South Korea is ranked among the top 10 beauty markets in the world, with an estimated value of US$13 billion in 2017 according to numbers from Mintel. Becoming a driving force in the global beauty ecosystem and one to watch for product, packaging, and business innovation. On a recent trip to Seoul hosted by Kotra for Consumer Goods 2019, we noted six trends that are surfacing, some at the nascent stage and others undergoing evolution worth noticing.
1. (Anti) K-Beauty: While industry insiders may have been tapped into the innovation coming out of Korea in terms of formulation and cosmetic procedures, it was the the fast beauty marketing, shock value ingredients, affordable price points, and Insta-worthy packaging that was the fuel for the K-beauty boom. But on my recent trip to Korea I was shocked when brand after brand went out of their way to say they were NOT a "K-beauty" brand. These emphatic statements were one part an attempt at differentiation in a wildly crowded market/category, with the second part being a reaction to the plateauing of K-beauty sales. This new generation of beauty brands coming out of Korea have longevity in mind, and are following in the steps of Amorepacific rather than Tonymoly.
2. Green Survival: The anti-pollution trend isn't completely new, but its growth has it on track to move from trend to category in the very near future. The environmental issue has manifested itself into a product category. Unlike eco-friendly consumption, which is optional, "green survival" is seen as compulsory. Environmental issues have made people more environment-conscious out of necessity.
3. "Natural Beauty": South Korean is often called the plastic surgery capital of the world, with the highest rate of cosmetic surgeries globally and nearly 1 million procedures a year. However, recently there has been a cultural movement bubbling up that is pushing back on traditional beauty standards based on an ideal of perfection: ivory skin, big, round eyes, and a V-line jaw. This cultural conflict between natural versus plastic is captured in the Korean drama My ID Is Gangnam Beauty. The result is a recent trend towards "natural beauty" with cosmetic procedures that are more personalized and less invasive, and away from "Gangnam beauty," a look that’s very obviously manmade. Of course in Korean style they are pushing the envelope with services like Skin Botox, Ultraviolet Blood Irradiation Therapy, Acculift, Stem Cell Therapy, and Air Ulthermage.
4. Clean Formulations: While a connection with nature is an important foundation in Korean beauty, the products that emerged during the K-beauty revolution are not necessarily clean by current Western standards. Korea has been the hands-down global leader in innovation, but it is the United States and Australia that have pioneered the clean, nontoxic, chemical-free beauty category along with sustainable packaging and manufacturing practices. There is a move toward safe, minimal ingredients that has seen a surge in popularity in Korea, with a new generation of smaller K-beauty brands leading the way. Most brands are developing into EWG standards because of the perceived wide acceptance in the West.
5. Fast Healing: Urban environments aren't exactly conducive to self-care, with space at a premium and lives that move at a hectic pace. As K-beauty numbers begin to plateau, wellness concepts pushed through the fast beauty lens have emerged. Urban healing concepts like Shim Story, The First Class, and Mr. Healing create small oases that allow city dwellers to unwind and relax, if only for a moment. This "fast food" of the wellness trend might just be part of the prevention we need for mental burnout.
6. Indie Beauty: The Korean beauty market is largely controlled by conglomerates LG Household and Healthcare and Amorepacific. Both companies have extensive retail footprints and robust product portfolios with globally recognized brands as well as domestic brands with an indie feel. The K-beauty boom has given rise to indie brands incubated in the domestic market but built with an eye for export. These brands are leading the clean beauty movement, embracing hangbang (traditional Korean medicine), and are vehemently branding themselves as anti-K-beauty.
An an extension to the indie beauty trend, Korea has seen the emergence of beauty incubators like:
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