Korean Beauty

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There’s a lot of buzz and talk about how innovative and face paced Korean beauty is these days.  And many industry experts and insiders attribute innovations to demanding Korean consumers – but have you ever wondered why Korean customers are so demanding when it comes to beauty products?  I have and here are my thoughts.

Korea is one the vainest countries in the world, with the highest rate of plastic surgery per capital.  Plastic surgery is so rampant and widely accepted that some parents gift double eye lid surgery for high school or college graduation.  Why?  Because the parents think that prettier face will increase their kids’ chances of success in both personal and professional life. 

Before you snap to quick judgement, I just want to remind you of the “beauty premium.” It’s a term coined by economists to describe a phenomenon where attractive people earn 3-4% more than an average looking counterpart, which sums to about $230,000 more over life-time of a good looking person.  An economist professor, Daniel Hamermesh, even wrote an entire book about it, titled “Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful.”

This obsession with the beauty premium naturally influenced the Korean beauty industry. Korean consumers are demanding and discerning beauty consumer because of the societal pressure and the benefits to always look beautiful and “presentable.”

I experienced this first-hand when I was working in Korea. I was expected to wear make-up to work because that’s considered “common courtesy,” something like holding the door for someone behind you. While I’m not opposed to wearing make-up, I always thought that it was a personal choice, not a requirement at work.

At first, I thought negatively about Korea’s beauty obsession, but it occurred to me that beauty rituals, or the idea of taking care of your skin, is huge part of Korean people’s lives.  And the more I thought about it, I realized that there are some positive consequences.

Every time I visited Korea while growing up, I saw my second aunt hosting informal facial parties in her living room.  She would invite a handful of her friends to try out her “secret facial recipe” and during their facials, they would catch up and share stories.  Or sometimes they would go to bathhouses together for a full body exfoliation or scrubbing rituals.

Similarly, I was invited to go to facials with my friends on a regular basis, because the activity of getting facials or going to the bathhouse together was as common as grabbing dinner to catch up.  These beauty ritual activities have become a natural part of people’s lives in Korea. While the pressure to look beautiful all the time can be stressful to say the least, they figured out a way to have fun with it, which I think is a beautiful silver lining of a hard situation.

And along the way, this obsession with beauty also fueled the Korean beauty engine that’s slowly taking over the world.  As I write this article, I still have mixed feelings about the root of K-beauty, but I’m happy to see that there was a positive outcome of what can be perceived as a stressful and depressing situation.  And maybe that’s the power of Korean beauty.

By Young-Ji Park

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