Natural and organic cosmetics have become more and more popular in South Korea in recent years (See Figure 1, based on data released by KOSIS). So what ingredients are hot recently? Which ingredients are allowed to be added in an organic/natural cosmetic? How to apply for organic/natural cosmetic certification? In this article, we will look at trending ingredients and offer guidance on organic/natural cosmetics in Korea.
(Figure 1. Total Sales of South Korea Organic Cosmetic)
1. Hottest Trending Ingredients
Living in Seoul, it's easy to spot a new trend when one appears. If it's hot you can guarantee everyone will be in on it. K-Beauty is no exception. There are three ingredients you can't turn left or right in Seoul without seeing - Centella Asiatica, Mugwort and Propolis.
While it may be new to western beauty lovers, Centella Asiatica (AKA “Cica” and “Tiger's Grass”) has been an important medicinal herb in Asia for centuries. Rich in amino acids, beta carotene, fatty acids and phytochemicals it is touted for its powerful anti-aging benefits for the skin. Not only is it great for collagen and skin tissue synthesis, it also heals stretch marks, acne and blemishes.
Nearly every major Korean Beauty label is currently running a Centella Asiatica line, from Dr Jart (Cicapair line), to Etude House ('Soon Jung line'), and western-focused brands like COSRX, Benton and iUNIK. Even niche brands, like cruelty-free, environmentally-friendly Puritoand newcomer APLB, are releasing Centella-based products ranging from serums, to toners, misting sprays and more.
(Figure 2. Dr Jart Cicapair Cream and COSRX ampule, resource: stylestory)
You heard it here first - weeds are in. Mugwort (AKA a type of "Artemisia") is in precisely everything at the moment in Korea, so it's only a matter of time before the western world follows suit and releases its own K-inspired Mugwort varietals.
Like Centella Asiatica, mugwort is an anti-inflammatory, antibacterial powerhouse. 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.
From Missha to Hanbyul, Round Lab, VelyVely, Goodal and more, all of the major Korean skincare brands appear to be running Artemisia or Mugwort in their lineups of late.
(Figure 3. Goodal Mask, resource: stylestory)
Propolis's time to shine isn't over yet if this season's best-selling Korean Beauty products are anything to go by. New releases continue to feature this resinous, honey-like substance produced by bees.
With its deeply nourishing, skin strengthening and protective abilities, propolis is a natural fit for glass skin routines, keeping winter skin hydrated and for protecting skin affected by air pollution.
Tosowoong arguably kick-started the propolis craze with it's sell-out Sparkle Ampoule and Pure Propolis Mask, but the popularity of newer products like APLB's Bee Pollen Propolis Ampoule Serum proves the show is not over yet. If anything, the category of products propolis is being added to just keeps growing, like Commleaf's Honey & Propolis Peeling Liquid, for example. Tosowoong itself has since released a propolis based essence and a sleeping mask for good measure too.
(Figure 4. Tosowoong ampule, resource: stylestory)
2. Ingredients compliance
In 2012, the designated positive list of cosmetic ingredients was deleted (KCA Notice). South Korean authorities now use negative lists (list of prohibited ingredients used in cosmetics and list of restricted ingredients used in cosmetics) to regulate the use of cosmetics ingredients in products. As stipulated in Cosmetic Safety Standard, one of the subordinate statutes of Cosmetic Act, if an ingredient is not listed in the prohibited ingredients list(Annex 1 of Cosmetic Safety Standard) or used under the limitation requirements of restricted ingredients list(Annex 2 of Cosmetic Safety Standard), it can be added in a cosmetic product. It also applies for imported cosmetics. As per these requirements the 3 ingredients listed in our top 3 trending list are all good for use in cosmetics in Korea.
3. Certification of natural cosmetics and organic cosmetics
Green cosmetics (cosmetics which are both healthy and which don't impact the environment) are an important and growing segment of the sector. In 2018, the new concept and associated requirements of “natural cosmetic” was articulated within Korea's Cosmetics Act (Act No. 15488) along with requirements for a natural cosmetic and organic cosmetic certification system. The 3 ingredients mentioned above are all considered natural. Obtaining natural cosmetic or organic cosmetic certification will be a major bonus and key differentiator for products containing these ingredients. Products with natural cosmetic certification or organic cosmetic certification can use certification marks on their product labels and in advertisements. (see Figure 5 in Enforcement Rule of the Cosmetics Act).
(Figure 5. natural cosmetic certification label and organic cosmetic certification label)
The term "natural cosmetics" means cosmetics manufactured from plants and animals, or materials, etc. derived therefrom, which comply with standards prescribed by the Minister of Food and Drug Safety;
The term "organic cosmetics" means cosmetics manufactured from organic materials, plants and animals, or materials, etc. derived therefrom, which comply with standards prescribed by the Minister of Food and Drug Safety
As stipulated in Article 23-2 of Enforcement Rule of the Cosmetic Act, to apply and obtain organic/natural certification an enterprise shall submit the application materials to the certification authorities. The certificate authorities will review and decide if the product is approved and send the result to the applicant.
The required application material (Article 7 of Requirements on Certification Authority Designation and Certification of Natural and Organic South Korea Cosmetics) includes:
a. information of materials used in the product subject to certification application
b. information of production process, container or packing, storage, etc. of the product subject to certification application
Cosmetics experts are also predicting Chinese consumers to increase demand for “natural” and “environmentally friendly” (see News of Xsecret and Jumeili). To align with this trend, we suggest cosmetics enterprises to develop more natural cosmetics in compliance with regulatory requirements to meet consumers’ need. You may refer to ChemLinked cosmetic portal to get more cosmetics compliance information.
T.S. Li , Korea Regulatory Analyst & Editor of ChemLinked
-  Total Sales of South Korea Organic Cosmetic based on data released by KOSIS
-  KCA Notice
-  Cosmetic Safety Standard
-  Cosmetics Act (Act No. 15488)
-  Enforcement Rule of the Cosmetics Act
-  Article 23-2 of Enforcement Rule of the Cosmetics Act
-  Requirements on Certification Authority Designation and Certification of Natural and Organic South Korea Cosmetics
-  News of Xsecret
-  News of Jumeili
-  ChemLinked cosmetic portal