The Korean cosmetics market is now the 8th largest in the world, with 2.9 percent of the global market share, capitalising on the global rise in interest for Korean culture, a phenomenon known as ‘Hallyu’ – ‘the Korean wave’. “In the past, Korean cosmetics had lower product quality and brand awareness compared to that of Western competitors,” remarks Myung-Kyu Lee, managing director of the Korean Cosmetic Association. “However, over the past 10 years, a lot of Korean companies have invested in R&D. In addition, thanks to the Korean Wave, Korea’s reputation has been raised globally,” he adds.
Traditional Western cosmetics are less adventurous when it comes to choosing a raw material, despite conducting in-depth research. Conversely, Korean cosmetic companies have made bolder decisions with raw material
Although the Korean wave has raised interest in Korean cosmetics, the roots of the Korean cosmetics craze are much older. “Traditional Western cosmetics are less adventurous when it comes to choosing a raw material, despite conducting in-depth research. Conversely, Korean cosmetic companies have made bolder decisions with raw materials,” declares Jino Park, founder & CEO of P&K Skin Research Centre. This boldness has helped Korean brands to develop once unconventional, now household items like cushion foundation, or BB Cream, the combination of skincare and makeup items, and even cosmetics made with volcanic ash. Such products have reinforced Korea’s image as a cosmetic innovator. Two of the country’s largest cosmetics companies – Amore Pacific and LG – are producing high-end cosmetics through brands such as Sulwhasoo and Whoo.
Furthermore, in the area of dermo-cosmetics, Korea has carved out a global position for itself, helped by regulations such as the 2001 Cosmetics Act. “Due to the Cosmetics Act, the main cosmetic functions such as whitening, anti-wrinkle and sunscreen require scientific proof,” explains Jino Park whose P&K Skin Research Centre performs scientific analysis on such products. He continues, “This is also a good selling point when Korean companies export their products to foreign markets.”
International Korean brand Dr G is one such company leading the way for Korean dermo-cosmetics. Its CEO, Dr Ahn Gun Young was inspired to establish the Dr G brand after his own personal tragedy. “I had a scald when I was younger and wanted to cure the scar,” recalls Young. “The experience motivated me to become a dermatologist and through supporting my patients, I realized that I could help them by providing cosmetics,” he adds.
Now Dr G has become an international brand, particularly in the Chinese market. “Our first target market is China. Of course, there are several reasons for this, but two of the most significant are that China is geographically close to Korea and K-Pop is popular there. On top of that, we have already succeeded in Hong Kong and obviously it is the biggest market in the world. Thus, it is a great opportunity for us to be successful,” Young asserts. The Asian markets are not the limit for Korean brands either, with Dr G also developing a business strategy for the US and Europe.
While the Korean wave has accelerated the growth of the Korean cosmetics industry, those capitalizing on its success are keen to ensure it is not just a flash in the pan and entrench themselves as industry names. As Dr Young envisions, “I want Dr G to be a brand that lasts long in the market regardless of the popularity of Korean culture and to live on after the Korean wave subsides.”
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