What started out as exportation of entertainment, music, TV dramas, and movies to Southeast Asia and neighboring countries, the phenomenal growth of Korean pop culture (or Hallyu) has extended its reach to Europe and the United States.
But more than cinematography and K-Pop, cosmetics has also become one major driving force in South Korea’s rising cultural economy. It has joined the ranks of France and Japan and is now at the forefront of the beauty industry. That’s impressive!
And before we further explore the topic on South Korea’s beauty industry, we suggest you check out this video to get a great overview of this article.
What Makes K-Beauty Go Viral Globally
The country has always had high standards for appearance and beauty – one look at their celebrities with their dreamy, flawless skin tells us as much. And its highly aggressive brands are engaged in ongoing research and innovation for new products, driving up quality and competitive pricing.
Now the already large K-beauty market has expanded and is sought after all over the world. K-beauty products are well-known and loved for their use of natural and unique ingredients (such as snail slime, propolis from honey bees, and mugwort plant extract) and high efficacy.
These products can be seen in almost every cosmetics store. In the U.S. alone last year, the country has imported more than $624 million in Korean cosmetics.
Their rise to fame is certainly no secret – K-beauty cuts no corners when it comes to achieving the perfect skin. Traditional routines often follow the famous 10-step skincare, which entails using multiple beauty products (as opposed to multiple-use products that promise quick results).
Unlike their western counterparts, K-beauty adheres to a “skin first” philosophy wherein preventive measures and skincare importance are emphasized, rather than merely covering imperfections.
Moreover, they are years ahead in the beauty market industry, using products, such as the BB cream, long before they were ever even heard of in North American brands.
Conquering the Global Beauty Market
There has been a surge in cosmetics consumption and demand for premium cosmetics subsequent to the rise of income levels and increased user participation in social and economic activities.
In 2018, K-beauty’s market size was valued at €7.8 billion ($9.3 billion and is expected to reach €18.5 billion ($21.8 billion) by 2026.
Asia Pacific accounted for approximately 70% of the total K-beauty products’ market share. Its largest following (apart from South Korea itself) are the Philippines and Singapore.
K-beauty products also inclusively cater to both women and men, targeting and aiding both genders’ skin issues, which further propels the market growth.
Not to mention, the brands’ creative packaging (usually of bright and colorful or sleek and minimalist designs) and memorable product names that leave a lasting impression on their global customers.
And as more consumers become aware of their products’ uniqueness and benefits, the vast opportunity for K-beauty products market players will continue to expand.
The Ever-Expanding Korean Beauty Industry
Many factors have driven the market for K-beauty products worldwide. Their global popularity and colossal growth in the market can also be attributed to the brands’ influence on social media.
Great storytelling, using beautiful Korean celebrities as brand ambassadors, and the tremendous stream of advertisements and video tutorials all over Facebook and Instagram are some of the critical marketing strategies for K-beauty brands.
And unlike some Western personalities, these influencers actually have skin to die for and seem to really make skincare a part of their daily lifestyle – a testament to K-beauty products’ effectiveness.
They are so aspirational that they have even influenced Hollywood in joining the bandwagon.
Market Leaders of K-Beauty Brands
A significant number of K-beauty brands have already penetrated the global beauty market.
The successful ones follow a bold, catchy, innovative approach that truly sets them apart from others. They are up-to-date with the times and respond to trends so much faster than most.
Here are several of the best-selling Korean beauty brands of 2020 and a glimpse of how they are taking the world by storm:
1. Glow Recipe
Focused on the “glass skin” and “cloudless skin” trends, this natural, fruit-powered skincare brand knows for a fact that “makeup only looks good on great skin.”
With products designed to bring out one’s inner glow, it only makes use of ingredients that are clean, Leaping Bunny certified, and free of parabens, sulfates, and phthalates.
It started out as an e-commerce skincare marketplace, but after its two founders, Sarah and Christine, received an investment offer after appearing in Shark Tank, the brand eventually branched out to Target and Sephora.
They are most popular for their Watermelon Glow line, which features a powerhouse of products that hydrate, soothe, and fight free radical damage.
They also have a wide range of fruitilicious products made from Blueberry, Pineapple, Avocado, Banana, Papaya, and Plum.
2. Dear, Klairs
Originally launched as just ‘Klairs,’ the brand presents itself as a love letter-slash-rescuer for its consumers who struggle with sensitive skin.
Their philosophy is simple: to create functional skincare that contains no harsh ingredients and respects the beauty of the environment.
