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K-Beauty – Trends and Regulations

This article shows the latest trends of cosmetics in South Korea. New regulation changes are listed too.

Wikipedia defines K-Beauty (케이뷰티) as "an umbrella term for skincare products that are derived from South Korea. The fad gained popularity worldwide, especially in East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia and the US and focuses on health, hydration and an emphasis for brightening effects". 

One interesting fact is that no one can explain the exact definition of K-Beauty, even in Korea, though the world has been habitually enjoying the word for quite a decade. And the concept and perception may differ from country to country. One thing for sure is that "K" means Korea, and I can confidently say that K-Beauty is an innovative trend that is hitting the globe. 

Let's discover the key trends & regulations specific to K-Beauty & how K-Beauty is different from other Asian beauty trends.

What are the Trends Over Years?

The big trend of K-Beauty's fashion doesn't seem much different from that of the global market. Believe it or not, it is no exaggeration to say that some of such global market trends began in the Korean peninsula.

Above all, K-Beauty was the first to announce its presence with natural cosmetics. The specific brands which have already maintained the use and marketing concepts of natural cosmetics for a long period include:

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Typical Brands Based on Natural Cosmetics (Picture Sources: Sulwhasoo, thefaceshop, naturerepublic, and innisfree)

In fact, according to a survey of foreign consumers, "natural cosmetics" were cited as one of the representative images of K-Beauty. Going back to the 90s, it was the time that K-Beauty showed a first move with some innovative product categories.

First introduced in Japan, BB cream products bloomed in Korea market and became a global item, and consequently, K-Beauty announced the birth of CC cream. Not only that. The sheet mask is a representative K-Beauty item, which has shown explosive growth in the U.S. and European market beyond Asia in recent years.

As time passes, K-beauty has continuously pioneered new genres, such as foundation cushion, sleeping packs, anti-pollution products, and commercialization of new ingredients that you have heard of at least once before.

Innovation hides not only in products but also the way of using the products. The Korean skincare routine is already popular in the globe, emphasizing on using multiple products at a time, such as an 8-step, 10-step, or up to 16-step skincare routine.

Additionally, the K Make-up trends tend to keep its 'naturalism' at all time, showing in the products' naming, new items, and colour makeups varied by different seasons.

How is K-beauty Different from Other Asian Beauty Trends?

K-Beauty has such a fast product cycle. To survive as a cosmetics brand in Korea with four distinct seasons, the company should introduce new products in line with the ever-changing season that changes every three months. It would have been a shock to the market, which typically took at least years to launch a new product. Now, due to the influence of K-Beauty, the cycle of launching new products in all industries has been reduced.

K-Beauty mostly puts its value in "Innovation"

Innovation also applies to consumer trends. But there's one trend that never changes, i.e. pursuing a natural beauty. Korean people prefer to wear a thin, light, natural and even a transparent makeup challenging facial flaws. This tendency was one of K-Beauty's tradition and what has been remarkably distinguished by other regions in Asia.

This trend shows why K-Beauty focuses mainly on skincare, believing that healthy skin basically leads to healthy makeup. If you have a genuine nice-looking skin, you won't need to wear a thick, artificial makeup.

In terms of consumer characteristics, Korean consumers are known to be so picky, easily empirical and tend to challenge new things without fear. That is why Korea market is to be the testbed for leading global brands to launch new products.

In terms of industrial structure, Korea has Cosmax and Korea Kolmar, the world's leading OEM/ODM companies, which is an easy source to manufacture products for up to nearly 20,000 brand companies in Korea.

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 Korea Manufacturer & Brand Holder Status (Source: MFDS)

It is convergence with other industries that K-Beauty went beyond just the cosmetics industry and was heavily influenced by K-culture content, such as:

  • K-pop

  • K-drama, and

  • K-movie

There are far more young, trendy and fun factors than J-Beauty, where consistency based on quality and technology has become a tradition.

Last, K-beauty has grown into an export-based industry at this point. On the back of this growth, government support also served a big favour for the export. Indeed, J-Beauty has also seen a rapid increase in exports recently, but not many will be aware of the fact that Korea ranks fourth in the global cosmetic export amount followed by France, US and Germany.

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 (Source: MFDS)

What Regulations Do We See Specific to K-beauty?

Three unique regulations have been implemented recently.

  • First is the 'Labeling allergen contained in fragrance'. The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) requires labelling allergen on the list from January 1, 2020, if the corresponding ones are used.

  • Secondly, it is the operation of the above-mentioned 'customized cosmetics law'. The government has decided to allow the production and management of cosmetics based on individual skin characteristics and conditions while operating an individual's "customized cosmetics manufacturing license" through such tests.

  • Third, the Recycling packaging material evaluation Act, which began to take effect on September 25, 2020. Although the law does not apply only to cosmetic packaging, all such containers must be judged according to self-evaluation and review by a government agency, and labelling should also be added. Violation of this will result in a hefty fine, depending on the case.

What are the Latest Innovations Brands are Coming Up With?

As mentioned earlier, the recent innovation in the Korean cosmetics market is in line with the global trend.

  • The first one is sustainability. Korea's major firms have already begun developing biodegradable or recyclable packaging materials. Such changes have become a must for K-Beauty, not an option. The products using difficult-to-recycle materials will be added with negative labels as well as a fine.  

  • Second is the expansion of natural ingredient replacement and "free" marketing. Consumers want to use fewer chemicals as these are available for replacement with natural ones. On the other hand, it is appealing to consumers by saying 'chemical-free' that it is a safe product, which excludes things that are perceived as potentially harmful, such as parabens, alcohols, etc. 

  • The third is product development related to Covid-19. As mask-wearing becomes more common, lipstick products that do not smudge easily, non-irritant products, trouble care products are gaining popularity.

Wrapping Up…

Is K-Beauty a product, item, genre, culture, awareness, industry, consumer trend, or a complex concept or else? The answer may be in each one of you. K-Beauty is so diverse for generations, regions, perceptions, countries or interests. Yeah, this variety is K-Beauty itself. Never try to define one in general. K-Beauty is a versatile package inside you.

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