We can all agree that when it comes to skincare, Korean products have been adopted on a mass market level. Now occupying shelf space in places like Sephora, copy in magazines such as Allure and air time on YouTube, Korean beauty is being incorporated in the regimen of pretty much every self-respecting beauty aficionado. Thanks to our Instagram-able, viral culture and the power of Hallyu, Korean beauty has come into its own in a relatively short timeframe. Nonetheless, there is still one rather unexplored frontier when it comes to this market and that is color cosmetics.
One of the primary reasons this segment of the market is still in its infancy is due to a rather limited selection of shades. Take BB cream or foundation: often companies develop 3 to 6 colors that are all variations of pink and beige. This is catering to a Korean market where most Eastern Asians will find themselves somewhere in this spectrum. Alas, even though this might have been understandable a few years ago when K-Beauty was more of an underground secret, perhaps it is time for Korean brands to develop some chromatic inclusivity by expanding their color wheel.
One brand that is doing just that is Innisfree who is now offering 14 shades that go from pale to fairly deep in a few of their foundation and BB ranges. As they have entered the US market, they know that to seduce a broader audience they can’t remain within their previous color comfort zone. Perhaps the need to go full skin tone rainbow has also recently gained more urgency with the instant success of Rihanna’s new brand, Fenty Beauty. Fenty’s entire philosophy revolves around inclusivity and with its 40 shades at launch, it was almost a call-to-action to beauty brands worldwide (not just Korean ones).
This phenomenon doesn’t just stop at base makeup products but extends to eyeshadows which are also primarily developed for Asian skin tones. A visit to Sephora in the US or Europe and it quickly becomes apparent how different the two markets are. Take an Anastasia Beverly Hills eyeshadow palette and compare that to one by Etude House and you can see that Asian women and Western women have very different eyeshadow desires.
In Korea, shadows are often light and wispy, leaving more of a hint of pinky color. In the US, full on metallic smoky eye is all the rage. A few brands are bridging this gap such as 3CE (who also has more global aspirations) as well as Espoir and Moonshot. Oddly these brands remain a bit more niche in Korea compared to K-Cosmetic powerhouses such as Clio or Etude House.
This is a bit of a conundrum for Korean brands as how people apply makeup varies so greatly from country to country and continent to continent. How can K-Cosmetics retain their “Korean-ness,” which has so much market value, while still being able to appeal to a wider audience? If the Korean Beauty industry truly wants to be an international force to be reckoned with, perhaps it’s time to go full technicolor.
Written by Guest Contributor Joie Reinstein.