A Korean's take on the increasing popularity of K-Beauty
Artwork by Anna Boyle
Being the beauty product fiend that I am, I wanted to check out the latest products trending on Sephora's website in light of their store-wide fall sale. When I clicked on the "Beauty's Rising Stars" tab, I was shocked to see that so many of the brands were Korean. For this week, Kaja's Cheeky Blush Stamps made it to Sephora's Beauty's Rising Stars. This is not the first time Sephora featured a Korean brand as a Rising Star; skincare brand Saturday Skin was featured in Volume 14 in Jan. 2018.
Before Sephora gave these specific products shoutouts, I was well aware that K-Beauty was increasing in popularity in recent years. I saw Western beauty gurus on YouTube testing out these exotic products packaged in cutesy containers. Cushion foundations, sheet masks, and BB creams were entering drugstores' shelves — all products originating from Korea — and covered the shelves of practically every beauty section in every drugstore I visited. Seeing brands that are more popular in the U.S., from affordable brands like Wet n' Wild to luxury brands like Lancome, try to adopt trends set by Korean brands filled me with a sense of great joy.
Obviously, I'm not the mastermind who invented any of those products. However, being able to share them with my loved ones lets me feel like I can share a part of my world with others. Imagine having a friend who lives far away from you visit you. You take them to your favorite restaurant and share the experience of enjoying your favorite dishes. Now, take this experience and amplify it. That's essentially what it feels like to be able to go shopping with my friends and be able to recommend products that I grew up watching my mother and other empowering women in my life use.
My mother recently saw her sister for the first time in over two years. One of the things they got to bond over was an emerging Korean skincare brand, Belif. "How'd you know about this brand; it's a Korean brand!," my aunt said. I had actually recommended my mother this skincare brand after receiving some free samples.
Unfortunately, I have yet to test out my mother's favorites from back when she was in college, as many of the brands still test on animals due to China's requirement for products to be tested on animals before hitting brick and mortar shelves. However, if the animal testing policy were to be lifted, something reminiscent of my mother's college days could linger even decades after she graduated on the opposite side of the globe. Luckily, an end to China's animal testing policy may be on the horizon. Once that domino is toppled, brands will no longer have incentives to continue animal testing, as other methods, such as in-vitro testing are more ethical, accurate, and cost-efficient.
Of course, there is room for improvement in Korean beauty. Because of their origins, the shade range for Korean complexion products is extremely lacking for Western standards. Some brands with a larger international reach such as Laneige has expanded their shade selection beyond the traditional four or five most other brands offer, but potential consumers with darker or lighter complexions often don't have many options, if any at all. It makes sense that Korean products mainly cater to light beige skin colors, as Korea's demographics are much more homogeneous than America's. However, as K-beauty increases its global spread, I think it's safe to say that brands will expand and allow not just those with light beige skin to enjoy their products, but also people with all other skin colors.
There is room for optimism. Julep, a brand owned by Korean entrepreneur Jane Park, offers thirty shades for concealers. Park remembered what it was like to immigrate from South Korea to Canada at the age of four, and she remembered what it was like to feel like she had no voice. Now, through her nail care, skin care, and cosmetics line, she is aspiring to inspire women everywhere to build confidence and take risks. Julep is one of the fastest-growing beauty brands and sets the example of how to make Korean beauty more inclusive to a diverse population. Similarly, Kaja's models display the versatility of their product range by showing how their products work on the fairest and darkest skin tones.
It's fantastic that I can finally get my K-beauty fix without paying ridiculous international fees or asking my friends and family in Korea to send over some goods. However, nothing can truly replace the unique experience of going into a store with some friends or my mother, and testing out different products on the back of my hand (and consequently turning my hand into a shimmery painter's palette). It sounds silly that I find so much value in beauty products; at the end of the day, it's just powders and creams. However, for me, I also see them as experiences I get to share with others. As I count down the days until I get to see my mother, I cannot wait to chat over sheet masks with her.