As K-beauty brands become more popular and widespread outside of South Korea, we turn our attention to the latest trend making a big impact in our bathroom cabinets. 

Within your own beauty arsenal, in-between the everyday creams, cleansers and treatments, chances are you already have something made in Korea.

Be it a sheet mask, essence or BB cream (all of which stem from Seoul), in recent years K-beauty brands have taken the industry by storm and now more than ever, beauty buyers are looking to the Far East as sales of masks, cushion compacts and water serums skyrocket.

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South Korea now seems to overshadow other global beauty leaders, such as France, in both high-tech innovations and the pace at which they are churning out new products. Offering frontline insight into the fast-growing beauty market, Seoul-based beauty consultant and writer behind Skinfullofseoul.com, Katherine Spowart, says: “K-beauty brands offer a huge range of products and consumers can build their routines based on their own skin issues.”

 

The beauty blogger continues: “It’s very easy and usually affordable to tailor a K-beauty routine and target your problem areas, with fantastic and also sustainable results. I’m now seeing a lot more ‘natural’ products, free from fragrances and chemicals, and with focus on simplicity rather than gimmicks.”

Is it fair to say that Korean products are now more advanced than many Western skincare brands?

“I think it depends on what products you’re talking about. When it comes to active products, such as acids or make-up, the West is way ahead,” says Spowart. “However I think the belief in Korean brands being ahead stems from the truth that the skincare market here is so competitive. Companies invest huge amounts in R&D [research and development] to find the next best skincare solution, so there’s always something new and exciting.

“With the pressure Korean women (and men) put on brands, these companies have to provide cutting-edge products and technologies. This often means they’re developing and researching ahead of Western brands because they have to survive. Many Western buyers are loyal if they find a brand that works for them, while Korean consumers are always looking for the next best, and brands have to keep up with that demand.”

A fast-growing business and one of Asia’s biggest exports, a feature published by Forbes.com reported that sales from the region’s beauty market is estimated to exceed US$150 billion (Dhs551 billion) this year, while Asia’s leading beauty brands are expected to account for 80 per cent of global cosmetics revenue gain by 2019.

korean beauty

While many credit the BB Cream trend (which hit a high in 2011) as the tipping point for when Korean beauty products became more mainstream worldwide, a quick scroll through your social media feed will reveal that sheet masks are now at the forefront of the K-beauty movement, with ghostly white selfies encased in skin treatments going viral.

“I started noticing a lot of celebrity sheet mask snaps in 2015,” beauty expert Katherine confirms. “I still don’t think the majority of people even knew that was a Korean beauty phenomenon at the time though. I think K-beauty really started to become mainstream (particularly in the US) at the back end of 2016 and beginning of this year,” she says.

In the UAE, Sephora stores have introduced multiple Korea kiosks into their beauty halls. One of the largest offerings within their skincare section, the dedicated K-Pop beauty shelves were expanded earlier this year and now house a curated edit of cult brands such as Tony Moly, Skin Food, Too Cool For School, Erborian and Dr.Jart+.

Beauty lovers have also been quick to buck the weird and wonderful world of Korean skincare, which includes sea kelp, bee venom and even snail mucus – a somewhat stomach-turning slimy ingredient, but one that promises to offer a multitude of beauty benefits. “Cosrx Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence is the number one product I always recommend,” raves Spowart. “It’s great for healthier, bouncier skin, while also aiding in soothing and calming.” With hundreds of rave reviews on Amazon.com alone, the best-selling potion is not only ultra-repairing, but can also help with acne breakouts and hyperpigmentation.

Type ‘Korean Beauty shop’ into Google and Peachandlily.com is one of the first results to pop up. Founded by Harvard Business School graduate Alicia Yoon, the site is one of the leading resources for K-beauty lovers. While working as a consultant for a beauty client, the US-based trained aesthetician noticed that a large number of Western beauty manufacturers were sourcing formulations from Korea.

“I saw an opportunity to bring Korean beauty innovations and philosophies to the US in real time, while combining my business experience with my love of skincare,”  she says.

Alicia travels to Korea each month to stay ahead of the curve and also to meet with top labs to discuss the newest must-have Korean skin care products and scientific developments in the works. The business is so competitive, just 5 per cent of the products they test actually make it onto the site.

