How K-beauty has taken over the world

Updated: May 7, 2020

Korean beauty, also known as K-beauty is an umbrella term for skincare products and treatments that derive from South Korea. The country actually has one of the biggest beauty export markets in the world – in 2016, South Korea’s market size was estimated at a whopping USD8.5 billion. So, what is K-beauty all about, and when and why did it become so popular?

korean face masks


What sets K-beauty apart from the rest?

Korean beauty has an opposite approach when it comes to formulating and marketing skincare, in comparison to European and American manufactures, by using bizarre, trendy new ingredients from snail slime to pig collagen and innovative new methods from bubbling face mask and jelly textures to the popularised Korean 10-step routine. Korean cosmetics are often presented in funky packaging, and respected for their affordability. This advanced and individual approach to formulating and marketing skincare has led to a significant influence over the global skincare market.

Korean skincare advert

Image: Amazon

South Korean skincare regulations are notoriously strict, known for their regard for environmental and animal welfare. Most cosmetic manufacturers share the same philosophy that products remain paraben; sulphate, fragrance, dye and silicone –free.

“Adopting a Korean-inspired skincare regime really helps to change your mindest of taking care of your skin as a chore, into it being a pampering session you can look forward to.” –Charlotte Cho, co-founder of Soko Glam

How did it start?

Following the signing of The Treaty of Kanghwa in 1876, South Korean ports began internationally trading. This led to a takeover of Western influences on make-up styles and cosmetics and instigated a national general curiosity and eventually mass consumption, for beauty products and cosmetics.

Ice cream GIF


What does K-beauty involve?

South Koreans value radiant, ‘cloudless skin’ and use a variety of serums, essences and moisturisers daily, to improve and maintain three concerns:

1) skin health

2) hydration

3) brightening/hyperpigmentation

The use of SPF is taken seriously in all K-beauty routines and apparent in most skincare ranges, in a bid to prevent and fight existing hyperpigmentation. Korean men are known for their interest in taking care of their skin also, often with using BB and CC creams.

Male BB cream korean advert#


Have you heard of the 10-Step Korean skincare routine? This beauty craze has spread like wildfire through the internet in 2018 and is based upon a 10-step method that tackles the three mainstream concerns, listed above. Experts and industry leaders have admitted more recently, that this twice daily routine doesn’t always involved the 10 steps each time, but instead offers a common guideline to an ideal Korean skincare ritual. What are these 10 steps?

Step one: Oil-based cleanse (to remove dirt/make-up)

Step two: Water-based cleanse (to give a deeper clean to the grime lurking beneath)

Step three: Exfoliator (to remove dead skin cells)

Step four: Toner (for hydration)

Step five: Essence (in the form of a booster or ampule) 

Step six: Serums (to treat hyperpigmentation and brighten)

Step seven: Mask (usually in a sheet form, to hydrate and brighten)

Step eight: Eye cream (to brighten dark circles and treat fine lines and wrinkles)

Step nine: Face cream (for hydration/moisture)

Step ten: SPF (in the morning – the final step)

The influence K beauty has had on the rest of the world

Affordable serums, BB creams, bubbling sheet masks, CC creams and unusual use of ingredients such as bee venom and placenta,, have exploded in popularity amongst Westerners for a few reasons.

Jude Chao, Director of marketing for BeautyTap, believes that a contributing factor to K-beauty’s global success is due to the amount of support the industry has from the Korean government. In an interview with Medium, he explained that when “you go to beauty trade shows, it’s not unusual to have Korean government presence supporting at least some homegrown brands.”

Korean Beauty Expo 2018

Korean Beauty Expo 2018 Image: businesskorea

Korean beauty leads with the focus on skin, rather than beauty, which has led to a phenomenal breakout trend of no-frill, ingredient-focused skincare and techniques. Clean-cut, fresh brands like The Ordinary, Glossier and TheInkeyList all present influences of K-beauty. Skincare blogs, skincare selfies, skincare diaries, skincare reviews and skincare vlogs fill up our social feeds. The success of Youtubers‘ and our obsession with reality stars has bonded and strengthened the Korean beauty movement even further.

korean beauty instagram snapshot

Screenshot: Instagram

Beauty is now one of the largest industries in the world and the companies that succeed are those that are consistently bringing new and innovative methods and formulations to the market – something that South Korea does undoubtedly well. For these reasons, South Korea now holds the crown of being one of the world leaders, in the beauty world.

rihanna crown gif

GIF: giphy

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