I remember the first time I heard the term “Korean beauty”. It was in about 2015, when the international buzz of the beauty giant’s influence in the Western world had made its way to SA. At that time, just about the only K-beauty items we had on market were the oil cleansers launched by brands such as Kiehl’s and Bobbi Brown. Double cleansing was all the rage and the SA market was taking it in. The emphasis on high-intensity skin treatments, such ampoules, serums and essences, completed our introduction to the South Korean signature 10-step skincare routine of double cleansing (using a oil cleanser first then a foam cleanser), facial mists, essences, serums, treatments, peels, targeted ampoules, masks and moisturisers. In no time, the market had reached full-blown K-beauty mania, with the arrival of cushion foundations. Lip and eye; sheet and bubble masks revolutionised the market.
Korea has taken over as the beauty giant in the West, as the world becomes more and more skincare, social media and age obsessed. However, the Japanese beauty - or J-beauty - craze is on the rise as Japan’s economy improves and big bands such as Shiseido, Waso by Shiseido Sensai and SK-II reinvest in Western markets and attempt to overtake their Korean counterparts.
What is the difference between Korean and Japanese beauty products?
Daniela Rinaldi, group commercial director at Harvey Nichols, writes in a Business of Fashion article titled “The Asian-fication of Beauty” Asia: “The Western market has long been influenced by emerging beauty trends from Japan, but we are increasingly looking to China and South Korea for developments in skincare…They are driving innovation in the field, from BB creams to serums, brightening creams, dark spot correctors, face masks and anti-aging products. Asian consumers are some of the most discerning globally and tend to spend more on beauty products than those in the West, which tends to translate to Asian brands investing in higher quality ingredients within their products.”
Korean beauty is all about fun, with products focused on millennials and youth. It is all about the Insta-worthy sheet mask and gimmicky packaging.
In an interview with Vogue UK, Anna-Marie Solowij, co-founder of BeautyMart, says: “K-Beauty is all about the razzmatazz - Instagrammable products and routines, extremes like 10-step regimes, glass skin… All with cute and clever packaging, backed up by serious formulations.”
Japanese beauty products, on the other hand, have a more luxurious and holistic approach and offer simplified skincare routines. The beauty regimens are more refined and rooted in tradition, the packaging understated.
So, should you be in a rush to toss your K-beauty- inspired products and switch to J-beauty? In my opinion, the world has a place for both, as they cater to different age groups and markets. However, considering consumers are slowly breaking away from caring solely about make-up and outer aesthetics and starting to focus on the idea of beauty being holistic, health being wealth and incorporating a wellness factor into their lifestyles, J-beauty could be the one which survives in the long run.