South Korea’s beauty industry built its reputation on being ahead of the curve, developing beauty innovations that have revolutionised both skincare and cosmetics across the globe. Worldwide engagement on the topic has been consistent on Google Trends and other search engines. However, in early 2020, interest in K-beauty peaked on Google Trends. K-beauty is predicted to continue to influence the industry and impress customers, especially with new innovations combining heritage, culture and science.
Maintained customer interest in K-beauty can be equally credited to the Korean Wave and global interest in K-culture. It remains as zealous as ever, defined by its competitive edge and sensitivity to trends. The industry is sensitive to changes within consumer’s lives and quickly adapts and innovates to fulfill modern consumers’ beauty needs. The fusion of science-backed innovation with age-old wisdom is also key to K-beauty’s position of authority in the global beauty industry.
Valued at USD 10.2 billion in 2019, the K-beauty market is forecast to reach USD 13.9 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 9 percent between 2021 and 2027 (Allied Market Research). South Korea is the world’s third-largest cosmetics exporter behind France and the US, with K-beauty exports outperforming home appliances, smartphones and pharmaceuticals.
A report from WGSN highlights the lifestyle trends and product directions brands should focus on to resonate with K-beauty consumers, both at home and internationally. A few of the industry’s most notable trends include:
K-lean beauty 2.0: bioengineered ingredients
The clean beauty movement and concern about the impact of large-scale farming on climate change has increased demand for products that are non-toxic for humans, animals and the environment. This has sparked a vegan and cruelty-free beauty boom in South Korea. With the demand for products formulated with natural and organic ingredients set to rise steeply, this raises the question: how can ingredients be sustainably harvested to keep up with rocketing demand? Enter biotech beauty.
Into the K-beauty-verse: magnifying AR and VR experiences
From AR try-ons that allow users to preview products to immersive third spaces and avatar makeovers, the metaverse has unlocked a new world of fluid states and digital brand experiences. The merging of realities will place digital and physical experiences on equal footing, and brands will need to take beauty experiences and products into the meta-space.
The Korean Wave: harnessing culture in beauty
South Korean culture and content – from movies and dramas to music and beauty – has captivated people across cultures. The movement popularly dubbed as ‘The Korean Wave’ has aided K-beauty to assume a central role in the skincare and beauty industries, leading the way with creativity, innovation and its connection to cultural heritage. The interest in K-beauty across the world shows no sign of stopping.
Riding on the report, Retail in Asia has the opportunity to speak with Christine Chua, APAC Beauty trend forecaster & analyst of WGSN. The interview discusses the future of K-beauty in other Asian markets, “leverage the local” movement in the beauty sector and the rising popularity in C-beauty.
RiA: Bold, Pigmented and Colourful – Driven by Gen Z’s desire for self-expression, what will the Future of K-Beauty look like for Southeast Asia and beyond?
Christine: K-beauty’s move into more pigment, more colour and more embellishment will encourage Southeast Asian consumers, especially younger Gen Zs, to start experimenting. Previously, deeply pigmented and bold looks were seen as something only those with sharper, ‘Westernised’ features could pull off. Seeing Koreans – who typically have more rounded features that are more similar to Southeast Asians – pull off these looks will give others the courage to attempt similar looks.
In addition, modern Southeast Asian consumers also feel less bound by societal perception and self-consciousness, and embrace bolder looks that make them happy. Bright hair colours that require bleaching are also popular among Southeast Asian halal beauty consumers that wear a hijab for example, even though no-one but themselves would be able to see it.
That being said, Southeast Asia’s move into colour will not just be influenced by K-beauty solely, as the region is also hugely influenced by Western media and culture. For example, we would say the make-up looks on Euphoria are also a huge contributing factor to Asian consumers being more willing to experiment with colours and accessories.
RiA: With the influence of K-Culture (i.e. K-Pop and K-Drama) in Southeast Asia, how will it shape/implicate beauty perceptions and trends in the region?
