It has been a couple of years since the Korean music and dance craze hit the United States. The latest wave from South Korea comes not on a video screen, but in a bottle.
Korean makeup products and beauty ideals have recently become more and more popular in the American market. We discussed this phenomenon with the employees and customers at the Korean shops and makeup artists in New York City to gain some insight.
Concept Korea, the government-sponsored fashion show, aimed at helping emerging Korean designers to promote themselves outside of Korea, returned to New York Fashion Week this season—Spring/Summer’19. “From K-Pop to K-Beauty and now K-Fashion, there is no denying the talent and allure pouring out of South Korea in the past decade,” Fashion Week Online commented.
The rising popularity is apparent because of the increasing value of cosmetic and makeup products imported from South Korea to America. From 2014 to 2016 the value of the imported Korean cosmetic and makeup products in the U.S. increased by about 50 percent each year, according to the Korean International Trade Association. Last year alone (2017), Korean beauty products worth $367 million dollars were imported to the U.S. By July of 2018, $240 million worth of products have already been imported. The value is continuing to rise dramatically.
Min Goo, an employee at a Korean cosmetic store in Flushing, called the SAEM, said she has recently noticed more non-Asian customers coming to the store. Goo said the expansion of K-pop culture was one of the reasons why people beacame interested in Korean cosmetic products. “A lot of people walked in because they saw Seventeen in front of our store,” Goo said.
Seventeen is a K-pop boy band that models for SAEM. Goo said she went to a styling show during New York Fashion Week and noticed a presentation by K-pop celebrities on a screen during a runway show.
An another employee at a Korean cosmetic store, called The Face Shop, said she has also noticed more customers. “A lot of non-Asians walk into our store, looking confused,” Ji said. “They said they saw Korean nine-step makeup process online and they came here to look for the products.”
For herself, Ji said that after trying out various brands, she has found that Korean products work best for her. Ji’s skin is clear and bright, but she said that’s because she puts conscious effort in taking care of it regularly. “Some people have very high expectations of Korean cosmetics, ” she said, “they think it’s some kind of magical cream and they expect quick results.”
Diana Feltman, a customer at a Korean pop culture store Koryo Books in Manhattan, said she uses Korean cosmetics because it cleanses her skin better and gives it a touch of softness that other products don’t. “I feel more confident in using products that make evident they care both for the health of the skin as well as the look of makeup,” she said. “Korean skincare is supposed to be five years ahead of time at any given point. ”
With its growing popularity, Korean beauty culture casts influence on the American population, but it’s important to acknowledge the differences between Korean and American beauty cultures.
According to Jenny Ma, an Asian-American makeup artist based in Manhattan, the difference can be traced back to hundreds of years ago. “Asians in general prefer lighter skin while Americans prefer being tan, ” she said.
Ma added that back in the day, only the wealthier Asians could afford to have servants who work outside on the farms. “So the lighter you are means the more royal you are because you will never have to leave your castle,” she said. “Whereas in America, the tanner you are means you have the luxury of time and money to travel to beach.”
Ma said that the colors of makeup and the application are also completely different in the two cultures: Korean makeup is more basic and people apply light foundation for a clean, fresh and youthful look; all the eye shadows applied are of a similar shade—coral orange. On the other hand, Americans apply a lot more makeup on their skin and they also contour their faces to look more splendor; use a variety of colors and shades for eyeshadows and lipsticks, too.
Despite the differences, many makeup artists have noticed the influences K-beauty has on American culture. Stacey Michelle, a stylist for Izon Magazine, shared her experience working with models in the fashion industry: she said a lot of them prefer natural and light makeup, which is one important characteristic of Korean makeup.
Koreans put emphasis on skincare and makeup, but some might argue that they go a step too far. Media often refers to South Korea as “the capital of plastic surgery.” As much as 85 percent of Korean women in their 20s think plastic surgery is acceptable and about 80 percent of Korean people think “appearance is very important to life,” according to a research company Gallup Korea.
Michelle said that she thinks some of the tricks in Korean makeup are “insane”. She commented on a video on Instagram in which a Korean woman removes all of the artificial elements from her skin, showing her natural face: “to make their face look slimmer, they will use a clear tape and they will also do it on their eyelid,” Michelle said.
“I think it is part of a tradition,” – Min Goo said in reaction to the focus on appearance. “But whether you want to put that much emphasis on your appearance or not is also a personal choice.”