June 2, 2021 Published by

K-beauty trends this summer continue to be influenced by COVID-19. With mask wearing likely to be mandatory in public spaces for some time to come, product innovation has centered around skin care solutions.

According to Hwa Jun Lee, senior beauty and personal care analyst at Mintel, there has been a flurry of innovation from K-beauty players with anti-irritation skin care products that specifically address “maskne;” i.e., the acne that occurs with frequent mask wearing. Although face coverings have been invaluable in flattening the curve, many of us have been experiencing maskne. The no-air seal pressure scenario of wearing a mask coupled with the rubbing of fabric against the face makes it easier for dirt and bacteria to clog pores and cause irritation, allergic reactions, acne, lines and discoloration. Thus, more consumers seek to incorporate a solution to this issue into their daily skin care routines.

K-beauty has made a significant impact on consumer buying habits in the US thanks, in large part, to Korean pop culture and movie popularity known as “K-wave.” Demand for K-beauty remains strong, even though some experts had predicted it would get replaced by C-beauty and J-beauty. According to Mintel, the export of K-beauty to the US market increased by about 20% in 2020 and was primarily driven by skin care products.

Korean women have traditionally favored glowing, “glass” skin over layers of foundation and lengthy skin care regimens focused on toning and clarifying. Sheet masks initially put Korean beauty brands on the radar of US consumers. Later, Americans became familiar with Korean skin care technologies such as alphabet creams and cushion-based color cosmetics.

In most cases, it’s a free sample that first hooks these consumers into trying K-beauty products. In a 2019 survey carried out by The Benchmarking Company, a market intelligence provider for the beauty and personal care industries, when asked what words they associated with K-beauty, US shoppers said: “anti-aging, multi-benefit, trendy, affordable, multi-step, beautiful, glowing and clean.”

The most recognized brands included Dr. Jart+, Skinfood, Laneige, TonyMoly, AmorePacific, Peach & Lily and Glow Recipe.

When asked about their specific expectations, US consumers expect K-beauty products to be highly innovative (46% of respondents), as well as formulated with the latest technology (37%) and made with natural/organic ingredients (34%).

Enormous Opportunity

Denise Herich, co-founder of The Benchmarking Company, told Happi that K-beauty brands still have an enormous opportunity to garner greater interest from beauty buyers in the US. To do so, these brands must educate consumers about what sets their formulas apart from the others and why K-beauty is superior to products they are already using.

Herich added that these buyers are eager to try new products with innovative formulas and packaging that speak in a language that excites them; namely, consumer claims. Ninety-seven percent of respondents said consumer claims were key in their decision to buy K-beauty products.

US consumers also expect K-beauty products to be fun to use, customizable to specific skin needs/concerns, and developed with a holistic approach to healthy skin. K-beauty brands must also leverage the love that their target US consumers   have for social media.

“Not surprisingly, number one on the list of ‘first place you ever heard of K-beauty’ is YouTube, with 20% of K-beauty users saying this is how they were first introduced to Korean brands,” Herich said to Happi.