With shipping now available to the United Arab Emirates, Peach & Lily’s wide selection of K-beauty goodies includes hit products such as Banila Co Clean It Zero cleanser, anti-wrinkle creams and Be The Skin Purifying White Waterful Serum. And while the site’s extensive selection of beauty goodies might seem intimidating at first (there are hundreds of lotions and potions to choose from), you can shop products by skin types and specific concerns along with numerous filters. Each product also includes a ranking and review by verified shoppers to help you out.

It’s not just skincare that’s leading the way in the Korean beauty movement. Innovative makeup buys have also pushed Korea to the top of the beauty game. From cushion compact foundations to  tinted lip-pumping patches, which have become a cult sensation and celebrity favourite, spotted on the likes of Jessica Alba and Kim Kardashian West, cosmetic consumers can’t get enough of South Korea’s booming beauty world.

THE EXPERT

kate park

We sit down with Kate Park, founder of the newly launched online Korean beauty boutique Lamisebeauty.com. With a Dubai brick-and-mortar shop in the pipeline for early 2018, the entrepreneur talks connecting the Middle East to Korea, the next big K-beauty trend and the cream of Seoul’s beauty crop to try now.

What was the reason behind launching the beauty site?

When I moved to Dubai, my skin became dehydrated and irritated due to the strong sunlight and the dry desert climate. In the beginning, I started experimenting and brought K-beauty products in my luggage for myself, but once I started to share the cosmetics with my friends, they always asked me to bring more. So after years of testing new brands and products, I decided to launch Lamisebeauty.com. ‘Lamise’ means ‘soft touch’ in Arabic and we created it with the hope that our products will touch people’s beauty softly.

Do you think the Middle East market was missing more Korean beauty products, and what do you think they offer that other brands in the region don’t?

I think that there aren’t enough choices for Korean beauty brands in the Middle East. Compared to other cosmetic brands around the world, K-beauty companies are not scared to push the boundaries by testing unusual ingredients such as ginseng, snail and fermented rice. And since Korean customers are very particular about the quality of the products, Korean brands continuously create products with different textures (balms, serums, ampoules, mists) that are suitable for all skin concerns (dry, oily, sensitive, acne).

These are one of the main reasons Korean customers can easily find skin care and makeup products for their skin types and they never get bored of K-beauty products.

Banila Co Clean It Zero Dhs91, lamisebeauty.com (left) and Cremolab Smooth Pudding Dhs176, peachandlily.com.

Why do you think K-beauty brands have become so popular outside of Korea?

Having worked in the advertising industry for seven years, I’ve collaborated with a lot of beauty brands and had the opportunity to test many trendy products from both Korean and non-Korean companies. There are many great cosmetic products produced outside of Korea but in my experience, Korean brands offer very high quality that has been backed by decades of innovation in technology, formulas and ingredients.

Through continuous research and becoming innovators of popular products such as BB creams, cushion compacts and sheet masks, Korean beauty products have captured the attention of many cosmetic enthusiasts all over the world in the past 10 years.

Have you picked products that are specifically suited to the Dubai climate?

The sun is strong and the climate is very dry in Dubai so I brought products that can help protect the skin, keep it moisturised and help heal the damaged, burnt cells. I am always trying to bring in more sunscreen products to protect the skin from the harsh rays and I am minimising products with rich creams that may be too heavy or oily to use in the hot weather.

 

Erborian Liquid BB Creme Compact Dore Dhs180, sephora.ae (left), Dr Jart+ Hydration Lover Rubber Mash Dhs45, sephora.ae.

What are some of the standout products available on the site?

The AHC eye cream, Banila Co cleanser, Mizon Collagen Power Lifting Cream, Swanicoco Fermentation Snail Care Toner And Lotion, Whamisa Organic Flowers Toner and Lotion, Huxley Essence and Cream, and Skin Food Black Sugar Scrub are just a few of the most popular products on our website.

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Korean beauty brands are constantly looking ahead. What do you think will be the next big trend?

Cushion compacts are currently very popular in Korea and I think it will become a global hit in the beauty industry. Many brands are coming up with creative ways to make products easier and more effective to satisfy customers all over the world.

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Images: Getty, supplied
Words: Annah Fairservice