The Korean beauty secrets are out

July 13th, 2012 by Mio Yamada

Beauty products containing snake venom, distributed by Dodo Japan, on display at Cosme Tokyo 2012 (Mio Yamada photo)

In the West, Japanese cosmetics have developed quite a devout following, so it might come as a surprise that in Japan, women are actually becoming more interested in South Korean beauty products and treatments.

At Japan’s first-ever Cosme Tokyo fair, South Korean companies made a strong showing, taking the top slot among the non-Japanese exhibitors. In addition to shiny eyeliners, sparkling eye shadows, bright blushers and other makeup items, they presented crowd-drawing snail-slime moisturizers and synthetic snake-venom face packs.

Like K-Pop and Korean TV dramas, the popularity of Korean cosmetics has been undeniable for the past few years. And as South Korea has become a popular tourist destination, Korean cosmetic companies have begun to realize that Japanese tourists were perhaps some of their best customers. While it’s not all going to Japan, one thing is certain: Korea’s cosmetic exports climbed $600 million in 2010, up from $80 million in 2001.

Exotic ingredients aside, there’s not a lot to distinguish many of the Korean goods from Japanese cosmetics.  So what is it that gets consumer attention? While we can’t discount the lure of bright colors and cute motifs on the packaging, the most attractive draw is most likely the use of natural ingredients or the focus on natural derivatives for products. They’re also often far cheaper than their Japanese counterparts.

Skin Food, which opened its first store in Harajuku in 2009, for example, bases all its products on food extracts, using fruit, vegetable, grains and snail (well, yes, snails can be viewed as food). Missha, which is famous for its Missha BB “blemish balm” cream, uses snail and mixes it with natural plant extracts, as does Etude House, a popular line of products aimed at a younger generation — both brands opened their first stores in Shinjuku in March this year.

“Made in Korea” has become a selling point, and not only have prominent Korean brands opened up shop in Tokyo, but more Korean cosmetics in general have started appearing on the shelves of the city’s major drug stores (see DoDo Japan’s line of makeup).  A couple of new Korean-goods-specific stores have also opened in the city. In March, Chongane & Skin Garden in Shin-Okubo opened its doors to offer Korean foods, accessories and cosmetics, while  Skin holic, which opened last month, stocks a wide range of Korean cosmetics, including some of those already mentioned here.

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