Korean Beauty leads a new wave in US

By Naiwen Cui



Going into CVS at 1440 Broadway in New York City,   a section for K-beauty products is located in the center of the first floor. A poster explains what K-beauty means.  However, it may not be  the first time to see K-beauty products in the United States, because they are available  also in Sephora, Walgreens, and even Target.

The Korean Customs Service, reports South Korea became a net exporter of beauty products in 2014. Makeup exports to the United States increased to about $130 million. In 2015, South Korea’s beauty exports to the United States grew 59 percent, totaling $207 million. In 2017, the beauty products export to the United States more than to Japan,  one 0f the countries most influenced by the Korean wave, reaching 9.4 percent of total K-beauty exports.

K-beauty or Korean beauty, represents the beauty products including makeup  and skin care products. It is well known for its attractive packages and innovative ingredients such as snail mucin, bamboo and honey. Sheet masks and BB Cream are the most popular types of products in the United States.

“Korean beauty is much more popular. You can see elements of that and you can see there is the particular kind of static attach to how Korean do their make-up in K-drama and music video for K-pop. There is a huge industry where American fans can purchase those cosmetics, lip liners and mascara, and do make-up that is in a way very much identify what they see visually in Korean popular culture,”  said Crystal S. Anderson, the director for cultural studies office at Longwood University.

“’Made in Korea’ sheet masks are sold in major U.S. beauty specialist retailers, such as Sephora, Ulta Beauty. US-based brands have debuted their own versions of single sheet masks in the past three years in both mass and premium brands,” said Kayla Villena, the analyst at Euromonitor International.

The report of Euromonitor International noted, “In April 2011, two BB Creams by Korean brand Dr. Jart+ arrived at the specialist beauty retailer Sephora, making them the first products of their kind to be sold in the United States. Since then, US beauty specialist retailers have expanded their K-beauty offerings, and many American brands have launched Korean- style products, including over 80 BB Creams.”

Source: Euromonitor International

K-pop and K-drama helped lead K-beauty into the United States. When fans watched K-pop music video or K-dramas, they will find these Korean stars with perfect looks to try and follow. They show the pore-less, flawless, hydrating and glowing faces.

“K-beauty is probably the biggest one that tides in K-pop along with K-drama. K-beauty was relevantly unknown a few years ago. It started becoming a trend maybe three or four years ago, ” said Jenna Gibson, the associate director at Korea Economic Institute of America.

“Its position is unique. On the one hand, it is a trendy sub-genre of beauty in the United States in sometimes fun, whimsical packaging, but on the other hand, it taps into its cultural roots by bringing ancient ingredients mainstream, like centella asiatica, green tea, volcanic clay and yuza. So, these ingredients are a way for consumers to harness the health and wellness trend in beauty,” Villena said.

The rise of K-beauty in the U.S. followed an ingredients-driven beauty trend. Villena indicates that the gentle formulation of Korean beauty products, especially skincare products, attracts consumers a lot.

“While this is not new, the timing is particularly important, as it coincides with an upswing in consumer awareness of the effect of beauty and cosmetic ingredients on our well-being,” Villena said.

Villena also provided the announcements from the Food and Drug Administration in the past two years, which concern ingredients, like triclosan. Company marketing reformulated products without particular toxic ingredients, such as parabens, sulfates and so on. Retailer transparency discloses these ingredients, or bans them from their shelves, like Target.

Villena indicates that this trend caused ingredient formulations to become more salient in the mind of both mass and premium consumers. Accompanying this timing is the deluge of independent brands since 2014 whose entire brand profile claims to be the safer product without harmful ingredients.

“So, whereas the first trend attracts U.S. consumers for what healthy and nutritive ingredients are in K-beauty products, this trend attracts consumers for what these products do not have harmful ingredients that are more common in US beauty products, creating a greater sense of trust among US consumers in K-beauty brands,” Villena said.

Similar to the rise of K-pop, the internet took a very important role in Korean beauty spreading in the United States. With more and more K-beauty bloggers on YouTube, the people who track beauty products closely, especially makeup skills, started to watch bloggers’ videos. When they see the beauty bloggers using Korean beauty products, they will want to try it. Some the Korean wave fans also started their interests from K-beauty.

“In some way, that was more influenced by beauty bloggers becoming more popular in general. The rise of K-pop in the United States has kind of merged these two trends. So, we had K-beauty becoming a little bit more popular among this small group of people who really follow skincare trends and makeup trends, and then you have more people being interested in K-pop and those kinds of things came together in the last maybe year or two,” Gibson said.

The rise of K-beauty has influenced the American industry. American brands also produce BB Cream and CC Cream, which are the icon type of products of Korean makeup products. K-beauty products also have many ingredients which are not very common in the United States. American beauty brands have  started to use some of them in their products.

“The desire for ‘glowing’ and well-moisturized skin coming from the K-beauty aesthetic has influenced cosmetic trends in the United States. Sources this year are claiming that the ‘contouring’ look made popular by beauty and fashion icon Kim Kardashian West is fading, in favor of a more natural, ‘glowing skin’ look characterized, first and foremost, by good care of one’s skin, and followed up by subtle usage of highlighters and blush to enhance features, rather than sculpt them,” Villena said.

At 2018 KCON NY, one of the most popular stops is the K-beauty section. Many people crowded in front of each counter and you may not be able to see the beginning of the line. They ask staffs about the ingredients and their usesand then carry a big bag full of K-beauty products home.

About Naiwen Cui 4 Articles
Naiwen Cui, from Beijing, China, is a graduate journalism student at Emerson College. She has a passion for music and hopes in working as an art reporter.