Beauty Made in Korea
The night has come in the market area of Myeong-Dong in Seoul. Chinese and Japanese travelers take some photos of themselves in front of booths filled up with squids, dry octopus and other Korean specialties. Right after a day at office, Korean women head to the subway. Before reaching their home, shopping is necessary in these streets illuminated by colorful neons. Not an ordinary shopping because it isn’t food or other home supply.
Here in Seoul women are worried about something else, they must take care of their skin and hunt any new cosmetic product able to help them to be more beautiful. Fabric mask promising to enhance right away the skin, hydrating gels to keep all night and refresh the epidermis, magic fogs, concealer and foundation, here are some of the items that Korean women love to buy.
There is no lack of choice in the streets of Myeong-Dong. Stores dedicated to skin care, makeup or hair are in every blocks. In this area it is easier to buy a lipstick than a sandwich. Stalkers in position at the entrance of each shop are there to tell all the advantages of their new cosmetic products yelling at the passers-by. Clinical aesthetic cosmetics in pink color tones, organic cosmetics inspired by traditional medicine, everyone can find happiness. Enough to satisfy greedy Korean girls robbing everyday the stores until 11pm. In South Korea the appearance is a serious business, girls are not kidding about this. Being pretty and beautiful is not only fancy but it it also a vehicle for social mobility.
Korean girls want to look like they favorite or most famous actress and singers from the K-pop world. Colored hair to highlight the pale skin color and bumped forehead. To make their face look perfect many Korean girls use injections under their eyes which create a light bump supposed to help them to look younger.
In the subway or in the street of Korea it’s impossible to see a woman without makeup or with messy hair. “I can’t go out without makeup”, says horrified, a young manager woman of 28 years old,” The way other people look at you is very important in Korea. You have to show the best of yourself if you don’t want to be noticed and excluded by society. Here, we don’t exist individually. We feel safe only if we belong to a group of people” just like most Asian.
Korean women receive this education at birth, they don’t have any other choice than aiming to the aesthetic perfection, this is a real chance and opportunity for the cosmetic industry. “The structure of Korean society is based on Confucianism rules” explained Ae Descarte a freelance expert in Asian beauty for NellyRodi a trend forecasting agency, “this social and moral doctrine can be compared to Christianity in the west, it consists that a woman respects a pyramid hierarchy to reach the highest level of perfection “.
Korean girls rank themselves into standardized beauty criteria copying K-pop celebrities. In Asia, the same way children are told to respect their seniors, girls are told to be beautiful to success in life finding a job and a husband. There is no way to accept yourself as you are and make your difference an asset for a Korean girl, Korean beauty criteria are well defined and the walls of Seoul are there to remind you. Everywhere the giant video screens hang up on skyscrapers, in the subway, at every street corners, the same juvenile smiling faces remind women how they should look like. The skin tone has to be pale like nacre or porcelain, the forehead lightly bumped, the eyes well loaded of curved eyelashes and not too small slanted eyes. The nose, thin, not too short, not too flat and not lifted up. The mouth should always look like a heart shape. The cheekbones have to be high and the chin looks like a “V”. About hairstyle color, Korean girls are naturally black but they should have some brown reflects to better match their skin tone. These criteria are not easy to match the round face and the slanted eyes of Korean girls.
Korean beauty standards haven’t always been so strict. When we look at the old advertisings of the Korean beauty industry leader Amore Pacific. Since this brand was created in 1945, we can see when we look closer that slim face and double eyelid standards are quite recent.
In the 60’s, 70’s and even during the 80’s, it is still possible to find Korean models with round chin and slant eyes.
Today, obsessed by the idea to show the best of their appearance, Korean women are even ready to use mass destruction weapon to reach the perfection that they want.
“This is the country of crazy education and excellency”, said Odile Pedro director of Korean research center in Paris. There is a hard competition between middle class people which is increasing with economic development. Everyone wants to be marked out and be more successful than the others. In Korea parents invest in after school class for their kids to guaranty their university entrance, but there is no problem as well to pay their daughter for her 18 birthday a plastic surgery. Eyelid surgery became so usual that it is not even considered as a plastic surgery, it’s like going to the dentist to get braces for Korean people !
In Seoul, 20% of women between 19 and 49 years old already experimented plastic surgery (source:International of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery). Often, parents from a generation affected by the Korea war (1950-1953) feel guilty to haven’t transmitted the best to their offspring. To change this, if they think that their children haven’t been lucky to get a beautiful appearance, parents are ready to pay for plastic surgery. Then the children don’t have other choice than trying to be more beautiful to thank their parents of the economic sacrifice that they have done. It is very common to see in the streets, most of the time women with plaster on their faces or wearing a special mask to hold they jaw, sign of a recent chin surgery.
