Exit 6 of Myeongdong Station is surely a place of hustle and bustle. Along with the tempting street foods and countless advertising boards featuring K-pop stars, the street lined with K-beauty brands grabs the eyes of the reporters. It is common to see foreigners from various countries shopping at this place. Even though they all use different languages and have different skin colors, many of them have one very notable thing in common; that is, they all carry shopping bags filled with K-beauty products that they bought at the stores here.
To follow this global craze for K-beauty, many of the Korean cosmetic companies launched their brands in all parts of the world. What could be the possible reason for this sudden upsurge of popularity? The Argus is here to tell you why.
The term “K-beauty” includes not only Korean makeup products but also products such as nail care or body wash, Korean makeup style and skincare routine. One of the distinguishing characteristics is the diversity of products for skin health. The recent Korean makeup trend is about seeking a more plain and simple look. When applying the makeup, light colors are more preferred together with base makeup that gives a look of clear skin.
K-beauty enjoyed by various ages
As the beauty industry developed in Korea, the age of people enjoying makeup has diversified. Nowadays, people from teenagers to 70-year-olds are enjoying makeup in new ways.
First of all, teenagers have changed their makeup to a simpler style and sought for professional knowledge about makeup for themselves in the past two or three years, unlike in the past when they used to copy the makeup looks of adults or wear heavy makeup. In addition, teens go to college for makeup-related careers. In fact, there are 12 universities recruiting freshman from 2017 that newly established and reorganized cosmetics departments. Konyang University created the Department of Global Medical Beauty, and Daegu Haany University made the Division of Cosmetic Science and Technology last year. In this way, it can be seen that there is a growing opportunity for young people to get more professional makeup by newly created cosmetics-related departments in colleges or expanding existing departments related to beauty.
In addition, professional beauty programs for teenagers were newly created. One of the programs is the “Teen-Beaustar Camp” hosted by Naver, Korea’s Internet company. It started last year, which provided teenagers with professional education in cosmetics and an opportunity for them to meet various professionals. Teenagers can use these programs to create their own makeup content based on various experiences.
Older people are also enjoying makeup in new forms. In the past, makeup techniques aimed at the younger generation became mainstream, but as the range of enjoyment has been widened, makeup tailored for older people has also become specialized. For example, the Lotte Department Store Culture Center introduced the “Six Week Complete Lovely Makeup” program, which gives elderly people makeup along with detailed instructions.
K-beauty being loved regardless of gender
Makeup is mainly thought of for women. Or it is easy to think that it is for celebrities, including male idols, who have to show off their colorful looks. However, recently, makeup has become a new trend among ordinary men, not just for women and male entertainers. In particular, some YouTube videos such as men’s skin care and makeup tutorials have attracted more attention to men’s beauty and have gotten more than 1 million views. Na Myeong-chae, a student at Chuncheon National University of Education, said, “I think many men are interested in makeup because it helps accentuate external advantages. In fact, I felt a difference in self-confidence when I wore makeup. In this respect, I think there are a lot of positive aspects when men use make-up.”
In fact, the size of the Korean men’s cosmetics market is also growing. According to the Joong-Ang Ilbo, the male cosmetics market in Korea last year reached 1.28 trillion won (US$88 million). Also, according to Olive Young, the Korean Health & Beauty Store, male cosmetics sales have increased by about 40 percent annually.
Korean beauty companies are launching various makeup products for men. Recently, Korea’s beauty company, Aekyung Corporation, released a product called “SNEAKY” in August. It is a BB cream for men who enjoy natural makeup. Korean beauty company Dashu also launched “All-in-one Cream,” which can simplify complex skin care, and sells men’s eyebrow grooming kit and lip balm for light styling.
The number of men working in the beauty industry is continuously increasing. In fact, unlike in the past when there were only female employees at cosmetic shops, there have also been many male employees in recent years. “I think that as men are more interested in beauty these days, demand for male employees in beauty shops is increasing. Actually, there seems to be a lot of male employees not only at our shop but also other beauty stores in Korea,” a male employee at Olive Young’s Gangnam store said.
