumers to K-beauty.
Effects of the Korean Wave
The Korean Wave, known as Hallyu, is also a factor in the massive growth, the hugely popular Korean drama “Descendants of the Sun” was the smash hit of early 2016. While it was successful in Korea, “Descendants of the Sun” enjoyed even greater success overseas.
The show’s popularity led to a boom in the beauty industry. Laneige, owned by AmorePacific, saw a 360 percent hike in sales since last year due to the show. Millions of fans flocked to the stores to stock up on the Laneige Two Tone Lip Bar and BB cushion that star Song Hye-Kyo wore on the series. In Myeong-Dong, the popular tourist shopping destination (You can read about this street, Here), Chinese tourists snapped up the lipstick in droves, and soon it was sold out nearly everywhere and had broken Aritaum’s sales record. Laneige in Singapore also reported double-digit growth after shoppers flocked to the makeup counters to snag their own Two Tone Lip Bars.
Korean beauty is all about continuous improvement and new product innovations. Korean makeup companies have shorter product development cycles, which is why it seems that every week there’s new hit product to ingredient that makes consumers go wild. Korean cosmetics have always been known for their unconventional ingredients like snail mucus, snake and bee venom, and starfish, to name a few. Now you can add ingredients like horse oil to the list. Smaller companies like Guerisson 9, producer of the extremely popular horse oil cream and sheet masks, have hit it big with Chinese tourists. Extracted from horse fat, horse oil creates an intensely hydrating protective barrier over the skin, which contributes to its anti-aging claims.
Fun and Whimsical Skin Care for Millennials
Unique design elements are also being pinpointed as instrumental to K-beauty’s success in the international market. In the United States, millennials are drawn to fun and whimsical skin care, not the stuffy, boring products that have long dominated the market. This is just one of the reasons Korean beauty products appeal to the younger generation, and are now being sold in popular stores like Urban Outfitters and Target in the United States.
The expansion of Korean beauty products into the U.S. and European markets, together considered the birthplace of the cosmetics industry, is yet another factor in the sector’s rapid growth. On May 23, Tony Moly launched at Sephora’s main store on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris. It is now sold in 825 stores throughout Europe, a first for a Korean cosmetics brand. Last year, beauty products saw a 64 percent growth in exports to the United States. Brands like AmorePacific, Belif and The Face Shop are sold in the United States. Aritaum, the popular Korean chain that sells brands like Laneige, Mamonde, Hanyul, IOPE and Sulwahsoo, recently announced plans to open 70 branches in the U.S. over the next few years, as well as a U.S.-based e-commerce site.
As for those who doubted K-beauty’s influence and staying power, they may be eating their words. In just a few years, products like BB cream and sheet masks have entered the global lexicon. Korean cosmetics are no longer just fad or trend - they are shaping and revolutionizing the beauty industry in a major way. Products like BB cushion are the new normal. Sheet masks are no longer a trend but are embraced as a way of life.
Korean beauty is here to stay, and it shows zero signs of slowing down.
1- KOREA monthly magazine of tourism & cultural organization, September 2016