Ever since the most well-known South Korean beauty export, BB Cream, took the Western market by storm in 2012, the world has never quite shifted its gaze away from this Asian peninsula. And if the continued international popularity of Korean products during the past three years, from sheet masks to snail mucin, is any indication, women worldwide are viewing Korean beauty not just as a fleeting trend, but as the new standard.
THAT YOUTHFUL GLOW
The foundation of Korean beauty is a natural, youthful appearance through flawless, radiant skin. “While there are timely colour trends that go in and out of fashion, that core focus on skincare has never wavered,” says Charlotte Cho, co-founder and curator of Korean beauty e-commerce shop Soko Glam.
“Taking care of skin is so deeply ingrained in women that it’s really become part of the culture of Korea, and many beauty trends come to be because a product, technique or ingredient helps women to achieve or maintain that coveted complexion.”
So desirable is that youthful and cute appearance, that most beauty trends are centred on achieving the look. “Everyone wants to have thick, full, straight eyebrows,” continues Cho. “This is because a thinner brow can give a more severe look of someone older.” Another trend many Korean women are embracing is an eye-highlighting technique called aegyo-sal, which translates to “baby fat under eye.” Cho explains, “Women are literally contouring their eye area to give the appearance of a slightly puffy under eye, which they believe makes them look younger.”
A NEW EDGE
As entertainment trends evolve, so do beauty trends. “What you see in pop culture now can be pretty risqué, whereas just a few years ago, it was taboo even to talk about sex,” explains Cho. “And as pop stars start showing off sexier looks, the average consumer also becomes more adventurous.” For example, consider 2014’s hit music video single “Red,” where a scantily clad “Gangnam Style” co-star HyunA gyrates around the screen rapping “Red lipstick, make it more red.” Since that video topped the charts, women are going for sexier beauty looks, says Cho.
“When you walk into the boutique stores in Seoul, urban wear is all the rage and there’s a notable shift towards bolder looks and brighter colours, ”
says Arnold Hur, head of US operations for Korean beauty retailer Memebox.
As with many of Korea’s exports in various industries, consumers’ affinity for their style and beauty spans far beyond the country. “About 70% of Soko Glam customers who are buying Korean beauty products are actually not Asian,” says Cho. “The obsession is a lot more far-reaching than people realize.” But despite how popular these trends have already become, what we’re seeing now is still just the tip of the iceberg, says Hur. “There are still many people that are just starting to hear about Korean beauty.”
“We fully believe we're going to see a revolution in the beauty industry. Korean trends have a focus on skin and youth, and that speaks to many cultures, no matter the language barrier.”