Let me be frank here – the K-Beauty boom that our country is experiencing is quiet understandable. I’ve been a fan of Korean music, entertainment and beauty for more than a decade now. To see how, in recent years, the whole thing has evolved into this gigantic cultural phenomenon has been nothing short of incredible. While I’m still a fan, I tend to find the whole ordeal more amusing as a spectator these days.
More than a decade ago, in 2008, none of my peers listened to Korean or Japanese songs. It would have been odd of them to be indulging in music containing incomprehensible lyrics. It didn’t matter if the tune was melodious or catchy. You just would not listen to songs that weren’t in either Hindi or English. Fast forward to 2019 and I have had classmates who would play IU songs while waiting for the Professor to enter the classroom. The whole thing was so bizarrely amusing to me that I just wanted to break down why and how it all happened. The fact that, these days, it is not unusual to find a person listening to K- Pop and discussing who their favourite member or “Bias” in the group is, among their friends, truly does entertain me.
This boom, of course, is, for the most part, thanks to the Hallyu Wave. The Hallyu Wave, spreading since the ’90s, represents the global popularity of South Korean pop culture, music, entertainment (including dramas, films and variety shows) and ultimately their tourism, fashion and beauty industries.
Perhaps I’ll delve into the other aspects at a later time but today I wish to focus exclusively on the K- Beauty craze that I’ve noticed is taking over our country. This might not even be news for those of us in the North-Eastern parts of the country since we’ve just been riding the Hallyu Wave for a longer time.
Nevertheless, here is my attempt to break down just why K-Beauty has found such a strong footing in our country.
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I do not remember whether this bit of information was contained in an article I had read or YouTube video I had watched but what I do still remember is the person saying how the Korean Beauty Industry was and still is 20 years ahead of the Western Beauty Industry in terms of innovation. Whether or not the number adds up isn’t a question because the results are already there for us to see. Some 5-6 years ago, the world had not seen or even heard of Sheet Masks or Cushion Compacts. Today, with the frenzy surrounding South Korean beauty innovations, everybody is at least familiar with both those things. So, yes, innovation is one of the more important features of how the country and their Beauty Industry were put on the map for good. How they pioneer and use ingredients and formulations to morph their products into something the public strives to own is proof of their innovation.
Ingredients and transparency
Coming to ingredients, we see how Korean beauty companies choose well-known and effective components to build their skincare and makeup formulas around. There’s no shady business with these products – all ingredients inside the bottle of toner or jar of night-cream will be neatly listed on the product label. Right from the inclusion of stabilizing alcohols to essential oils – all ingredients will be listed in order. The products aren’t hyped up to contain ingredients that are actually nowhere to be found nor are they marketed to provide ludicrous and far-fetched additional benefits. As with the beauty industry at large, there are trends in the K-Beauty sphere as well. One of those trends is to single out a fairly popular and powerful hero ingredient and formulating entire lines of products celebrating the effects of said ingredient. To give you an example, Centella asiatica– perhaps known to you as Indian pennywort or Bor Manimuni (in Assamese) – was a popular ingredient in skincare formulations for the last three years or so. The ingredient, known for its soothing and healing properties, popped up in every product imaginable – from skincare products such as Toners and Essences to makeup products such as BB Creams and Face Powders.
Similarly, in makeup, if a certain style or texture gaining popularity with the public, we can see competing brands following suit and coming up with a line of products of their own to compete with the popularity of the original trend-setter. As another example, if a brand formulates a long-wearing lipstick with a velvety texture, it won’t be strange to see other brands trying to emulate the same kind of finish and texture. What this does is give the consumers access to astonishingly similar formulations among different brands, at different price-points. The consumer has more than one choice, ultimately, and can choose to buy products from the competitor as opposed to the original company that started the trend in
the first place. So, yes, the options that stem from these trends are another unique feature of the K-Beauty sphere.
