Why is Korean beauty so trendy, and what are the latest innovations?

Three years ago, when I was the beauty editor at FLARE Magazine, I wrote a feature on multi-step Asian skincare rituals—so if you’re wondering whether this whole thing is a fad, the trend has only picked up more and more momentum since then.

Korean beauty (“K-beauty”) now has its own section on Sephora.com; numerous Seoul-based brands (including The Face Shop, Tony Moly and Laneige) have landed on Canadian shelves; and cosmetic companies based outside Asia are borrowing inspiration—launching their own take on cushion compacts, for example. Meanwhile, Korea’s answer to Sephora—a chain called Aritaum—is set to open stores across the U.S. and Canada, so expect many more inventive exports to come.

In part, the K-beauty buzz is fuelled by R&D advances: the East is thought to be more than a decade ahead of the West in terms of skincare technology, and South Korea is an especially influential hub for innovation. Anecdotally, some women in cities like Tokyo, Seoul and Hong Kong use upwards of 14 products a day—so the market is big and demanding.

For many North Americans, the Korean/Asian beauty boom has introduced them to product categories they’ve never heard of before. The trend began with BB creams and quickly expanded to cushion compacts, and more recently, we’ve seen sleeping masks, watery treatment essences and sheet masks. So what’s next? Right now, I’m noticing a lot of quirky textures in K-beauty. Take, for instance, the jelly-like “bounce” moisturizers; the soufflé-like cleansers made with egg whites; or the pore-purifying carbonated masks that froth up. Consumers in Asia generally favour skincare that feels ultra-lightweight, so texture has been a key area for innovation. K-beauty is also famous for using exotic-sounding ingredients, like snail slime(listed on packaging as “snail secretion filtrate”). Though popular in Korea for its acne-healing and skin-firming benefits, this extract hasn’t gone mainstream in Canada quite yet. Consider it one to watch.

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