Some Americans are wild about Korean skin care

Sales of South Korean skin care products have grown in the U.S. in recent years. A 2017 study on skin care trends from Google found user searchers for "Korean face mask" in the U.S. grew 173 percent. Credit: Jeon Han

Americans spend $63 billion a year on beauty products, according to one research firm.

A growing part of this market: K-Beauty, or Korean skin care.

From tea tree oil face masks to tinted moisturizers with sunscreen, sales for South Korean products have grown 27 percent from 2015 to 2016 in the U.S., according to research firm Kline Group.

But what is drawing Americans to K-Beauty?

Cost, quality and variety are three major components.

Beltway News spoke with four K-Beauty users about what draws them to use the products. Two concerned users say it is “being sold as part of a mystique.”

“Bang for your buck”

K-Beauty fans say they like that they get quality products for less.

Madalyn, a stay-at-home mom from Oakland, California, writes about K-beauty products, which she began using two years ago.

“I like Asian cleansers more than Western brands because many of them are more gentle without being more expensive,” Madalyn said.

Tony Moly, a South Korean cosmetics brand, is known for its sheet beauty masks. Credit: Gary Bembridge

‘Prestige-quality’ American-brand moisturizers cost between $50 and $200, while comparable Korean products go for $10 to $20, excluding import taxes, beauty blogger Coco Park told Fast Company. It’s more “bang for your buck,” Fast Company notes.

‘Kidulting’ on cute packaging; K-Beauty’s variety and quality

The variety of products draws Americans to K-Beauty, others say.

Korean skin care products are created from some of the latest technology, said Minnie Park, founder of MiniB Beauty, a marketing firm focused on bringing Korean beauty products to the U.S. Beauty is a big business in Korea, with about 10,000 brands currently that are competing to make the best products and for every skin type, she said.

Americans like using products they can’t find in the United States. K-Beauty has skin care products made to use during the menstrual period and eyeliners that can last for a week, Minnie Park said.

The cute packaging is also a draw, Minnie Park said.

“I am a kidult myself,” she said. “I love heart shaped lip moisturizers or princess logo eyeshadows.”

A set of 11 sheet masks from Tony Moly sells for $18 on Amazon. Credit: Angela Swartz

Jenn, who works in publishing in New York City, ran a blog called Beauty Moogle and has been regularly using K-Beauty products for 3-4 years. She said she primarily use serums, essences, masks and creams that are Korean.

“They seem to be more innovative than other markets and there always seems to be something ‘new,’” said Jenn.

Concern about U.S. ‘exoticization’ of Asia through K-Beauty marketing

Target worked with Korean beauty site Peach & Lily to start a line of Korean skin care products recently. Credit: Target


Other fans of K-Beauty still worry U.S. companies like Target and Sephora are bandwagoning onto the trend and selling the Asian mystique.

The West has a “long and sordid” history of exoticizing Asia to attract a European audience, wrote Cat, who runs the K-Beauty blog Snow White and the Asian Pear, which has 17.5k followers on Instagram. “I want K-Beauty to be a part of the everyday routines of people who like good products, rather than sold as part of a mystique,” she wrote.

“I want K-Beauty to be a part of the everyday routines of people who like good products, rather than sold as part of a mystique.”

If K-Beauty continues to be marketed as a novelty, it will have the same fate as any other trend and fade from popularity, Cat said.

Minnie Park also has concerns about the exoticizing Korean skin care. While growing up in Busan, South Korea, she remembers generalizations that Korean women had over the top skin care routine.

“People just have to remember moderation is always good and do not believe everything commercial firms say to sell more,” she said.

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