Global Marketing

Korean Trends Crossing Cultural Barriers

In the last 18 months, the West saw a rise in Korean influence, notably within the beauty and cosmetics industry. Estimated at around $13 billion in 2017, Korean beauty, or K-beauty, trends soared across Asia and resonated across the world.

What’s all the hype about?

I went into a deeper dive into the Korean cosmetics market, and here are some interesting insights:

In recent years, K-beauty companies began to expand internationally, with hallyu (Korean Wave) culture becoming more widespread. Uniquely, “South Korea's beauty industry is typically about 10-12 years ahead of the rest of the world” says Marie Claire’s digital beauty editor, Katie Thomas, in an interview she gave to BBC News. Essentially, the pillars of the makeup industry are deeply rooted into the Korean culture, and K-beauty practices are well received across Asia and the rest of the world. To K-beauty fans, the products not only offer the best quality of the best ingredients but attached to that product is the identity value that K-beauty offers consumers. Let’s break it down:

First, skincare is the essential pillar and is “ingrained in Korean culture from a very young age to look after your skin”, explains Thomas. As such, customers who use K-beauty products will rest at ease knowing they invested their money in products that have been used for centuries. Sephora then hopped on the K-beauty train, and co-developed Kaja. This was the first U.S. – K-beauty brand partnership. K-beauty became so popular that even Business Insider compiled a list of 17 of the best Korean skin-care products you can find at Sephora.

Second, there are active ingredients and new, innovative formulas constantly being developed in South Korea that would likely not be considered in the United States, simply due to lack of knowledge of such unique ingredients’ properties (snail mucus, pearl for brightening).

Additionally, the K-beauty industry has a keen focus on facial care products rather than decorative, or makeup, products. This holistic approach is desired by consumers, and the practice is consequently embodied through K-beauty products.

Third, and more importantly, K-beauty boomed online, and thousands of bloggers published video reviews of K-beauty products on a daily basis.

Interestingly, an advantage that South Korea had over countries like the United States is the widespread use of makeup by men, and thus, the amount of social influencers and bloggers was drastically higher in South Korea, just because their target market was inherently larger.

However, that didn’t stop K-beauty from resonating with non-Koreans. That’s because the added value that K-beauty is bringing to the table is coated with an extra layer of culture. K-beauty is perfected because culturally, this has been a common practice in all Korean households, and knowledge and expertise have been passed down from generation to generation. Additionally, the novelty of unknown or new ingredients adds to the appeal of such products.

Have you ever tried K-beauty products? Let us know below!

– Maria Khalil

2 replies on “Korean Trends Crossing Cultural Barriers”

Hi Maria,

Great post. Given the lack of proper knowledge in the US about some of the K-beauty brands and their ingredients, what do you think is the best way to introduce these products to the main-stream US consumer?

Hi Robyn, thanks, and good question. The current approach, which also works in the food industry by the way, is to market how you feel after using these products, or what benefits you can see. Examples for the beauty industry include “skin glow” and “radiant” and “instant detox”, and they attribute the benefit to these unique ingredients. – Maria

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