K-beauty spreading throughout the world
The popularity of K-beauty not only applies to domestic markets but is a worldwide sensation. Thanks to this, the amount of exports reached the largest on record. According to Statistics Korea, Korean makeup products garnered 658 billion won (US$593 million) from foreign direct sales for online markets in the second quarter of 2018. This holds 73.7 percent from the online market sales for Korean products and is a 53.7 percent increase from last year, an 8.6 percent increase from last quarter. Export countries expanded from East Asia and ASEAN to Arab countries, Europe, and America.
The world’s largest cosmetics company, L’Oreal, took over the Korean brand “Style Nanda,” recognizing its unique style and color cosmetics that captivate worldwide customers. Other K-beauty companies are also launching their brands and arranging makeup classes or beauty festivals all over the world. From July 7 to 8 this year, K-beauty Color Festival was launched in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. About 5,000 Vietnamese fans attended the show, which proved their huge interest in K-beauty. To match the diverse skin tones for worldwide customers, Korean brands increase their diversity in base makeup products by launching foundations that have darker or lighter tones compared to the domestic ones.
Furthermore, the tour package called the “Korean beauty package” came along. This package, which is for K-beauty fans, includes visits to K-beauty brand stores and experiences on Korean beauty care. To attract the foreign tourists who come to Korea for makeup products, most of the stores in Myeongdong employ foreign staffs. “About 80 to 90 percent of our customers consist of foreigners. Because of this, we hire Japanese and Chinese staff that are good at foreign languages,” said one of the workers at Banilaco’s Myeongdong store.
Korean cosmetics with cost effectiveness
Today’s K-beauty market is gaining popularity because most Korean cosmetic products are cost-effective. Foreign brands such as Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel are famous, but most of their products are very expensive. However, domestic beauty brands such as Innisfree and The Face Shop, which have successfully entered overseas markets, can be purchased at relatively low prices.
“Die Welt,” one of Germany’s influential daily newspapers, noted that one of the reasons why Korean cosmetics are popular is their reasonable price. “The skin care of Koreans is divided into more steps than that of the European people. In addition to basic products such as masks, cleansing foams, peeling products, toners, and creams, Koreans also use essences and serums. Due to the demand for various products, the Korean market is much more competitive than Germany’s. In Germany, of course, it makes more money in the import process. Nevertheless, the price is reasonable compared to the German cosmetics market so far.”
In fact, Yves Saint Laurent’s lip products are priced at around 40,000 won (US$35.81) and Nars’ foundations are priced at 70,000 won (US$62.67). On the other hand, most of Innisfree’s lip products are priced at 10,000 won (US$8.95), and the foundations of The Face Shop are as low as 20,000 won (US$17.91). Despite of its relatively affordable price range, the quality also never disappoints the customers. Instead of expensive luxury brand products, recently, domestic beauty brand products have been attracting attention. Domestic brands are not inferior to luxury goods, either, in terms of quality or design. As such, domestic brands have satisfied customers all around the world by launching products with cost-effectiveness. “I bought a lipstick from a Korean brand and liked it very much. Along with its good quality, it has a very cheap price,” said Maimouna Lemnouar, a female from France.
Development of beauty manufacturing business
“Kolmar Korea” and “Cosmax,” the world-renowned Original Design Manufacturing (ODM) Company, along with the small and medium-sized ODM enterprises from Korea are another reason for K-beauty’s popularity. Contrary to the Original Equipment Manufacturing (OEM) companies that follow the ordering company’s design, ODM companies proactively manufacture and supply the product to the ordering company based on their self-owned technology. Kolma Korea and Cosmax develop their own patent technology as well as following the manufacturing request. The technology that they own is assessed as outstanding in both quality and speed. The platform that goes across through production, sales, and marketing is well established so that the whole process is completed in two to six months. Kolmar Korea invests more than five percent of its sales in R&D and recruits more than 40 percent of its new employees as researchers to focus on developing patents. Cosmax also reinforces its patent application and registration by its research center that focuses on both skincare and makeup.
