Explore the beauty movement that’s taken the island by storm.
A few years ago, the beauty scene was dominated by brands coming from the western hemisphere and we loved them. Even though they cost major rupees, us Lankan gals begged, borrowed and stole (okay, relax: we’re not being literal) to get our hands on the loot that signified the holy grail of beauty. Fast forward to the present: While we love our tried-and-tested European magnates, products made in the South Korean peninsula have fast climbed the beauty ranks to become a viable alternative (in some cases, a replacement even) thanks to a plethora of low-cost, highly-efficient products that tend to be all natural, come in cute packaging and work miracles.
1. EXCEPTIONAL INNOVATION
The success of Korean beauty products can be traced back to relentless creativity, government-backed R&D labs and unique formulas. South Korean women spend twice the amount of their paychecks on skincare, while Korean men are reported to spend the most on skincare in comparison to men in any other country. According to Christine Chang, a former employee of L’Oréal Paris and co-founder of Glow Recipe, an online store that retails K- beauty products, if Korean consumers give products a glowing report, the latter is unequivocally deemed a success for Asian markets. In essence, a Korean sign-off is gold standard. Given such high demand and particular taste, Korean beauty products are constantly being innovated with never-before-seen textures and formulas. From BB cushions to snail slime masks, K-Beauty has done (and aced) it all…
…And that is exactly what gives K-Beauty the opportunity to break into the Lankan beauty scene. To us islanders, who have only been offered the old-world creams and gels, Korean beauty comes as a breath of fresh air. Products that suit Asian skin in new textures with interesting ingredients and that often don’t cost a pretty penny? Yes, please!
2. UNUSUAL NATURAL INGREDIENTS
If you’ve ever wandered into the world of K-Beauty, then you must’ve come across pretty unorthodox core ingredients like snail mucus, volcanic clay, donkey milk, bee venom and wine, to name a few. These out-of-the-box elements are precisely what places Korean products high up on the beauty list and in a one-to-one battle with luxury European brands. Speaking to Fast Company, Diane Park, beauty analyst at global market research firm Mintel, says that the Korean beauty philosophy uses natural ingredients that align with “hanbang,” ancient Korean medicinal theories. In addition, the use of herbal components such as ginseng, bamboo, green tea and processes like fermentation allows for more organic products. Thanks to their au natural approach, Korean beauty products are extremely gentle on the skin, with no long, unidentifiable, hard-to-pronounce names on the label. Instead, groundbreaking ingredients continually mixed into fresh formulas, come together to create wildly successful products.
3. A HOLISTIC & RITUALISTIC APPROACH TO BEAUTY
Korean beauty products are formulated using an inside-out beauty approach, treating what lies beneath the skin, which then triggers results on the surface. This is in direct contrast to the mainstream use of beauty as a cover-up, rather than as a treatment, for existing flaws (hey, no shame—we all love a good concealer job after a long night!).
Korean philosophy believes in treating the skin and maintaining its health over time for long-lasting results. Sarah Lee, the other co-founder of Glow Recipe, says that they’ve been using the word skin-tertainment to enforce the idea that skincare is not a chore—it’s just as fun as putting on make-up. Koreans believe that there’s no fast track to achieving radiant skin and, as a result, are more committed to their skincare than the rest of us sisters, often partaking in routines that span ten steps, and include oil cleansers, plumping ampoules and finishing serums. With that kind of commitment, it’s no wonder they expect their products to be the best in the world—and we’re not complaining.
