1. General introduction
South Korea adopts the negative list to regulate the use of ingredients in cosmetics. This means if an ingredient is not listed in the prohibited ingredients list (Annex 1 of Cosmetic Safety Standard) or is used under the limitation requirements for restricted ingredients list (Annex 2 of Cosmetic Safety Standard), the ingredient can be used in manufacturing a cosmetic product.
Note that chemical substances used as cosmetic ingredients are exempted from the registration of K-REACH.
2. Cosmetic Ingredients
2.1 Prohibited Ingredients
As per the provisions in Cosmetics Act, the Ministry of Food and Safety Drug (MFDS) specified 1,040 kinds of ingredients as prohibited ingredients which cannot be used for manufacturing cosmetics distributed in South Korea, such as galanthamine, gold salts, prohibited chemical substances under K-REACH, etc. These ingredients are listed in the Annex 1 of Cosmetic Safety Standard. English version is available here: South Korea: Prohibited Ingredients in Cosmetics.
2.2 Restricted Ingredients
Korean authority controls the raw materials subject to special use restriction, such as preservatives, colorants and UV-filters, by designating the restricted ingredients' scope and their usage limits.
List of ingredients and usage limits
Colorants for hair dyes
The competent authority also emphasized that no preservatives, colorants or UV-filters whose standards are not established and publicly notified shall be used. If enterprises intend to use a non-notified preservative, colorant or UV-filter to manufacture products, or use the notified restricted ingredient for new purposes, they shall apply for MFDS recognition. The applicant shall submit an application letter, together with the following documents:
A summary of all submitted documents;
The raw material’s origin, development process, and the usage standard and usage situation in South Korea and other countries;
Properties of the raw material;
Safety and efficacy documents (applicable for the situation where the efficacy document is required);
Test report of the raw material’s standard and test method.
MFDS will review the application documents and send a result notification to the applicant within 180 days. For the detailed requirements for the submission documents, enterprises can refer to Regulation on the Examination of Designation and Changes of Cosmetics Ingredient Standards.
2.3 Functional Ingredients
Following the Enforcement Rule of Cosmetics Act, functional cosmetics refer to the following items with efficacies:
Cosmetics which have efficacy helpful in skin-whitening by curbing the formation of marks, freckles, etc. through prevention of skin pigmentation of melanin;
Cosmetics which have efficacy helpful in skin-whitening by fading melanin pigmentation in skin;
Cosmetics which have efficacy in smoothing or improving skin wrinkles by firming skin;
Cosmetics which have efficacy in tanning skin gently by screening strong sunlight;
Cosmetics which have efficacy in protecting skin from ultraviolet rays by intercepting or scattering them;
Cosmetics with the function of changing (including the function of bleaching or removing) the color of hair: excluding: however, the products which temporarily change the color of hair;
Cosmetics with the function of removing body hair: excluding, however, products which remove body hair in a physical manner;
Cosmetics which help alleviate alopecia: excluding, however, products which make hair look thick in a physical manner, such as coating;
Cosmetics which help alleviate acneiform skin conditions: limited, however, to kinds of products for cleaning human body;
Cosmetics which help restore the skin barrier function to relieve the skin itching;
Cosmetics which help thinning red lines caused by striae distensa.
Functional cosmetics are subject to evaluation before being launched on the Korean market. However, when the functional ingredient's efficacy and usage standards are the same as specified in the Standards and Testing Methods of Functional Cosmetics (Korean Functional Cosmetics Codex, KFCC), enterprises can submit a report to MFSD instead of the evaluation.
ChemLinked compiles the notified functional materials under KFCC, including the following lists:
(1) Main Functional Raw Materials in Whitening Cosmetics
(2) Main Functional Raw Materials in Anti-wrinkle Cosmetics
(3) Main Functional Raw Materials in Sun-Blocks
(4) Main Functional Raw Materials in Whitening and Anti-wrinkle Cosmetics
(5) Main Functional Raw Materials in Hair dyeing and Hair Bleach
(6) Main Functional Raw Materials in Hair Removal Products
(7) Main Functional Raw Materials in Acne/Pimple products (Rinse-off Products only)
(8) Main Functional Raw Materials in Anti-Hair Loss Products
Find all lists here: South Korea: Approved Ingredients for Functional Cosmetics.
2.4 Natural and Organic Ingredients
MFDS introduced the categories of "natural cosmetic" and "organic cosmetic" in 2018. The ingredients play a pivotal role in compliance of natural and organic cosmetics. Following the Regulations on the Standards of Natural and Organic Cosmetic Products, in a natural cosmetic product, the natural raw material concentration shall exceed 95%. The standard of organic cosmetics is stricter than that of natural cosmetics. Apart from the 95% natural raw material concentration, organic cosmetics shall contain over 10% organic ingredients.
Natural raw materials refer to natural ingredients (including organic ingredients, plant ingredients, animal ingredients, and mineral ingredients), natural-derived ingredients, and water. “Organic ingredient” is a sub-category under the above-mentioned "natural ingredient". It includes the following items:
organic agricultural and fishery ingredients certified by South Korean authority,
organic agricultural and fishery ingredients certified by foreign authorities, and
organic ingredients certified by institutions registered with IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Farm Movements)
Find the detailed ingredients inventory here: South Korea: Permitted Ingredients and Technologies in Natural and Organic Cosmetics.
3. Hot Cosmetic Ingredients in South Korea
Centella Asiatica (A.K.A. “Cica” or "Tiger's Grass") is an important medicinal herb commonly found and used in Asia for centuries. Rich in amino acids, beta carotene, fatty acids and phytochemicals, it is famous for its strong properties in moisturizing as well as collagen and skin tissue synthesis.
Niacinamide, a form of Vitamin B3, is a hydrophilic endogenous substance. It has a host of benefits, including brightening dull skin, enhancing hair appearance, and moisturizing skin. This ingredient is specified in KCFF as a main functional ingredient in whitening cosmetics.
Mugwort, a type of "Artemisia", is still a hot ingredient in South Korea. Touted for its ability to reduce redness and sensitivity and comparable to Vitamin C in terms of antioxidant capacity, this ingredient is perfect for those with dry, sensitive, and acne-prone skin. However, as Mugwort is not a notified anti-wrinkle or anti-acne ingredient, enterprises cannot declare the relevant efficacies unless they apply for an evaluation of functional cosmetics.