When an individual comes up with a brand and concept, the ODM companies consult the brand, recommend the package design and label, request a contract research organization for clinical testing, and support all the other factors needed for distribution. In other words, with only a good idea, anyone could get into the cosmetic business. This is the reason why many young generations challenge themselves into the cosmetic business and lead successful domestic beauty brands.
The boom of content featuring Korean makeup
The surge of TV programs or diverse video contents that feature Korean makeup supplemented the popularity of K-beauty. K-pop or K-dramas turned global attention to Korean celebrities’ makeup routines and the products that they use. This helped the K-beauty brands draw global customers. “At first, tourists look for K-beauty items that are featured in the media, but many of them get satisfied by the quality of our products and come back,” said one employee from Banilaco’s Myeongdong store.
As many of the Korean celebrities use Korean base makeup products that cover skin blemishes, lots of foreigners also have started using these products. “I got interested in K-beauty products while watching K-dramas, since the actors had very clear skin. I think that K beauty products help me a bit with my skin too,” said Nadya Razak, a female from Singapore.
On YouTube, it is easy to find videos that show how to imitate Korean idol members or an actor’s makeup, garnering millions of views. These videos have comments in different languages, which are written by viewers that are from various countries. This shows the fever of K-pop and dramas spreading to K-beauty.
On the other hand, there are videos that deal with the trend of Korean makeup routines or reviews for K-beauty products done by both Korean and foreign YouTubers. This increase in related content became another way to introduce K-beauty. “I first heard about Korean beauty products through my friends but got to know more from YouTube since there are so many videos related to K beauty. There was one video about the 10 best Korean beauty products, and I am planning to buy them in Korea,” said Bree Jalalpour, a female from Australia.
Integration with current technology
Marketing beauty products together with the use of current technology could be another way to grab both domestic and foreign customers. AmorePacific, a Korean beauty and cosmetics conglomerate, recently collaborated with Samsung Electronics and created a “makeup simulation” service. This service was embedded in the AI platform “Bixby Vision” and can be used with Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+. The camera lens perceives the user’s face and virtually applies makeup products from brands such as Sulwhasoo, Iope, and Laneige.
CJOliveNetworks added AI and AR services in the Gangnam Olive Young. The service includes a “smart mirror” that recommends beauty products after scanning the faces of each customer, and a tablet PC on which users can virtually apply makeup.
“Many of our customers try these services and get help when they choose a product. I think these services not only help the visitors find apt products but also help them enjoy the shopping experience more than before,” said an employee at the Olive Young’s Gangnam store.
Response to the fakes
Recently, the increase of fake K-beauty brands has become an issue. On July 25, AmorePacific announced that it had won its second trial against the fake brand “Sulansoo” which imitated its name Sulwhasoo. The problem worsens as these brands expand their distribution network.
There has been an ongoing allegation of Chinese lifestyle brand “Mumuso” imitating Korean beauty companies. Their packaging of mask packs, hand cream, and many other beauty products are extremely similar and hard to differentiate from those from Korea. Despite the fact that 99.7 percent of its products are manufactured in China, and that it has headquarters located in Shanghai, it has continuously claimed on its website that it originated from Korea.
These fake beauty products cannot guarantee their quality. This degrades the image of the brand and the country as well as causing damage to the customers. Besides, it deceives those who want to buy Korean products, and wrongfully takes away the market share.
Thus, enterprises need to register their intellectual property rights and push ahead with penalizing counterfeit brands. Also, since it is legally impossible to charge and prevent the foreign brands from using Korean images, consumers must also be conscious about the problem. Domestic firms are continuously developing ways for consumers to certify the products that they have bought, such as with a QR code activation service. The habit of checking the authenticity of the purchased product is needed.
Based on K-pop, various Korean trends are now spreading around the world. Unlike in the past, which has only accepted foreign cultures, Korea is now leading a new culture all over the world. The future of K-Beauty, enjoyed by men and women of all ages, turns itself a green light. The K-beauty craze is no longer just a byproduct of K-pop, but K-beauty itself will soon become a Korean wave. The reporters look forward to seeing the domestic cosmetics industry leading the global market in the future.
By Kim Hannah and Lee Jun-young
Staff Reporters of Culture Section