The Blurred Lines of Beauty: Why K-Beauty = Global Beauty
So many Western beauty products are made in Korea these days. So that L’Oréal sleeping mask? It’s more K-beauty than you think.
At first glance, it might seem like L’Oréal, The Face Shop, Nature Republic, Johnson & Johnson, and Stylenanda have nothing in common. Some are incredibly popular Korean brands, and the others are two beauty giants. But what if I told you that products from all of these brands are manufactured by the same company? Yes, the same manufacturing company — in South Korea. *mind blown*
You may not have realized it, but beauty is becoming more globalized. We used to have strict lines between French beauty versus Korean beauty versus American beauty, but those lines are becoming more blurred by the year as more Western brands are being made in Korea. Allow me to elaborate.
As the demand for beauty products has increased over the years, many Western companies have struggled to keep up with the growing demand for products. Think back to a few years ago: Brands were dropping releases once every year, but consumers, as fickle as we are, wanted more — and we wanted more fast. This is where South Korea comes in. South Korea is known for churning out beauty products at the speed of light, and trust me, when I lived there, it seemed like there was a new line, collection, or product on the shelves of stores like Skinfood, Innisfree, and Olive Young every week. I myself had always wondered how they were able to churn out products so quickly, and turns out, I wasn’t alone.
And this is where we get to the manufacturing power of South Korea. Factories such as Cosmecca Korea have made Seoul the de facto beauty capital of the world. Employees here work side by side — some are manufacturing eyeshadows for a brand under the Esteé Lauder umbrella, while some are producing Clio eyeliners and lip tints. And as it turns out, Cosmecca is the third largest contract cosmetic maker in South Korea. And remember just a few paragraphs ago when I was talking about L’Oréal and Stylenanda? Well, brands under the L’Oréal umbrella, as well as Stylenanda, are manufactured under a company called Cosmax, another major player in the South Korean beauty world.
Companies like Cosmecca, Cosmax, and another company called Kolmar specialize in both research and development (R&D) and manufacturing, as well as original design manufacturing (ODM). This means that another company gives them information, like “hey, this is the kind of cream I want to make, it needs to look like this, smell like this, it needs to brighten, hydrate and moisturize, k thanks!” and then they research, develop, manufacture, and package it according to the brand’s specifications. These products are then made and sold around the U.S. — in high-end department stores, in drugstores, in Sephora or Ulta. Sadly, we’ll never know which ones for sure as Cosmax is not permitted to list the specific companies it makes its products for. But if you listened to the Triple Bees Podcast interview with Alicia from Peach and Lily, you may recognize this as similar to the method she used to create Peach and Lily’s bespoke skincare line. Which, then bleeds into all of the other K-beauty “inspired” brands that are created in the U.S. like Glow Recipe, Krave, and Then I Met You. These brands are technically not K-beauty, but they have used Korean manufacturers to develop and/or manufacture their products.
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To peel back another layer of this K-beauty onion, some of these companies, including Cosmax and Kolmar, specialize as OEMs or Original Equipment Manufacturers. In this situation, the client does all of the heavy lifting — they have their research done, they know what ingredients to use and in what percentage, they know what they want their packaging to look like — but they don’t have the manufacturing capabilities to fulfill market demand, so the OEM simply does its manufacturing for them.
So, can you see how the beauty world is all Robin Thicke “Blurred Lines” up in here? We can have French companies that are manufacturing their products in Korea, American companies that are just giving their ideas to a Korean company and letting them do all of the work (*cough* what I suspect Wishful beauty, Huda Kattan’s skincare line did, as it is made in Korea and sounds exactly like the name for a brand you’d find in Olive Young *cough*), we have the crop of K-beauty “inspired” brands that are made in Korea but conceptualized in the States. Then you have all of the Korean brands that are now featured prominently in high-end department stores (looking at you, Sulwhasoo), or Korean brands acquiring American brands — does The Face Shop x Avon ring a bell? It’s all becoming one big bowl of beauty soup, to be honest.
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What does this mean for the future of beauty? Well, for starters I think we’ll slowly see the line between K-beauty and American beauty dissolve in the United States. Why? Because at this point, K-beauty = global beauty. When you have Western companies using K-beauty R&D and ingredients and formulations … well, that’s global beauty, baby. Of course, we’ll always have our indie and small homegrown K-beauty brands, but I also think as bigger road shops continue to grow, I think we’ll see them merge or be acquired by large Western conglomerates — think Stylenanda/L’Oréal or Dr. Jart/Esteé Lauder. I personally think it’s exciting. I’ve been waiting for the day when Western brands get it together and finally give us some skincare to get excited about!
So, what do you think of all this Western beauty being made in Korea? Do you think the lines between K-beauty and the rest of the world are fading? Let me know in the comments!