K-beauty: The rise of Korean make-up in the West

For thousands of years the fashion conscious have used make-up to get
their look just right, and keep up with fast-moving trends. Now, the
global beauty industry is experiencing a revolution driven by South
Korea. Say hello to K-beauty.

Young people in Western countries have become infatuated with K-pop - Korean pop music - and Korean soap operas.

Many Korean celebrities and pop stars, including the seven-member boy band BTS, are known for their signature looks.

But it's not just Korean entertainment - in the last 18 months, there
has also been a rise in Korean beauty trends coming over to the West.

In 2017, South Korea's beauty industry was estimated to be worth just
over $13bn (£10bn), according to retail researchers Mintel.

The fascination with Korean cosmetics is due to how innovative they are, says Marie Claire's digital beauty editor Katie Thomas.

South Korea's beauty industry is typically about 10-12 years ahead of the rest of the world, she says.

"It's not that there's been a big boom, we're just catching up with them
essentially, [helped by] the expansion of Instagram and beauty

'Skincare first'

Before even putting any make-up on, Koreans put in a lot of effort to take care of their skin.

"It's sort of ingrained in Korean culture from a very young age to look
after your skin," Ms Thomas says, explaining that the Korean ethos is to
ensure that you have good skin, rather than needing foundation and
other products to cover up unsightly blemishes.

You might be used to the typical daily three-step routine of using
cleanser, toner and moisturiser before applying make-up, but in South
Korea, skincare regimes range from seven to 12 steps, with a focus on
hydrating the skin using gentle, natural ingredients.

"Some people would see it as excessive, but the fact is, you're feeding
your skin with these incredible ingredients. It's so different in the UK
[in comparison]," says Ms Thomas.

Much more research is carried out into new products in South Korea than
in other countries, she says, because there are so many competing
brands, each trying to be the best.

"The Korean beauty industry doesn't shy away from introducing new,
unique ingredients to their formulas that would never be considered in
the West," says Karen Hong, the founder of K Beauty Bar, a concession
stand for Korean beauty products found in Topshop's flagship store in
London's Oxford Street.

Unique ingredients such as...? "Snail mucin for moisturising, pearl for
brightening, green tea for oil control and propolis from bees for
soothing and nourishing," she reels off.

Social success

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

According to Mintel's global beauty analyst Andrew McDougall, Korean
beauty trends have grown in popularity thanks to "clever digital
marketing strategies" on social media that have gained the interest of
Western beauty influencers, bloggers and journalists.

Consumers' interests are piqued by colourful packaging, as well as
reviews and demonstrations on Instagram and YouTube, he explains.

"It's consumers who are more informed and do their own research, and
it's influencers who put them on the K-beauty path in the first place,"
says Mr McDougall.

Katie Thomas agrees: "That K-pop fun quite cartoony approach is very
much part of their industry. But it does do very well. People do buy
into fun packaging - things they can take a picture of on their bathroom

Some products can be found in Topshop and TKMaxx, but other than that,
most British consumers can only buy these products online.

YesStyle.com, which started in 2015, is one such company, and it sees Korean make-up as big business.

The Hong Kong-based e-commerce firm carries more than 150 Korean brands,
and it expects sales of K-beauty products to top $25m in 2018.

Its founder Joshua Lau says the website's success has been down to
reviews from verified buyers that give Western consumers the confidence
to take a chance on new items.

YesStyle's beauty editor Romy Rose Reyes says that Western consumers
have been intrigued by the "Chok Chok" no make-up make-up look, where
the aim is to have "dewy and bouncy skin with an extra glow".

According to Ms Reyes and Ms Hong, looking "natural" and "youthful" is
in, and the matte look favoured by European and US markets is now out.

To that end, there is an emphasis on:

creating a subtle lip gradient using lip tints

light foundation innovations: "cushion" foundations, BB creams
(beauty or blemish creams) and CC creams (colour correcting creams)

using "sheet" face masks to treat a variety of skin problems.

'K-beauty' inspired products

Western cosmetics makers have been taking notice too.

"We seen some Western brands take on a few of these skincare steps into their own regimes," says Marie Claire's Katie Thomas.

"For example, Yves Saint Laurent has cushion foundation and cushion
blushers. It's a bit less scary for consumers - an easy way into
K-beauty with a known brand."

This summer, Primark launched its K-Pop range of cosmetics, which sold out quickly.

Primark told the BBC that it was inspired by a "huge trend" it saw based
on skincare innovations from South Korea, and it is continuing to stock
face masks.

"We found this was a range that really worked for the younger consumer,
who was not necessarily after serious skincare," a company spokesperson

So is it just a fad, or is the K-beauty trend likely to last?

Ms Thomas thinks it's here to stay, because young people are very
concerned about the environment, and how damage to it affects humans as
well as plants and animals.

"People are becoming more attuned to what is happening to their skin -
there's so much pollution that gets into our skin that we don't know
about," she says. "Anything related to environmental damage is very much
coming over to the Western market."

But while much of this applies to women, in Korea cosmetics is big
business for both male and female consumers, so is K-beauty likely to
take off with men in the West?

"In Korea there is a different attitude amongst men towards skincare and
makeup - they're not afraid to express themselves as long as they look
and feel good, especially the younger generation. But this isn't a trend
that has reached the general male population in the West yet," says
Karen Hong.

Mintel's Andrew McDougall agrees.

"Men in the West are increasingly becoming more active consumers in the
beauty and personal care area, though there is a long way to catch up,"
he says.

He points to Chanel's recent launch of a make-up line targeted at men
called Boy de Chanel - the company chose to debut the products in South
Korea, rather than its native France.

Mr McDougall also adds that he doesn't wear make-up or use a fancy skincare routine himself.


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