K-Beauty wave takes America by storm: skincare can be both stylish and sustainable

Lucille DiNaro – Business Manager

If you’ve walked by the K-Beauty aisle in Sephora and laughed at products containing snail oil and donkey milk, you may want to think again. South Korea is currently the eighth largest cosmetics market in the world, with a market size of nearly $8.5 billion. South Korean Skincare, more widely known as K-Beauty, refers to beauty products originating from and manufactured in Korea. These products are often branded with a focus on high quality ingredients, and unilaterally leverage comprehensive skin care above all else.

Similar to many other items exported from Korea, K-Beauty is easily identifiable due to its novelty packaging and unique product offerings. Whether it be the mildly grotesque crying baby rubber mask from Dr. Jart+ or the effortlessly cute watermelon set offered by Glow Recipe, it can be difficult as a skincare novice to determine whether these items are more than just a trend.

Graphic courtesy of Sephora

K-Beauty retailers provide a stark contrast against American retailers in that they place a significant emphasis on quality ingredients. Dr. Jart+’s Cicapair line, despite its vibrant, comic book packaging, is amazingly simple and comprehensible. The hallmark ingredient of this line, centella asiatica, has served as an essential ingredient in Eastern skincare for centuries due to its nutrient rich properties. Packed with amino acids, beta-carotene, fatty acids and phytochemicals, the Cicapair line will effectively firm, repair, and soothe skin.

Another industry leader, Glow Recipe, utilizes fermented botanicals in their face masks to aid in more efficient absorption of moisture. These fermented botanicals release enzymes that break down molecules into raw material, allowing for the creation of newer, more beneficial substances for your skin. These are just some of many obscure ingredients that South Korean cosmetics companies have pursued towards the development of more natural and effective skincare.  

The growing need for safe and healthy cosmetics may have resulted from several high profile toxicology scandals that have occurred over the past decade, such as the talc settlements made by Johnson & Johnson or the hair fallout caused by WEN Cleansing Conditioners. Celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow have been chided in the past for their attention to detail when it comes to safe and effective cosmetics, but a heightened sense of awareness of what comprises beauty products has contributed to the value of K-Beauty.

American cosmetic companies currently operate under regulations set by the Food and Drug Administration that were last updated in 1938. Kourtney Kardashian notably met with Congress last month to discuss the Personal Care Products Safety Act, which aims to tighten the power of review that the FDA has over cosmetics companies with regards to ingredients, facilities management and product labeling. Products labeled as ‘organic’ by cosmetics companies are not certifiably organic, as there is no governing body in the makeup industry with the capacity to grant ‘organic’ status.

K-Beauty is rooted in centuries of tradition, transparency and hands on skincare, and as such has caught the consumer eye. In a country where the cosmetics industry regulates itself, it is understandable that the average American is able to find worth in a product that is backed by attention to detail. Next time you enter Sephora, make sure to give K-Beauty a second look.