Marie Claire Korea
Ever wonder why the counters at Sephora are stocked with essences, sheet masks, and alphabet creams? There are a few reasons:
First, Korean women have insanely high standards for their face. You might’ve noticed this already watching the backup dancers in “Gangnam Style,” or Olympic figure-skating gold medalist Yuna Kim, or just about any random Korean civilian on the subway. Korean women have zero pores (and definitely no blackheads), zero wrinkles, zero sagging and zero dullness. There is only the illusion of that highly coveted flawless sheen. Filter face.
And it’s been this way for a long time. While you may’ve been stoked about Dr. Jart+’s BB Cream back in 2011, Korean women have been perfecting their skin since they were teens. Not only is it common for Korean girls to be taught to be diligent about their skin from a young age, the average Korean adult will stock up on ten to fifteen items for their daily rituals and spend at least twenty “Mississippi”s meticulously massaging their face as they cleanse. Even Korean men are into it: They spend more money on skincare than men from any other country. Even I, a Korean-American raised by a Korean woman, was handed an entire regimen — cleanser, toner, essence, serum, moisturizer, mask and exfoliator — when I turned thirteen. (I guess she thought the eye cream could wait.)
Call it vanity or extreme image-consciousness, but the needs of Korean women have driven innovation and competition among Korean beauty brands, compelling them to pony up investments into research and development to satisfy their highly knowledgeable customers. According to the report, “Korean Innovation in Beauty,” by Fung Global Retail & Technology, the lofty standards of the average Korean woman has created “an ideal platform for beauty brands to create and test their innovations, including formulas, ingredients, manufacturing processes and packaging.” In other words, Korean women’s passion for skincare is what fuels all the advancements you see nowhere else in the world. So If you’re wondering why all the newfangled “crazy” stuff comes out of Korea (e.g. bee venom, snail slime, starfish, camel milk), now you know why. And it’s also why Korean products are just that freaking good.
And there’s a reason why K-beauty primarily comprises skincare as opposed to cosmetics: Koreans believe perfect skin is the most important “makeup” you can have. Even cosmetic breakthroughs, like alphabet creams and cushion compacts (with anti-aging ingredients and SPF), are formulated to deliver skincare benefits first; coverage is almost an afterthought. Plus, Koreans like their makeup minimal anyway. Instead of piling up the smokey eye and black eyeliner to create the illusion of bigger eyes, they’ll use eyelid tape to transform monolids into double-folds (called ssangkapul). Think of K-beauty as the complete opposite of clown contouring.
Finally, there’s the Korean government. After meeting the demands of local customers, beauty companies began to eye other countries, such as China and America, and the Korean government started supporting their efforts. In fact, according to NYmag.com, the government gives major tax breaks to companies that solely export their products. Wishtrend, for example, is a Korean company that only sells to America, so they pay zero taxes. And get this: The government also has a dedicated fund to help companies deal with legal matters overseas. They care that much that Korea becomes the beauty capital of the world. These are just two examples of why there is so much incentive for Korean beauty brands to get in Sephora’s special corner.
Fortunately, K-beauty is no gimmick, so you can continue to stock up. And if you’re not interested in buying fifteen products, as a Korean-American can I take this opportunity to urge you to try essence, the liquidy stuff that isn’t exactly toner or moisturizer but somewhere in between? My mom is 70 years old and looks better than most of my friends, and she says it’s the one product everyone needs to use OR ELSE.
Move over, France. Korea is the new beauty boss in town.
**Hey, Sephora, your K-Beauty section includes Tatcha and Shiseido, which are definitely not Korean. Wanna help stop the homogenization of Asians?
This article was originally published April 24, 2017.