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Aug 30, 2023

Forget K-pop, go for Korean beauty – but what’s (behind) K-beauty?

The South Korean wave doesn’t stop. Nowadays, it concerns music to films and TV series – and in some ways, even fashion – but never forget that it all started with beauty. After conquering the closest countries in the Far East, the increasing popularity of Korean cosmetic culture reached the rest of the world. Everybody got obsessed with its mask pack and foundation cushions from the Americas to Europe.

Hera, a luxury contemporary beauty brand from Seoul that "spreads the beauty and value of Korean women around the world," as they stated


What is K-beauty, and how much is this market worth?

Just think that thousands of tourists – mainly from China – visit South Korea every year to purchase high-quality cosmetic products.

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At Peach & Lily, they describe their brand as the originator of the Korean beauty trend

This is not surprising if we consider that, according to Statista, South Korea is one of the world’s top 10 beauty markets, and Euromonitor indicates it as the eighth largest cosmetics and personal care market, amounting to 12,81 billion dollars. And the numbers are constantly growing.


K-Beauty is to cosmetics what K-Pop is to music. But how did this success begin?

Let’s start by saying that Koreans use more beauty products daily than women from other countries. The average local woman uses seven essential skincare, four make-up, four body care and three hair products, whereas the average woman in the West uses only half that number. Koreans love to look natural and spend ethically, so they buy skincare products that help achieve fair and natural-looking skin.

Amorepacific Group is a South Korean beauty and cosmetics company, operating over 30 beauty, personal care, and health brands including Sulwhasoo, Laneige and innisfree

Besides, while customers from the rest of the world have high brand loyalty and rarely change their beauty routine, Koreans regularly switch brands to try new products that are on-trend.


From sleeping packs to snail slime treatments, here is how the world of K-Beauty has gained popularity worldwide

This attitude is contributing to sophisticated trends in the local cosmetics industry, which have also gained popularity worldwide, such as sheet masks, BB cream, CC cream, sleeping packs and foundation cushions.

These trends have gained popularity in East and South East Asia, but lately also in the Western world, emphasising health, hydration and brightening effects. 

These beauty products have considerably milder compositions thanks to the Korean tradition of employing natural, distinctive and harsh-free substances.

A leading beauty brand in Korea, innisfree is an eco-friendly skincare label under AmorePacific. They are "at the forefront of the global movement towards K-Beauty," as they claim

K-beauty places a great emphasis on skincare while ensuring its products are hip and reasonably priced, but it also focuses on innovation with unusual components like snail slime, bee venom, pig collagen, starfish extract and morphing masks.

Consumers in Korea, especially Millennials, are very concerned with the ingredients and their environmental impact, favouring eco-friendly and cruelty-free products.


Why is the K-Beauty market booming? 

“Due to its high product margin, the K-beauty market is growing more and more profitable for cosmetic enterprises, which increases its profitability,” said analysts, as reported by Straits Research. 

Laneige is a South Korean cosmetics brand launched by AmorePacific 

“The demand for K-beauty products has experienced a significant uptick in female cosmetics use due to more women participating in social and economic activities. As income levels rise, so does the desire for expensive, luxury cosmetics. Additionally, K-beauty goods cater to men’s and women’s needs for cosmetics.”


Who is leading the Korean cosmetics industry? 

The Korean cosmetics industry is led by major conglomerates such as Amorepacific Corporation, LG Household and Health Care, but many smaller-scale companies are emerging too. Also, the structure of domestic cosmetics distribution channels is constantly changing.

“In the early 2000s, original brand shops such as Innisfree and The Face Shop became popular. However, recently, H&B stores and multi-brand stores like Olive Young and Sephora have become leaders in offline cosmetics distribution,” Statista analysts explained.

Etude House is a Korean beauty brand owned by K-beauty giant AmorePacific

The market is witnessing high competition since major brands, such as Innisfree, Etude House and Laneige, are owned by the beauty and cosmetics conglomerate Amorepacific, which holds a prominent market share. Various players are entering the market to tap the untapped potential. 

The market intelligence and advisory firm Mordor Intelligence highlighted that South Korea is one of the fastest-changing beauty markets, introducing industry-leading innovations and globally setting trends. “The current trend is the rise of do-it-yourself beauty care. As a result, DIY hair colouring, nail care and care in other K-beauty categories are fetching new customers within the country,” experts said. 

Korean beauty start-ups have been able to break into the global market owing to the massive demand for K-beauty products. “K-beauty product companies are investing more in packaging the product by making them more attractive and creative to highlight the attributes of the products. However, several companies are strategically acquiring K-beauty start-ups and brands to stay on top of the current beauty market trends,” they concluded.



Clementina Bianchi