Christine: At WGSN, we are also seeing the huge influence of K-Culture in Southeast Asia, as is common to see many Korean beauty trends being adopted by Southeast Asian consumers. For example, taeng taeng skin – or jello skin – is a K-beauty trend that you will also see adopted by consumers, and hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid and collagen are now gaining popularity across the region, as people aim to achieve the dewy, translucent skin they see K-celebrities sport. This region is home to many Muslim consumers, and many halal beauty consumers are now searching for halal-certified collagen, which is typically derived from pigs.
While pale skin has been the beauty standard in Southeast Asia prior to the K-wave, I think it is possible that K-Culture’s emphasis on paleness likely exacerbates the necessity of pale skin. Skin whiteners may be out of fashion in the region (because of the toxicity of ingredients used), but in its place, consumers are using the same ingredients that South Koreans are using to brighten their complexions, such as niacinamide and vitamin C. Suncare is also increasingly seen as a beauty essential thanks to K-Culture’s influence and the importance that K-beauty places on sunscreen. K-beauty’s more minimalistic style (as compared to the West) also resonates better with consumers, as louder, more colourful styles don’t really translate to everyday looks.
The K-influence also definitely has its impacts on other things like packaging and formula methodologies as well. For example, Indonesia, where K-Culture is really huge, often adopt a K-beauty-like aesthetic – beneath! By Bhumi has a very distinct K-cute aesthetic common to many K-beauty brands, while Mad for Makeup had a huge collaboration with BT21 that featured BTS’ Line mascots on its packaging that capitalised on BTS’ huge popularity with Indonesian consumers. Many Indonesian brands also appoint K-celebrities as their brand ambassadors that tap into this same crowd.
Southeast Asia is also incredibly receptive to common ingredients used in K-beauty because of K-culture, and many K-beauty staples like mugwort and cica are also popular in Asian beauty products for this reason. Local Korean experiences like traditional beauty tea houses (such as Sulwhasoo’s) are really huge in K-beauty right now, and we believe they would be equally popular if the brands brought them over to Southeast Asia because of the popularity of K-culture and (period) dramas!
Source : BT21
RiA: What do you think will be the key trends and developments, and never-seen-before beauty innovations, that will emerge in Singapore and Southeast Asia?
Christine: ‘Leverage the local’ movement – where brands tap into local ingredients and culture – will be really huge in Southeast Asia, and especially if it is backed by science. As Asians, we are quite proud of our local culture, so it makes us very happy to see glimpses of it – be it food culture or the arts – reflected in products.
Some local brands already utilise classic ‘Southeast Asian’ fruits like durians and mangosteens in their skincare products. N&E Innovations taps into Singaporean’s love for durians, crabs and food wastage by using discarded durian husks and crab shells in its all-over wet wipes – where food wastage is a very real problem in Southeast Asia, accounting for 25 percent of global food waste. The region is also home to an incredibly rich biodiversity and there are plenty of ingredients familiar to us that remain unused in the skincare market with a yet-to-be-discovered potential that local brands are just beginning to use.
Brands that tap into local culture are also popular. Scent by SIX recently created a fragrance diffuser together with Singapore Airlines, where batik motifs on the bottle were modeled after the prints of the airline’s Peranakan-inspired uniform. It also used notes of Simpoh Lak and White Kopsia – which are flowers native to Singapore. Meanwhile, Thai perfume brand BUTTERFLY has perfume flavour profiles like stir-fried basil and mango sticky rice, dishes signature to Thai food culture. SO.LEK, a Malaysian brand uses Singlish when naming their products.
Furthermore, Climate adaptive skincare is really taking off in Southeast Asia. The region is home to a hot and humid climate all year-round, so thinner, non-cloying, and skin-cooling formulas that dry quickly on the skin are really popular. With this demand, we will start to see international brands following suit to create targeted products for specific countries and regions not just in Southeast Asia, but in other markets as well with non-temperate climates.
