Behind K-Beauty's Global Reach > K-POP

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Behind K-Beauty's Global Reach

  • Name : korea
  • Date : 2023-07-17 09:08:07

South Korea has become a leader of the skincare and beauty industry worldwide. With its emphasis on health & self-care, the K-Beauty (Korean beauty) market is growing increasingly in demand throughout the world, and is estimated to be worth 10 billion USD in 2023.


There are many aspects of Korean culture and society that go into the K-Beauty industry’s great international success. Through K-Beauty, people across the world can benefit from the value of Korean innovation and expertise.​ 





The recent reach into foreign markets has been palpable. Not only is it increasingly common to see Korean products on the shelves of stores on other continents, but many foreign tourists come to Korea with the purpose of shopping for Korean beauty products from the source.


One place where the global reach of K-Beauty is particularly evident is Myeongdong—a shopping district in Seoul that is very popular among tourists. Walking through Myeongdong, you encounter skincare shop after skincare shop after skincare shop. Some beauty shop chains, like Olive Young, have their flagship stores there, featuring several floors with various selections of beauty-related products. Foreigners walk in and out of shops, engaging excitedly with the various promotions and deals, filling shopping baskets and bags with products. Store attendants speak to customers in various languages, demonstrating their training in the effort of reaching foreign markets.



I was astounded by the amount of stores and the enthusiasm of the customers. To find out more on the foreign reception of K-Beauty, I had conversations with some of the dedicated shoppers.

I met one student from the United States, named Juliana, who is in Seoul for the summer. She told me that over the years, she’s “seen more and more Korean makeup and skincare products on the shelves of stores like CVS, Walgreens,TJ Maxx, Burlington, and Marshalls.” She shared her perspective that “Korean makeup has become a trend”—that K-Beauty has been tied into the spread of other aspects of Korean pop-culture, such as K-Pop. “People admired the makeup and skin of their favorite idols and wanted to mimic them,” she said.

I saw evidence of this myself, seeing the faces of many internationally-beloved Korean singers, actors, and other celebrities used to model and promote beauty products. I saw product shelves decorated with images of actresses with flawless, glowing skin, and walked by life-size cardboard cutouts of boy-group members pointing to bins of facemasks and signs promoting “2+1” or “1+1” deals.




Hence, I realized that the phenomenon of the Korean Wave functions as a joint whole—the industries of music, entertainment, fashion, beauty and technology all fit together, creating a powerful, cohesive vessel that brings Korean culture to a global scale.


But, speaking to other foreigners and taking note of the information around me, I quickly learned that the spread of K-Beauty is something much deeper than just a trendy fad pushed by flashy marketing.​ 



I met people whose health and well-being were permanently improved by Korean skincare and dermatology.


“Having a history of severe eczema, my initiation into K-beauty proved to be transformative,” said Sumaya, a 20 year old Somali-American pursuing an internship in Seoul for the summer. “The emphasis on hydration and skin nourishment was exactly the remedy I sought. I began exploring these products at an early age, finding them beneficial for my skin's needs.”​ 





Hearing about experiences like these, I realized that Korean skincare products and procedures really do offer innovations and a level of care that other countries lack. K-Beauty really positively impacts people.


“While it might seem like a relatively new trend for many Americans, I've been familiar with these products for quite some time,” she continued.


I asked Sumaya—given her experience with K-Beauty—what she attributed the market’s boom in the United States and other parts of the world to.


She responded that “the reception of K-beauty the U.S. has been predominantly positive,” given that “it's appreciated for its focus on skincare as self-care, its use of innovative ingredients, and the comprehensive routines it recommends.” 




Among the brands Sumaya mentioned as her favorites was Beauty of Joseon—a brand that caught my eye as well, from its section in a corner of the store I was in, due to its use of traditional Korean ingredients. This brand, and other K-beauty brands with similar ingredients, brought me to another important realization.


Many Korean beauty and skincare products today are made with the ingredients that were used long ago in traditional Korean medicine, referred to as Hanbang. Ingredients like ginseng, mugwort, rice, and tea extracts have been used in Korea for millennia—to treat skin ailments, and maintain beauty and wellness—and they are still being marketed for the same purposes today. 




In this way, the modern, commercialized K-Beauty market brings the wealth of knowledge of an authentic, ancient South Korea to the rest of the world.


Thus, in many ways, the K-Beauty industry is a reflection of Korea as a whole. Not only is it presented by the beloved Korean personalities and attractive images that appeal to many across the world, but in its efficacy, ingredients, and incredible positive impact on health and well-being, it showcases the hard work and knowledge that Korean people have fostered over the development of their society. Truly, the K-Beauty industry encompasses and delivers what Korean culture has to offer to the rest of the world.


By Caroline Ketelhohn, Summer Intern  

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