Kulture Wave: K-beauty in the West!


On the 23rd of January I was lucky enough to join other beauty enthusiasts at the Good housekeeping Institute in London for a CEW talk and learn all about Korean cosmetics and how they are influencing the western market.

Half Korean half English Cosmetic Scientist Lorna Radford gave us an incredible insight into the up-coming trends in Korean cosmetics and how the country is using innovative technologies to create new and exciting products that we should see making a big impact over here.

Following the Korean civil war in the 1950’s dividing the North and South of the country; South Korea has pushed for excellence in technology, producing brands such as Samsung and becoming a player in technology on the global map.

Today we see South Korean influence in a Cultural wave, K-Pop (Korean Pop) has become increasingly more popular in the west over the past couple of years, starting with Gangnam style going viral and now, filling the void of the One Direction split, the band BTS were the most tweeted about artist in 2017. Causing the BBC to write a feature on them.

The K Pop culture emerged in Korea in the 1990s and has had a big influence on cosmetic industry encouraging young people including men to wear makeup and experiment with cosmetics. Male grooming is huge in South Korea now; we are slightly behind on this trend over here.

It is unclear why the west is suddenly so into K-Pop since it has been around for years; it could arguably be because it’s something new and shiny to us, and the same thing can be said for Korean beauty and skincare.

K-beauty has already taken the world by storm in recent years, with the 10 step Korean skincare routine going viral due to youtubers using as a challenge as well as bb and cc creams and sheet-masks now all being stocked in Highstreet stores and replicated by brands in the west, it seems everyone wants a piece of the k-beauty trend.

Although all these innovative skincare products are popular over here, Lorna tells us that in South Korea the beauty industry is much wider spread, with new products being produced all the time. So why aren’t we seeing more K-beauty in Europe?

During her talk Lorna explained the many differences between South Korean and European cosmetics industries, from ingredients to the idea of beauty itself.

Explaining that there are completely different beauty standards in Korea, for example skin lightening is fashionable, meaning most of their skincare ranges contain skin lightening ingredients such as white pigments in moisturisers; whereas in the west we love a good tan and wouldn’t really want whitening products.

In the West, we have a more diverse idea of what beauty is, its much more subjective; however South Korea beauty standards are clearly defined.

Lorna explained that if you asked the average Korean woman what makes someone beautiful, they would give a very specific list of attributes; a small face, large eyes, small nose, small mouth, fair skin and a V-shape jaw.

This is a tough list to live up to, causing many Korean men and women to commit to plastic surgery to achieve the ‘ideal’ look.

Because of this specific beauty standard, most Korean makeup is tailored to this look, for example lip products designed to make your lips look thinner with an ombre affect; this doesn’t really fit in with the Kylie Jenner lip trend we have seen all over the West where lip fillers have become common place, and makeup artists teach us how to over-draw and contour our lips to make them appear as full as possible.

We also have a much more diverse range of skin-tones over here, which we expect to see represented in our foundation and face make-up products in order to include everyone. However, when looking at Korean foundation shades, due to the skin lightening trend there are next to no tanned or deep shades at all, this could be a factor in why Korean brands are not as popular here, as they just don’t cater to enough skin tones.

However, that hasn’t stopped western brands replicating some Korean makeup though adding in a more diverse shade range. For example, Cushion foundations bb and cc creams are now becoming more common with wester brands. As well as makeup containing SPF which also a Korean trend.

However, one thing that is popular, and growing in popularity over here is Korean influenced skincare. Although we are using their influence there are some key differences when it comes to use of ingredients. Lorna’s presentation went on to explain that the idea or Veganism and eco friendly ingredients are not common place in Korea whereas there is a massive focus on that here. This means that Korean beauty and skincare use mostly synthetic ingredients to achieve the results and textures wanted.

Almost all Korean products contain silicones and animal sourced ingredients such as goats’ milk and snail slime that brands in the West typically wouldn’t use. Korean brands, Lorna tells us like to use as many ingredients as possible as a way of protecting their products as patenting is not common place over there.

Nevertheless, the West is paying attention to the innovative technologies and ideas behind the Korean products and replicating them using friendlier more natural ingredients suitable for vegans and thus more marketable to the western consumer.

So, what Korean influences should we look out for this year?

Lorna says more sheet masks will be coming to the West as there are always new masks being produced in Korea with different ingredients claiming to do different things for your skin.

As well as hair masks and gel sleeping masks, or any product with a gel texture.

We also might start seeing more innovative packaging designs coming to our products, for example spatulas built into the lids of face creams for easy clean application.

Relaxation is a big trend in Korea right now, so we may start seeing more products with calming elements such as acupuncture masks that help circulation and relaxation.

Essences play a huge role in Korean skincare and we might start seeing more Western brands adding these into their lines.

Additionally, any products containing kelp and Korean based plants could start being replicated over here as there has been a huge number of Korean brands using native plants and kelp in skincare.

One ingredient being widely used and already influencing western brands is, tiger grass also known as Centella Asiatica, this plant stimulates cell growth allowing the skin to repair itself; it also contains chlorophyll which acts as a barrier protecting your skin. Loreal has already brought out a product containing this ingredient in their Cica rescue skin paste.

Sun care is of massive importance in Korea, we are starting to do this more over here however, in Korea everything has SPF in it Lorna says, some Korean people have never even been sunburnt!

They are now bringing out easy use SPF sticks for people to take to work and school, we might start seeing more products like this as brands over here are becoming much more aware of the SPF trend.

Makeup trends with more technological advances could be coming our way as well, such as custom lipsticks matched to your skin-tone and made for you and other amazing products.

So keep a look out for all these exciting trends in the coming year, and be a part of the K-Beauty culture wave!