RiA: China is the biggest importer of K-beauty products, is the influence of K-Culture the only drive that has led to this phenomenon?
While K-Culture definitely has improved Chinese consumers’ perception of K-beauty, the industry itself being a really strong, established beauty market is also a huge contributor, beyond just the influence of K-Culture.
K-beauty is known for being clean, cute and science-backed, which appeals both to Chinese consumers in aesthetics and rising concerns on health and safety. Multi-tasking, skin-infused cosmetics also appeal to time-strapped consumers, where 996 OT culture remains prevalent.
K-culture definitely has had an influence on Chinese beauty standards. The emphasis on having a V-line jaw, a small face, and K-beauty’s distinct make-up style (e.g. aegyo sal) are definitely a Korean influence. Due to Korean media, aesthetic procedures in China have also been normalised. The popularity of derma beauty in K-beauty has also definitely translated to the popularity of functional derma in China.
RiA: As generation Z is known to be relatively environmentally conscious while making purchase decisions, do you foresee bioengineered beauty products to be the biggest trend in the upcoming years?
Christine: Yes, definitely! While ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ ingredients still remain popular in APAC, consumers are a lot less averse to ‘chemically-engineered’ ingredients than they were before, because they are a lot more skin-savvy. Bacteria are not necessarily bad, and preservatives and artificial ingredients no longer hold the same stigma as they previously did, with previous generations.
In addition, Gen Zs consumers, as compared to previous generations, are a lot more keen and aware of environmental issues. They are also much more open-minded and novelty-seeking, so ‘new’ and never-been-used before ingredients like bioengineered products has its own appeal beyond sustainability.
RiA: What are the up and coming beauty industries that you think could potentially replicate the success of K-beauty? What is your opinion on China’s booming beauty industry?
Christine: At WGSN, we see a huge potential in the halal market – particularly in Indonesia. Muslim consumers make up a very significant part of the global beauty market, and halal brands are setting the standard for what a modern halal brand could look like. They are also setting new expectations for ‘clean’ and ‘inclusive’ that non-halal brands would want to replicate so international brands can truly say they cater to all.
C-beauty also has the potential to be really big as well. There have already been a couple of C-beauty brands established – especially colour cosmetic brands – which have succeeded in well-performing markets in Southeast Asia and The West. The guochao aesthetic that many C-beauty brands embody offers aesthetics that are completely unique to the beauty market. They are usually also really affordable, so audiences outside of China do not mind making the first purchase, and then eventually get converted into loyal customers.
Source : Florasis
China is also home to an e-commerce heavy market, and is very adept at playing the e-commerce game in Southeast Asia, where e-commerce is also huge. Consumers in the region are similarly price sensitive and constantly looking out for the best deals, and this consumer behaviour that is similar to Chinese consumers has enabled established C-beauty brands to perform well in the region.
In addition, Douyin Make-up Style is also incredibly trendy in the global beauty market. There are YouTube and TikTok channels dedicated to translating and reposting Douyin beauty videos that reflect a clear interest in C-beauty make-up trends despite accessibility issues and language barriers. There is also a trend among Western make-up influencers where they replicate the ‘Douyin Make-up Style’, which is universally appealing due to the fact it works well across different features. C-idol culture and dramas are also gaining rapid popularity among younger consumers, and we are likely to see a C-beauty boom that is similar to K-beauty in the near future.
While C-make-up has the potential to “become the next K-beauty”, it is difficult to convince audiences outside of China to use Chinese skincare. For example, China has largely shaken off its ‘Made in China’ shackles among its local consumers, but audiences outside of China continue to hold onto these stigmas, where counterfeit products were (and remain) a huge problem. Beauty consumers are also more mindful about their skincare products and the ingredients that go in it, as compared to make-up, where consumers are more willing to experiment. Although C-skincare is largely backed by science-backed innovation and could have the potential to take off globally, it will take a lot more time to convince consumers outside of China to try C-skincare.
(Source : WGSN)