How South Korea Became The Skincare and Beauty Capital of The World

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The South Korean beauty scene has taken the global skincare and beauty industry by storm.

Known as K-beauty, South Korea has developed a sort of cult-like following. Youtubers and Social Media Influencers are also raving about the benefits of these K-beauty products.

The Korean beauty market is among the top 10 around the world, with an estimated worth of over $13.1 billion in sales in 2018, according to Mintel, a global market intelligence agency. 

Their driving factor for their rapid growth is due to ‘innovation’ being at the forefront of their branding strategy. Beyond just another marketing strategy, South Koreans are constantly striving to reinvent their products.

Katie Thomas, editor of Marie Claire says,  “South Korea’s beauty industry is ahead of the rest of the world by 10 to 12 years.

What makes South Korea on top of their game in the beauty industry? Here are three key factors to learn from!

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Prioritise Skincare

More important than makeup, proper skin care remains a top priority for South Koreans. Looking after the skin starting from a very young age has been ingrained in the Korean culture.

South Korean consumers prefer a clear and healthy skin over covering up unsightly blemishes with foundation and other products.

Facial skin care products alone make up half of the total market share and are projected to reach $7.2 billion by 2020.

You might be accustomed to the typical three-step routine of using a cleanser, toner, and moisturiser prior to applying makeup. However, in South Korea skincare regimes range from 7 to 12 steps, with a focus on hydrating the skin using gentle, natural ingredients.


Mass Social Appeal

South Korea has been successfully taking the lead as a trendsetter in the beauty and fashion industry alongside their internationally influential, Korean pop culture. South Korean consumers especially younger women never want to lose out in keeping abreast with the latest trends.

They respond quickly to new trends and products and are responsible for the huge success of South Korean beauty and cosmetic products trending globally.

South Korean beauty products have successfully piqued the interest of consumers with their quirky, colorful and cartoon imagery in their packaging. The loud, fun and fancy personality of these products make them Instagram worthy, perfect for those flat lays!

People do buy into fun packaging – things they can take a picture of on their bathroom shelf. These factors sit well with the younger market, especially millennials.

Beauty influencers and other celebrities providing paid reviews and demonstrations on Instagram and Youtube are now trending. This easily enables South Korean products to gain access into other parts of the world.

In the US, 13% of 10 to 17-year-old girls are interested in trying K-beauty products, and 18% of 18 to 22-year-old women have used these products.

South Korean beauty brands have also leveraged on online stores. They have even gone the extent of limiting the number of brick-and-mortar stores in certain countries.

In Britain, while certain K beauty products can be found in TopShop and TKMaxx, most consumers can only buy these products online.

Winning over the Western Counterpart

South Korean products are fast gaining traction into the Western counterpart.

Glow Recipe, popular Korean skincare and beauty brand, worked with Whamisa on a green tea line with antioxidants and botanical extracts that melts makeup and removes pore-clogging impurities.

Its star product, the Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask, sold out eight times with the French cosmetics giant Sephora last year and had a waitlist of over 20,000 on the Glow Recipe website.

Another example of innovation is the combination of beauty balm cream, BB cream, with an air cushion compact.

These creams were created in Germany. But, Korean companies popularized the merging of the foundation, moisturizer, anti-aging cream, whitening agent and sunscreen in one product.

The air cushion compact “wicks the formula off a sponge and effortlessly applies evenly onto the face for that dewy, no-makeup makeup look.

Many of these products follow that “baby-like” look with “cosmeceuticals”, combining cosmetics and therapeutics with such natural ingredients as traditional Korean herbs and plant extracts.

According to Romy Rose, beauty editor of popular Asian online beauty and fashion store YesStyle,

“Western consumers have been intrigued by the “Chok Chok” no make-up look. The aim here is to have “dewy and bouncy skin with an extra glow”.

Marie Claire’s Katie Thomas adds, “Western brands have adopted these skincare steps into their own regimes”. For example, Yves Saint Laurent has cushion foundation and cushion blushers.

A “huge trend” of K beauty skincare innovations inspired Primark. After which, they launched their own K-Pop range of cosmetics, which sold out quickly.

This strategy is less scary for consumers as it enables an easy way into K-beauty, with a known brand.

Actionable Takeaway:

Beauty brands and businesses need to learn the concerns and preferences of their target market. Following that, they have to innovate and keep up to date with the demands of consumers.

Also take into account the technologies and environmentally friendly practices of these K Beauty products. This is because consumers are showing an increasingly growing preference for safe and green beauty products.


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