4. THE HALLYU WAVE
“Hallyu” was a term coined back in the mid ‘90s by Chinese journalists who were taken aback by the wildfire spread of Korean entertainment and culture throughout the world. This term loosely translates into “Korean Cultural Wave” and that refers to all things K—K-Pop, K-Dramas, K-Movies and even the emulation of the fast-paced, hi-tech lifestyle led by the Korean population. Despite having started off as a fad, Hallyu is now a successfully established subculture amassing millions of loyal followers from all over the world. This can be attested to by the success of many globally established artists like Psy, whose music video “Gangnam Style” became the first ever YouTube video to rake in 1 billion views (since surpassed); BTS – a seven-member boy group – winning the Top Social Artist award at the 2017 Billboard Awards, beating out the likes of Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez; Bigbang – a quintet dubbed as the Kings of K-Pop – becoming the first ever Korean act to land the Forbes Celebrity 100 and 30 Under 30 Highest Paid Celebrities list; and Girls Generation, an eight-member girl group, who won Video of the Year at the inaugural YouTube Music Awards, to name a few.
The worldwide popularity of Hallyu gives K-Beauty a strong marketing platform to leverage their ever-expanding product portfolio and to form solid ties with foreign markets, using trendy celebrities as brand ambassadors and sponsoring world tours. A survey done by the Korean Chamber of Commerce & Industry in 2012 found that hallyu enhanced product sales at an exponential rate, with cosmetics sales increasing by a whopping 35.5%.
Like the US, Europe and most of Asia, Sri Lanka has now fallen (hard) for the beauty of of K-Pop, with local K-Pop and K-Culture festivals drawing thousands from all over the country. (Disclaimer: I’ve attended them, too!) And along with the mainstream popularity of Korean music comes the upward climb of K-Beauty. With brands like TheFaceShop establishing here, alongside other individual online retailers sporting Korean brands like Innisfree, Etude House and Laneige, the huge popularity of K-Beauty is indubitable…and you know what they say, no demand—no supply!
BEAUTY BLOGGERS SPEAK
Don’t believe us when we say K-Beauty is taking the world by storm? We asked your fave beauty bloggers for their tried and tested opinions. This is what they had to say.
Michelle Jinasena AKA @bubblymichelle
“I find that Korean skincare products suit Asian skin perfectly and address most skin concerns, such as pigmentation (due to excessive sun exposure) as well as sebum control, a result of the extreme heat in this equatorial region. The K-brands that I’m currently using contain naturally sourced ingredients and combine ancient Asian beauty rituals as opposed to Western brands that are more research-based and so mostly involve a lot of chemical additives that can be harmful in instances….The interest in K-beauty right now is definitely a given.”
Fave Product: “I love K-Beauty essences and I particularly love the Secret Essence by SU:M37.”
Yashora Samaradivakara AKA @yashoras
“I didn’t realize the craze behind K-Beauty until I tried it for myself. I used to be a big fan of skincare brands from the western part of the world, like Clinique and Kiehls. But, once I started using Korean products I realized they’re extremely gentle on the skin and they still do the job. I’m used to products being harsh on the skin in order to clean pores and get out all the dirt, so Korean products were a pleasant surprise. I’m trying to cut back on chemicals and revisit natural skincare—Korean products are just perfect for that!”
Fave Product: “Jeju Volcanic Pore Minimizing Clay Mask from Innisfree is super popular and is really good for oil control and acne—and it’s an ace at cleaning out pores too.”
Cult Favorite K-Beauty Must Haves
ETUDE HOUSE, 0.2 Therapy Air Mask in Strawberry, etudehouse.com, Rs. 200
THEFACESHOP, Calendula Souci Face Mask, Rs. 325
THEFACESHOP, Intensive Glow Maxi Éclat SPF 37 PA++ in Natural Beige, Rs. 3,390
INNISFREE, Eco Natural Green Tea BB Cream SPF29 PA++, innisfree.com, Rs. 2,700
THEFACESHOP, Fresh Lotus Soothing Gel, Rs. 1,190
KLAIRS, Rich Moist Soothing Serum, amazon.com, Rs. 3,220
This article was originally published as ‘A Korean Wave: The Rise Of K-Beauty In Sri Lanka’ in the September 2017 issue of Cosmopolitan Sri Lanka. For more beauty and skin advice, grab a copy of our latest magazine.
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