Korean cosmetics culture dates all the way back to the Three Kingdoms Era (57 BC—668 BC), when it was believed that an attractive outer appearance could carry over into the inner self, creating a culture that attracted both men and women to cosmetics.
Women wore makeup to enhance the appearance of health, making rouge and lipsticks from botanical ingredients such as safflower. The aristocrats were oftentimes inspired by the cosmetic stylings of the kisaeng, who were entertainers for the royal courts of the Goryeo and Joseon Dynasties.
These days, the tradition of emulating the looks of entertainers holds fast, as skincare and makeup trends are carried over into the mainstream by Korean actresses and pop stars. These beloved celebrities achieve cult-like status amongst their fans, who rush to imitate their style. If a popular celebrity spends just a few seconds in a K-drama using a particular product, or is even simply photographed using it, it just might spark a frenzy, causing the product to sell out across the country. With the growing international popularity of the “K-Wave,”or Hallyu movement, these stars, looks, and products are washing ashore just about everywhere. Modern-day Korean beauty culture is now easily one of the biggest influencers in the worldwide beauty industry.
Western cosmetic companies have been looking to Asia for product inspiration for years. The most obvious example of this is in BB creams, which took the North American market by storm in 2012. BB creams had already been a staple in the Korean market since 2005, and enjoyed soaring popularity thanks to the numerous celebrity endorsements they received. Since the rise of BB cream, Korean beauty products have received increasingly more visibility in Western media, and there are more people than ever embracing the skincare and makeup offerings brought to us from South Korea. It’s not hard to understand why: there is a lot to love about them.
The number of savvy consumers combined with the high prioritization of skincare and makeup as essential purchases in Korean culture has ignited and cultivated a highly-competitive pressure-cooker of innovation. This creates a huge advantage for consumers—the rivalry means cosmetic companies are driven to produce remarkable, high-quality products at rapid speeds. These offerings are frequently packaged in unique and appealing ways in order to stand out from the competition and attract the attention of discerning consumers, and many of the products are competitively priced.
Additionally, though the testing process for emerging ingredients in South Korea is extremely rigorous, new discoveries are still brought to market more quickly and frequently. Sometimes these new ingredients prove to be gimmicky fads, a phenomenon that occurs in the beauty industry in all parts of the world. But that’s not always the case—one trend we’ve noticed in the Korean beauty industry is the tendency for cosmetic companies to quickly adopt discoveries that are made in the biomedicine sector. There are many ingredients that are unique to the Korean cosmetic market that are making their way into formulas in other parts of the world because there is some promising, legitimate scientific research to back the claims.
The high quality, innovation, competitive pricing, and visual appeal of Korean cosmetic products have put the industry in a position to disrupt the beauty market in other parts of the globe. We embraced it long ago, and we haven’t looked back. We are both enjoying the best skin of our lives, and it is our belief that Korean cosmetics can work for anyone .
It was an intimidating world when we first started out, and there were many new product categories we had to familiarize ourselves with. We’ve learned so much since we began this journey, and now we want to help you uncover what makes Korean makeup and skincare so unique, as well as guide you through the process of assembling a Korean-style skincare routine and putting together your own Korean-inspired makeup looks. Whether you’re a seasoned fan of Korean cosmetics or complete newcomer to the world of K-beauty, we hope that you’ll discover something in these pages that will change your beauty routine for the better! —Kerry & Coco