Cosmetic trends in South Korea


September 06, 2017

by Ingrid Mortensen

​Don’t just look to South Korea for future trends in cosmetics, but also look out for South Korean competitors…

The average South-Korean woman spends twice as much of her income on cosmetics than her American counterpart. The average Korean man spends more than males from any other country, and he also uses more products in his beauty routine compared with those from any other market!

In South Korea, a skin care routine will often consist of a 10-step routine (think sheet masks, essence, special masks for lips etc.), as opposed to a more moderate three-step routine (wash, tone, moisturize) in the West. I spent some time in the country’s capital, Seoul, and the differences quickly became evident with women applying makeup on the subway, in the office, in cafes, pretty much anywhere and everywhere.

This intense interest and involvement with cosmetics has lead to South Korea being a leader of trends and technology in the category, and here in China we look to them for many of the latest beauty trends. It's also only a two-hour flight from here to Seoul, allowing us to fill up our suitcases with many of the new innovations that aren't currently available in China. However, Korea is no longer just a trendsetter for the Asian markets. 

Did you know that Koreans have been using BB cream for years, and built up a huge industry around the product long before it made it's entry in the western world circa 2010? 

Don't be surprised if in the next few years you start to see the likes of filter cream, lipstick powder, two shaded lipsticks, aqua peeling, sheep oil and snail slime, cleansing sticks, a ten-step routine for your scalp and hair and polluaging products (pollution + aging) emerging in the West.

Ever thought of using sparkling water in your beauty routine?

Furthermore local Korean brands are expanding, now practically verging on mainstream rather than simply being cult-products beyond Asia as they have been previously. Korean beauty and cosmetic conglomerate Amore Pacific (who own brands like Hera, Innisfree, IOPE, Laneige and Sulwhasoo), are making a strong move into the American market, opening an Innisfree flagship store in New York City. Innisfree has enjoyed huge success in China by creating mass engagement via Chinese social media, hosting a highly creative and engaging website, as well as ensuring a unique in-store experience; It's predicted that they will have a huge influence on the North American cosmetics market.

Looking at the previous influence the Korean nation have had, it's likely that if not all, at least some of these will be part of our daily routines in the next few years so it's important to have Korea top of mind when looking for the next big beauty trends. There are a lot of them and they show no signs of slowing; the Koreans are exceptionally quick innovators.


Ingrid Mortensen is Research Manager at MMR Research Worldwide China