Western cosmetics giants have dominated the beauty industry for a long time, but South Korean brands are increasingly setting new standards of beauty, driven by the worldwide popularity of K-pop.

A growing number of people, regardless of gender and age, are investing time and money on beauty products from South Korea’s cosmetic shops.

This includes a large portion of foreigners searching for K-beauty – a new norm referring to a wide range of skin care and makeup products that originate from South Korea, and the unique looks they create.

Emphasising skin texture and tone, as well as colours seldom found at existing foreign brands, K-beauty styles defy stereotypical looks for Asian women, such as thin, arched eyebrows, smoky eyeshadow and dramatised cheekbones.

Instead, K-beauty highlights age-defying porcelain-like skin and natural colours that blend well with one’s skin tone.

“Natural and moist skin expression and idol-like makeup styles that make people look young and cheerful are the secrets of K-beauty,” said Kim Bo-gyung, a senior makeup artist at Ahnangjae, a hair and beauty salon in Gangnam, southern Seoul.

Changing Times

K-beauty evolves while absorbing fast-changing beauty trends thanks to YouTubers like Pony and RiSabae.

The global popularity of South Korean beauty products is led by cosmetic giants like Amorepacific, but there has also been growing interest in smaller cosmetic brands, such as 3CE.

“It is very popular in Vietnam. Many people in Vietnam find the price acceptable, and it’s better (than styles from US and Japan),” said Thanh Nga, a tourist from Vietnam, while picking up 3CE’s lipstick No. 401 at a Shilla Duty Free store in Seoul. “It’s easy (to apply) and smooth.”

Furthermore, consumers no longer fall for airbrushed images of Hollywood stars in advertisements, preferring instead to watch videos and pictures of bloggers testing products.

K-beauty

A customer tries out a lipstick at an Etude House store in the Myeongdong shopping district in Seoul, South Korea.

“Many Chinese customers come to the store after they check how the colours of products turn out on actual skin on social media platforms like WeChat or Instagram,” said Ahn Jeong-hyun a beauty consultant for 3CE at a Shilla Duty Free store.

Many of them like this brick-coloured lipstick, No. 909, as it makes their skin colour lighter. This brownish red can’t be found at other foreign brands.

Looking East

South Korean cosmetics brands appeal to Chinese consumers in particular. South Korea overtook France to become China’s No. 1 source of cosmetics imports by value for the first time last year, according to reports.

Data from the Customs Service showed that the value of South Korean cosmetics exports was US$3.9bil (RM16.2bil), more than three times the value of those it imported last year.

Duty-free operators have picked up on this trend. For instance, Shinsegae launched a retail zone exclusively for South Korean cosmetic brands at its duty-free stores in Myeong-dong and Gangnam.

The zone in Myeong-dong houses 154 South Korean cosmetic brands, an official said. K-beauty has also been making inroads into the West. From facial mask sheets to cushion foundation packs, interest in K-beauty has been growing as South Korean styles reinterpret conventional notions of beauty.

“I received so many messages from women and men from all ages and cultures who decided to try the South Korean skin care routine and saw their skin – and confidence – transform for the better, wrote Charlotte Cho, the founder of Soko Glam, a New York-based online cosmetics retailer.

On her website Cho suggests following the 10-step skin care routine to achieve near-perfect complexion including two steps of cleansing, four phases of nourishment and two more for protection.

“My hope is that learning about beauty from a South Korean perspective will change the way you think about your skin and how you treat it,” she wrote. – The Korea Herald/Asia News Network