Another factor that can be associated with the options mentioned before is how much more affordable Korean products are. Different brands have different aesthetics and demographic. Their products are aimed at consumers accordingly. Brands like Etude House, Peripera have more playful packaging and brighter colour-stories and thus tend to attract younger consumers. Sister-brands to those aforementioned popular names are Laneige, Innisfree and Clio and they attract older and working women. There are brands that cater to people who have basic needs and there are also brands that take product development to a whole new level. Customers are free to purchase products as per their budgets, wants and needs.
Packaging, collections and colour-stories
Speaking of packaging, I do think K-Beauty paved the way for products to be simultaneously adorable yet fully functional. The industry capitalizes on our short attention spans by releasing fresh collections almost every month. They often partner up with popular pop-culture figures to execute a collection of products. Doing so would capture the hearts of makeup lovers and fans of the series alike. Case in point: Etude House collaborating with Kit Kat and bringing out mini eyeshadow palettes that look like the popular candy-bar.
New collections are also released with every passing season. These seasonal collections habitually dictate the kind of makeup, colours and finishes would be suitable and appropriate for the weather. Autumnal collections often have colour cosmetics that mimic and are inspired by the fall foliage, Spring collections have products that give you a fresher look by using brighter colours that pop more and so on.
Beauty ideals and the desire to blend in
I would also attribute the popularity of Korean skincare to the similar beauty ideals both our countries have. Let me explain. Our country has an obsession with skin-brightening and whitening products. The deep-rooted issue here is that having a fairer complexion is deemed more desirable. Korean beauty ideals– and a handful of other Asian countries as well – also preach the need for a whiter, fairer complexion. With this basic similarity and their skin-brightening products actually exhibiting results, it’s no surprise that Whitening product lines from Korean companies are steady best-sellers. This issue, as one can already gauge, is toxic and puts indiscernible pressure on women who feel they don’t match up to the ideal. One can’t completely brush off the prevalence of this issue either – while it has somewhat decreased in recent years, it’s still rampant.
Following the herd
The K-Beauty obsession has grown to such an extent that every other woman in the country has at least wished they could implement the 10 Step Skincare Routine in their everyday lives. That, again, is another piece to be written for another day but it still decrees that people will see drastic improvements in their skin if they use as many as 10 products before they set off for work every morning. They’re also expected to use newer and more potent formulas and repeat the 10 steps at night. What makes people want to blow all their money and try out such routines is effectiveness and of the whole trial. Not to mention the want and desire to look as pretty as and have flawless skin like the model advertising it.
Red flags and digression
Trends like “Glass Skin” and “Gradient Lips” are, perhaps, only popular because of how stunning the models look. It just delicately nudges people into believing looking a certain way or doing their makeup in a style that emulates the model’s image is what the youthful, attractive ideal is is. Some of it truly does not make any sense – one cannot spew the “less and more” ideology while doing their makeup and then proceed to put on 15 different products on the face just to look “natural”.
Maybe I could try and break down the reasoning behind the abovementioned trends sometime. While I am dismissive of certain practices – like using a Whitening Primer on the skin before going in with makeup – I still do like the outcomes. I mean, who doesn’t want to have sparkly eye-bags like Im Yoona from Girls’ Generation or a “jaw-line so sharp that it could cut you” like NCT’s Taeyong? They all look fantastic at the end of the day and I do understand the desire to achieve a look that could capture the essence of how truly immaculate your idols look. What I’m trying to say is that it’s not as peachy as one would think. There are more facets involved than just a solid skincare routine and an experienced Makeup Artist. If only the K-Beauty industry showed us that part of reality as well.
Anyway, I digressed.
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Here’s the thing – I do think K-Beauty is more than just a fad and is here to stay. Even if it does have some strange parts to it, what is eventually constitutes is a world in which people can use innovative and effective products, buy from brands that are transparent about their ingredients, with aesthetically pleasing packaging – all at affordable price-points. It truly brings together the best of every aspect. Moreover, in our country, it’s still very much a novel concept and look. To call it a fad would minimise the integrity of the whole experience. Since it does deliver what it promises, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.