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South Korea making mark in global beauty markets

South Korea is among the top 10 global beauty markets, estimated to be worth more than US$13 billion this year, according to London-based market research firm Mintel Group.

Its research was released on the eve of the 27th edition of In-cosmetics Global in London, said to be the world’s foremost exhibition for personal-care ingredients. As well as spotlighting South Korea’s beauty market, the research looks at trends impacting the global beauty industry and innovations in textures, ingredients and product experience.

Facial skincare accounts for 51 per cent of total market share with $6.5 billion in retail sales and a projected 5.8 per cent CAGR over the next five years to reach $7.2 billion by 2020. Much of the success of the category comes from an abundance of product development and the fact that 68 per cent of total skincare product launches in South Korea for 2015-2016 were facial skincare products, according to the Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD).

Colour cosmetics make up the second-largest beauty category in the South Korean market, valued at $2.3 billion this year. Mintel research indicates the market is actively supported by consumers with a per capita spend at $45, compared to $43 in the UK and $37 in the US, and more than double the global average of $21. With a projected CAGR of 8.1 per cent over the next five years, the market is estimated to reach $2.8 billion by 2020.

“The Korean beauty market remains buoyant thanks to fast-paced innovations and highly engaged consumers who don’t hesitate to adopt novel products,” says Mintel senior beauty analyst Jane Jang.

Several South Korean beauty and personal-care trends are set to impact global beauty markets, says Jang…

Facial skincare

For facial skincare, this will be a year of extreme segmentation, says Jang. Products will become increasingly targeted and multi-functional, responding to the needs of knowledgeable and demanding consumers.

South Korean beauty routines can comprise up to 10 steps, with moisturising, brightening, whitening and anti-ageing specific obsessions.

“Expect to see hybrid concoctions, such as daily exfoliating moisturisers, anti-wrinkle whitening tone-up creams and lightweight nourishing oil serums, but also transformative textures, like powder-to-serum, oil-to-foam and water-to-cream. Overall, lines are blurring in every possible way to deliver new experiences and create continuous excitement around skincare.

“A strong focus on quality and safety supports a fascination for natural ingredients, in line with ‘hanbang’, the ancient Korean herbal medicine. Tradition is taken to the next level through scientific improvements, and 69 per cent of facial skincare launches last year featured herbal/botanical claims.”

Jang says the sheet mask craze does not seem to be slowing down. “Moving beyond basic hydrating benefits, sheet masks and patches are now designed for each part of the body and every member of the family, babies included… Some interesting examples include masks inspired by oriental acupressure massage techniques, plus injection treatments at clinics featuring micro-needles and pressure points, and sauna-effect masks that lock in moisture while trapping body heat.”


South Korea’s make-up rituals last year focussed greatly on lips and complexion, using products in a diversity of shades with a variety of contouring techniques. “As such, the number of  lip colour and face make-up product launches tend to be higher than the global average,” says Jang. Mintel GNPD says lip colour launches accounted for 30 per cent of all launches of colour cosmetics in South Korea last year, compared to a global average of 27 per cent. This is followed by foundations and fluid illuminators, accounting for 16 per cent of launches.

“The boom of hybrid formats has spawned a variety of new lip products, like lip syrups, lip crayons, lip-quids and gel sticks,” says Hang. “Lip tints are also widely diffused, but contrary to their potentially drying Western counterparts, South Korean products are lightweight and glossy, and often come as oils.”

A Korean success story for the past few years has been cushion compacts, breaking through the Western market last year. “New launches in South Korea include multi-functional skincare claims such as moisturising, anti-ageing, whitening and UV protection; foundation-like properties; and hygiene and application innovations.”

Jang says the trend for hybrid textures and formats is borrowed from skincare. “South Korean brands are increasingly focussing on gels, jellies, mousses and watery oils. Moreover, transforming textures combine the benefits of two or more textures within one product. For instance, liquid textures such as cream and oil that provide high moisture and spreadability transform into a water or serum for fast absorption or into a powder to give a matte and lasting finish.”

Summing up, Jang says that because of K-beauty’s growing popularity worldwide, Western brands are constantly looking to South Korea for inspiration.

“The popularity of South Korean beauty products lies in their high performance combined with fun packaging and sensorial cues, as well as affordable prices.”

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