Their multi-award winning products, the ‘Supple Preparation Facial Toner’ hit its million sales last year, and the ‘Freshly Juiced Vitamin Drop’ closely followed the footsteps this year, and both are showing a high demand from customers around the world.
They are confident that their high-quality yet reasonably-priced products speak for themselves, relying mostly on satisfied customer reviews and word-of-mouth in place of costly PR and marketing.
One of the top-of-mind, world-renowned brands when it comes to K-beauty, COSRX (a play on the words “cosmetics” and “rx” – as in prescription) is one of the pioneers that made Korean beauty mainstream.
One of their trendsetting, holy-grail products has to be their Pimple Patch product line, which took the brand to the global stage and claimed several prestigious awards every year.
They are “beginner-friendly” for those who are new to the Korean skincare routine, offering a wide range of result-oriented and affordable products for every skin type.
The brand sells its products through online marketplaces (like Lazada, Shopee, Qoo10, and Amazon) in over 20 countries and counting. It also uses simple and minimalist packaging, which effectively shifts its consumers’ attention to its short, science-backed, and cruelty-free ingredients.
The wonders of nature are at the heart of this K-beauty headliner brand as it delivers powerful and advanced skincare ingredients responsibly sourced from Korea’s pristine Jeju Island.
From plant to bottle, its extraction methods preserve the purity and potency of its rare and natural ingredients (such as volcanic clay and green tea leaves extract).
Their famous Green Tea Seed Serum alone has over 25 million bottles of sales since its first introduction in 2008!
Innisfree is lauded for its confidence in competing with big-name retailers breaking into the U.S. market. Without relying on traditional marketing strategies, this brand knows its strengths and authenticity from its visually-compelling, digitally-driven retail stores and its sustainability-related ideologies.
However, Innisfree’s marketing strategy of story-telling does not stop at physical stores. They leaped out of the norm and brought the actual experience of being in Innisfree Green Tea fields straight to their Instagram feed. (Turn on the volume for the best ASMR experience!)
The “true hydration experts” Laneige (which means ‘the snow’ in French) boasts its extensive 25-long years of studying water science.
Their smart water recipe solutions deal with skincare concerns such as dehydration, dullness, and excess oil. The end result is crystal clear: dewy, radiant skin.
It is also taking advantage of other storytelling opportunities through brand partnerships (like what it did with Popsugar Playground and Netflix).
6. Dr. Jart+
Another pioneer K-beauty brand to be included in Sephora is Dr. Jart+ (a contraction of the words “doctor” and “art”), which offers targeted skincare products for all skin types.
From exfoliating AHA/BHA to skin building Ceramides, its effective dermatological cosmetics are formulated without skin-irritating ingredients.
Its avant-garde packaging and science-art fusion formulas (like its fun, DIY set of rubbery modeling masks, for example) are a nod to its two founders of differing backgrounds (a dermatologist and an architect).
Dr. Jart+ is now a global brand available in over 5,500+ locations across 36 markets.
7. Banila Co
A cult favorite, Banila Co is a skincare and makeup brand that is streamlined for all skin types, textures, and tones.
It is famous for its “healthy makeup breakup” with its Clean It Zero line that removes even the most stubborn, waterproof cosmetics. Its products are also free from parabens, sulfates, phthalates, or alcohol.
The brand defies the usual 10-step Korean skincare routine. It simplifies their regimen with just four easy and practical steps, presenting an attractive strategy in penetrating the U.S. market (keeping in mind its millennial and generation Z consumers who often lead busy lifestyles).
The first to ever position cosmetics to root itself in food, SkinFood believes that using top-quality, nutritive food equates to healthy, beautiful skin.
For the brand, beauty is a lifestyle. It is a commitment to the natural and wholesome. Results may take a little longer to come into fruition, but when done right, become timeless.
Its products are based on all-natural, organic (and delicious), good-for-you ingredients (such as Brazilian black sugar, South Asian royal black honey, and French grapes), all of which are sourced ethically and sustainably from farmers across the world.
Despite being relatively new in the global beauty playing field, the K-beauty influence is here to stay.
Its years of expertise in the cosmetics industry and knack for an innovative approach to beauty make it a competent player that continues to excite and reel in consumers to try something new.
Keeping an eye out for cosmetic trends is crucial for marketers and communicators alike. If you are in need of high-quality content writing for beauty companies, we are your best bet for crafting messages that will resonate with your audience.
How did you like May Thawdar Oo’s blog post “Riding the Korean Wave in the Beauty Industry”? Let us know in the comments if you have anything to add, have another content idea for beauty content marketing blog posts, or just want to say “hello.” 🙂