“Having plastic surgery is not taboo in Seoul” said Lucile Martin CEO of the company Information Inspiration which analyse Asian trends for western compagnies.”There is no sin of pride, because we know that the most beautiful women will get the most important position in a company compare to another less beautiful woman”. Enhanced by TV shows like “Extreme Makeover”, celebrities from K-pop music with girls and boys bands or TV series, plastic surgery is something that makes people proud in Seoul.
In the chic area of Apgujeong-dong where the plastic surgery clinics are in line as if they were simple stores for shopping, people like to stare storefronts dreaming about their possible before/after transformation . Recognized for their precision, Korean surgeons (some having their photograph on advertising in the subway) are famous and attract Chinese women in Seoul, coming to change their face for the week end. Of course there is no hesitation to use facial filler injections to look younger and healthy, in the forehead and the chin too increase relief. Even in the lacrimal sac, the part behind the lower eyelid, filler injections are done to create a bump on the lower eyelashes line that Korean girls like to highlight with a golden or silver pencil. Convinced that this injection make them look younger, Korean girls are numerous to choose this injection and have this special look, but Caucasian or African people wouldn’t like to have bumpy lower eyelid as they would believe that they look tired.
“The current pattern is inspired by few different society phenomena” said Isabelle Sancho. ”The democratization of plastic surgery, but also the standardization of patterns spread by medias, in movies, tv series where all the actress look similar”. If Korean girls are not looking to fully westernize their appearance, they still seem to have an inferiority complex.
Emily, a young Seoul woman 25 years old remember: “When I was kid, I played only with Barbie dolls, I had Asian dolls too but I found them ugly. Maybe because my parents used to compare their social success with what was going on in USA. We were a poor country and the wealths of the western world were dreams for us. It is difficult to build a positive opinion of yourself when you don’t have a pattern locally”
However, a young woman with a makeup perfectly set, who is lucky to have been pleased by mother nature to be beautiful and not by a surgeon with his scalpel, doesn’t see beauty as an alienation. It is the opposite: “When I was young, I suffered of the discrimination against women. I knew that I had to be better than the boys to succeed. Even my dad was upset that I was in a girl school with a better level than my brother’s school. Today being beautiful allows me to revenge. It’s like one more power to get what I want”.
Is it enough to reverse the balance of power with men ? Not yet. Men who have to spend 2 years in the army for their military service are feeling more and more menaced by the competition with women who at the same time start their first job. Men start to use plastic surgery more than ever. Masculine plastic surgery is one of the most lucrative in the world.
Korean Girls are still not many to have the means or the determination to do plastic surgery. “If we are not born with a natural beauty, at least we can have a nice skin, beautiful hairs and a fit body “, said a young student in front of a store. To reach these points, the beauty ritual of Korean women multiply steps until being fussy. “Oh, I don’t use many products for my face in the morning”, said proudly Lieh Yumo 24 years old, in her messy bedroom full of blush and powder boxes of any kind. Only five products : makeup remover foam, serum to increase the other skin care , tonic lotion, moisturizing cream, sunscreen SPF50″.
When we tell Liah that the average of American women use only one moisturizing cream in the morning and not all of them remove their makeup everyday, or worst that American girls love to tan their skin, she seems really shocked.
Lieh Yumo said : “It might seems too much for you but I have reduced the number of steps of my ritual, Before, I used until 9 beauty products every morning”. Our expert Lucile Martin confirmed that Korean girls have the most complex beauty routine in the world. Cleaning often consist in two steps, first with oil then with foam, morning and evening. Then our Korean women use a first care activating serum, then a serum, followed by a milky cream, eye cream, and moisturizing cream. Some even add a post serum, supposed to enhance your skin tone. The final touch with a sunscreen to avoid any chance to tan by accident. According to a recent study from Kantar Worldpanel in 2009, Korean women use five products for their skin every morning and five other makeup products.
Do Koran girls have more beautiful skin than other women giving less care to they skin ? Hard to know how exactly the things are between the skin care products that they apply, their light and healthy diet and their sun phobia. “I have to confess that they are impressive to me”, said Lucile Martin. However when we make notice to Korean beauty professional that in the street of Seoul it is easy to see many girls with acnea problem, they only answer is the stress created by competition. They cannot accept that all the chemicals that they put on their face could be one of the reason for this ugly acnea.
Compulsive cosmetics consumers, Korean women are more exigent about the result. A windfall for the beauty industry which never stops proposing solutions with new products able to interest the whole world for the next years. It is for Korean girls that we invented the famous BB cream, this cream was released in Seoul in 2006, to reduce post-surgery redness, enhance skin tone, moisturize the skin and protect against the sun. A little revolution which didn’t need much time to spread around the world and be used by all the famous cosmetic brands, these last five years.
