The other Korean wave: The rising popularity of Korean cosmetics

We wanted to discover why Korean cosmetics have become so popular outside of Korea in recent years and so we talked to online Korean cosmetic retailer WISHTrend about the Korean beauty trend.

We’re giving away $100 worth of Wishtrend vouchers! Click here to enter.

Korea’s growing cultural influence has been gaining a lot of recognition in the past few years with the massive increase in popularity of Korean pop culture products, particularly K-pop and TV dramas. But this is not the only market in which Korean products have been expanding. Korea has also seen a surge in interest in its fashion and lifestyle products. This is true of Korean cosmetics in particular which have not only completely dominated the domestic market ahead of foreign brands but have also seen an explosion in popularity overseas.

wishtrendWhile the big Korean brands like Amorepacific, Skin Food and Laneige may not be household names globally, they have been doing extremely well in other neighbouring markets particularly China. A recent survey found that female Chinese students spend nearly $300 a year on Korean brand cosmetics. We spoke to Tay Kim, beauty blogger for international Korean cosmetic online retailer WISHTrend, who explained the reasons for this popularity. She said ‘China is one of the closest countries to South Korea in geographic perspective which means that we have similar weather, ethnicity, and skin type’.

Korean cosmetic brands have also become known for their advanced technology and quality ingredients which is a major factor in their increasing popularity. Part of the reason for this is that a lot of investment has gone into the design and development of the brands which have allowed cosmetics companies to develop cutting edge technology and lead new cosmetic trends. Products which gained popularity originally in Korea such as BB and CC cream have then gone on to be reproduced by global cosmetics brands in markets where consumers have little knowledge of East Asian makeup trends.

These large scale investments have been enabled by the fact that most Korean cosmetics brands are either developed by large cosmetics companies who own many popular brands such as Amorepacific and LG H&H or they are smaller brands whose products are developed by an original development and design manufacturer such as Korea Kolmar. As both of these models work on large scales it allows for more money to be invested in improving the quality of products. However some may argue that this could be deceptive towards consumers as many of the brands that appear to be different are actually developed in the same factories by the same companies. Tay argues that because the Korean market is so competitive, ‘it makes cosmetic companies develop better ingredients and newer, higher technology’ and therefore leads to a higher quality overall.

jonghyun etudeOf course the popularity of Korean cosmetics outside of Korea has also been driven by the Hallyu wave as international K-pop and Korean drama fans gain interest in achieving the look of their favourite stars. On top of that many brands are employing celebrities to endorse their brands and often these campaigns reach out beyond the domestic market as fans search for high quality images of their idols. However Tay believes that increasingly the focus is shifting more towards the actual products rather than the stars and ‘one day the advanced Korean cosmetic itself [will] be highlighted’.

In order to address the growing market of people interested in Korean cosmetics outside of Korea and its main export markets a number of online retailers have started selling Korean products to consumers all over the world. Although this started with just the most well-known brands such as Skin Food and Etude House, there are now sites which specialise in selling a wider range of products. Wishtrend is one such retailer which focusses on ‘deliver[ing] not-well-known but with great quality and ingredients’.[Profile] Tay_2

Wishtrend is also a good example of how these online marketplaces are using online marketing strategies to promote not only their own website but also Korean cosmetics in general. The company tries to familiarise foreign consumers with their products through beauty blogs and videos, an online trend which has become very popular in recent years. Describing the reason for this strategy, Tay, who appears in all the company’s videos, said ‘since we carry many brands that are unfamiliar to foreign consumers, we felt a need to actively introduce and talk about them’.

With new stores opening all the time outside of Korea and more and more online retailers coming into the market, for better or worse, it seems like the influence of Korean cosmetics brands will not stop growing any time soon.

We’re giving away $100 worth of Wishtrend vouchers! Click here to enter.

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  • whateverwha

    So…all in all, have the Korean cosmetics made it in the West (including Latin America, I’m not sure for Africa)? Sorry I’ve read the article but didn’t really had the asnwer to my question.

    When I started reading the article I also had another question. Rising popularity but what about the other skin types/tones? Do they catch up with them? Are they trying to in the future? I heard that Korean make-up only had 2 tones (very pale and pale).
    And that even dark-skinned Koreans have no choice but wear them, which is not good to me.

    OK, I know it’s probably the wrong post to ask this question but it was actually what made me interested in reading the article (lol).

    • Lizzie

      All very good (and difficult) questions!

      From my readings (this is a good starting point if you want to know about overseas expansion–Industry-Articles1/Gaining-Momentum/) I would say, not so far but they’re working on it! A lot of brands are opening up stores in North America and South East Asia in particular. I think the biggest influence on the global market so far has been more to do with starting trends in beauty which have been reproduced by the big international brands.

      You raise an interesting point, they seem to be focussing mostly on East and South East Asia, North America and Europe and mostly ignoring South America and Africa.

      I’m not sure about the question about tones. You’re definitely right that Korean makeup tends to be geared towards pale skin (and often even contains whitening products). It seems like a lot of the brands like The Face Shop and Skinfood which have been expanding in the US are probably better known for skincare rather than makeup.

      Pale skin is the most desired in Korea (and many parts of East, South East and South Asia) so I think that’s definitely reflected in the products and lack of darker tones.

      It would be interesting to see if that changes as they focus more on markets outside of Korea or if they are looking more for niche markets who are looking specifically for these kinds of tones and products (most US branches so far have been in California where there is a lot of people of Korean and other East Asian ethnicity).

      Tanning is starting to become kind of fashionable in Korea though (Tay who we interviewed made a video about it: so perhaps that will also cause a slight change in the tones available.

      Very thought provoking! Thanks (might look into this more in future)

      • whateverwha

        Thank you for the detailed answer! :) I’ll take a look at the link now.

        Yes, indeed I saw Gemey Maybelline promote BB Creams, copying the concept from Korean brands, the good thing is that there were a range of tones available with Gemey, still limited though.

        Nice video! Cool to see that tanning can also be viewed as positive when done correctly.

  • Erisa Desu

    sorry to say that the only korean brand that we have in Greece is Nyx and that is actually american only founded by a korean and probably because it has a greek name.

  • SakiVI

    If they just made BB cream for South Asian skin, I would be so happy because I’m convinced/brainwashed that Korean BB cream is the best ever. Even though I’ve never tried it.

  • LadyGin

    Garnier, Cover Girl, Revlon and more are all came out with the BB and CC creams this year. I’ve tried CG and Garnier, both are good, but even here in the U.S, most only come in 3 shades, pale, medium, dark. I’m olive toned so I go for medium and it’s not a big deal. Still, I’m also concerned that they clog pores, because I’ve never had such break outs in my life at one time. I had to quit using the BB creams. But they are so addictive the way the smooth out the skin. I don’t find them great from covering blemishes though. They rub right off. In that case, you can use Final Seal- Matte Makeup Sealer or another brand. The Disney Princesses in Florida and California use it and they are out in the melting, blazing heat all day in full make up. It must work well.

    I guess you can mix and match to get the ‘perfect’ shade. Some women have to do that with their concealers. Other than the Korean skin care regiments and secrets I’m dying to know, the tons upon tons of make-up tips (eyes, lips, lashes, etc) that we can get from the West are more than enough to make us look beautiful.

  • YoonGi

    Is there any korean cosmetic store in nanjing or shanghai?