What Makes South Korea a World Leader in the Cosmetics Industry?

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For many years, France and Japan were considered the leaders of the global cosmetics industry. In recent times, however, South Korea has joined their ranks, becoming incredibly well known for its beauty products and bringing its own innovation and quality to the market. K-beauty products are now sought after around the world. What has brought South Korea to the forefront of this industry so quickly?

Beauty in South Korea

Appearance and beauty are very important in Korean culture, to the point where they can have a significant impact on the hiring process and a candidate’s likelihood of getting a job. There is therefore high demand for beauty products and surgeries that help people attain the right look. The Korean skin care and cosmetics industry is large, fragmented, and highly competitive, with brands constantly researching and developing new products in order to succeed.

Innovation and creativity

Because the market is so big and complex, brands need to work hard in order to stand out. This is one of the reasons K-beauty sees so much innovation, and it also drives high-quality products and competitive pricing. With beauty being so important in South Korean culture, customers are very knowledgeable about cosmetics products and have very high standards, so cosmetics companies are under pressure to produce the best merchandise. This innovation, quality, and price give them an edge in the global market.

Suggested reading: Top 10 Cosmetics Companies in the World

The Korean cosmetics industry is said to be years ahead of the western market, offering products that consumers can’t find from North American brands. For example, BB cream has become a staple in the beauty industry, but Koreans had been using it for years before it ever became commonplace in the west. South Korean beauty companies continue to create new and innovative products that spark new global trends.

Functional cosmetics and cosmeceuticals

Functional cosmetics are highly popular in K-beauty, something that sets the market apart from the cosmetics industries of many other countries. The Korean government has a specific classification and set of regulations for functional cosmetics – products that advertise benefits such as sun protection, skin brightening, and anti-wrinkle properties. This has allowed for more research into this type of product, leading to more and better-quality products from Korean companies.

Suggested reading: Health and Wellness Trends to Look Out For in 2020

Similarly, “cosmeceuticals” are highly popular products, promising therapeutic benefits from ingredients such as traditional Korean herbs and other extracts, and even snail slime. Cosmeceutical features may include moisturization, treatment for skin imperfections such as scars and acne, antioxidants, and more. While these products can benefit the skin by providing sun protection and reducing inflammation, some of the other advertised features can be harder to verify. Regardless of how effective a particular product may be, however, cosmeceuticals are offering features that many customers are looking for, making Korea’s products highly appealing around the world.

The Korean wave

Another factor that can’t be overlooked is the Korean wave, or Hallyu. This refers to the spread of South Korean pop culture globally and its influence on the rest of the world. K-pop – Korean pop music – is a key example of this. Over the past several years, K-pop has become increasingly popular with international audiences, as have K-dramas and other cultural exports. Celebrity endorsements have huge weight in Korea, and are therefore a significant driving force for cosmetics sales. Everyone wants to use the products that popular idols are using in order to attain a similar look. This influence is extending around the world with the Korean wave, helping to drive sales of South Korean cosmetics globally.

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Beauty products for men

Korean men are also helping drive the market for South Korean cosmetics: they spend significantly more per person on cosmetics than men in any other country. South Korean beauty standards impact them as well, and it’s becoming increasingly important for men to use more than just moisturizer and toner – which is already more than many men use in other parts of the world.

Makeup is more frequently included in men’s beauty routines in South Korea, including eyebrow makeup and lipstick or lip balm. It’s considered important for making the right impression at job interviews and social events. Many men will also get beauty treatments regularly. As with women’s beauty products, the industry for men’s cosmetics is driven in part by idols from pop music and dramas. Many people want to emulate their looks, so these celebrities help drive the popularity of both general beauty trends and specific cosmetics brands. While beauty products for men may take longer to pick up steam in the west, the Korean wave is nevertheless having an impact on the market outside the country.

All in all, the South Korean cosmetics industry has a lot going for it. The country may be relatively new to the global beauty playing field, but it has decades of expertise and innovation behind it. Quality products, unique offerings, and the influence of Korean culture on the rest of the world are all helping drive the K-beauty market internationally. What creative new products will we see on shelves next?

Learn more about the global premium cosmetics industry with Technavio’s market research report:
  • CAGR of the market during the period 2018-2022
  • Detailed information on factors that will accelerate the growth of the premium cosmetics market during the next five years
  • Precise estimation of the global premium cosmetics market size and its contribution to the parent market
  • Informed predictions on upcoming trends and changes in consumer behavior
  • The growth of the premium cosmetics industry across the Americas, APAC, and EMEA
  • A thorough analysis of the market’s competitive landscape and detailed information on several key vendors
  • Comprehensive details on factors that will challenge the growth of premium cosmetics manufacturers