“The Korean market is dynamic and reactive” said Lucile Martin. “Here we dare to launch a new product even for small quantity and on short time. If the product is successful then it is massively produced”. Among the most innovative companies, the Korean Amore Pacific invests in research and development the main part of the annual profit, much more than the American brand Lolita Lempicka or the Japanese Shishedo. Amore Pacific own thirty brands, including twenty brands dedicated to beauty, this Korean giant can easily spread new products across the world. In 2008 seeing the success of the BB cream, Amore Pacific laboratory created a new generation of foundation.
Foam, pre-serum, tonic, moisturizing sunscreen… Every morning and evening, Lieh Yumo, 24 years old, use five product to set her skin. “before I used until nine”, said the young girl. Then follow the makeup step, essential to be seen in public. “Women already spend a lot of time in their bathroom in morning and evening”, said Chan An-sim, vice-president of the makeup branch of the group. ”During the day, women complained that they get dirty hands when they have to re-apply their foundation or their cream. Of course, compact foundation already existed but they were too dry or too thick to apply easily on skin. This is how we got the idea to launch the “Cushions”, a tinted emulsion encapsulated in a polyurethane sponge”. This idea comes from the student sponge used at school in the past, this sponge could stay wet all day long in its case. Cushions are also inspired by inking pads.
In the streets of Seoul girls are numerous to re-makeup with this hybrid product: they get a bit of makeup by pressing the sponge full of tinted water, with the help of the cushion. We can think that it’s a new gadget but foundation addict can see a real improvement thanks to this new product.
This Amore Pacific new product now exists in various forms, for all the brands of the group.
Protected by more or less twenty patents, cushions haven’t been yet copied in Europe and America. We can bet that they will soon invade western beauty shops. Watched over the years, Korean ladies are known to set the tone of the world beauty trends. No one denies it : “Korean market is for us an inexhaustible source os inspiration”, said Arnaud Claquin CEO of L’Oreal Paris. “In 2013 we launched a complete range of products made from Asian trends”.
We still need to know if European and American people will ever feel the need to use so many products. “European consumers don’t have the same habits than Korean women “, answered Arnaud Claquin. “The new targets are orientated to a new kind of products, “smart products”, able to change the appearance and offering a new experience”. After the BB cream, the brand just released an oily-cream anti-age (Age Perfect), inspired by the gesture of Asian massages. An incredible texture which turns into oil when it’s in contact with the skin and let a protected layer on the surface.
“Korean textures are very inspiring because they have to concentrate a maximum of active ingredients without making lints during the daily facial massage “, added Lucile Martin who bet on the soon arrival of sleeping masks in Europe. Sleeping mask are jellied water that you have to keep all night on your face to re-hydrate the skin.
The manager of scientific communication of Yves Saint Laurent Beauty, Nelly Belle often goes to Seoul to discover the tomorrow beauty products: “Right now in Seoul we can see many “active fogs” which have replaced serums, and I think that sleeping packs are very promising. In France serum started to be part of beauty ritual only six years ago. We are still far away to use Korean pre-serum and post-serum”. In Seoul in every Branded store dedicated to face care as Laneige or Hera in the area of Gangnam-gu, it is possible to have a sophisticated diagnosis with magnifying camera sharing in real time on an Ipad.
In the subway rows, “before/after” posters promote the merits of plastic surgery. Double eyelid surgery or chin and noze surgery: 20% of Korean women between 19 and 49 years old have made plastic surgery. Cult of beauty which interest Chinese and Japanese tourists.
The beauty quest of Korean women doesn’t stop here. In September 2013, the beauty dietary supplement brand VB Solution opened a huge store in Sinsa-dong on Seoul. After a weight and blood pressure check and a full 3D scan of the body, the brand proposes a customized dietary supplement program, joined with sport exercises with a personal trainer, draining massages, detox sauna and healthy meals. The customer doesn’t have to get out of the shop to enjoy this program because everything happens in the same building on three levels, enough to give ideas to western entrepreneurs.
Instead of only focusing on their local development in Asia, Korean Brands now often decide to export their concepts across the world and they want to do it before being copied.
“Our ambitions are above our actual results, said a leader of Amore Pacific. We have installed research centers in China, Japan and France, to better understand the characteristics of each market.
Right now, the essential of our turnover comes from our sales in Korea. But in a close future, we wish to venture abroad and make as much money inside and outside of our country”.
Clear intentions which could change the status of Korea. From laboratory, the country and its important cosmetic brands could upgrade to the next step and start to challenge western groups during the next twenty years”.