The New Jeans Craze leads the Y2K trend in Korea
The New Jeans Craze leads the Y2K trend in Korea
  • Accepted 2023.10.20 16:32
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Korean Cosmetics Trend

Stronger propensity towards simplified, 

intensive-care products with an increased popularity of clean beauty products


Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the Korean cosmetics market has shifted from care-focused to cure-focused, in other words, from an emphasis on providing care for the skin to fundamentally strengthening the skin. This change can be attributed to the increased interest in health and immunity that has emerged during the pandemic.

This change has given rise to a trend in skincare consumption that focuses on changing the skin itself, such as increased skin immunity, soothing, moisturizing, and firming. The minimalist trend is also a part of this phenomenon, incorporating only the essential steps, such as using minimal ingredients or choosing a simpler makeup routine. The emergence of all-in-one products that combine multiple functions into one supports this tendency as well. 

Coupled with Gen MZ’s value-consumption trend, this propensity toward restoring the natural health of the skin is increasing the demand for clean beauty, vegan cosmetics, and derma cosmetics.

In addition to skincare that focuses on the basics, other prominent trends have included light makeup and makeup that emphasizes the eyes. Another interesting aspect is the rise in sun care consumption. This trend continues even after the transition to endemic.

In addition, so-called ‘point makeup’ consumption, which emphasizes the lips and the cheeks, is recovering as people are beginning to remove their masks. The ‘Y2K style,’ nicknamed ‘New Jeans Look,’ shows the popularity of this trend, which has been gaining a huge fan base since the second half of last year.


A cure-focused change, fueled by growing interest in improving the skin’s natural strength

The biggest change since COVID-19 is that the consumer interest in skincare has increased greatly. According to Kantar Korea's World Panel publication, the importance of makeup in the Korean cosmetics market had shrunk to 21% until last year, whereas the importance of skincare had increased to 79% during the same period. This is the result of increased consumer interest in improving the skin itself during the pandemic.

The purchase experience rates, which were 83% for moisture and hydration products and 72% for complex functions, reflected recent changes in skincare consumption. This can be attributed to the fact that brightening and anti-aging are now considered complex functions. As these figures demonstrate, consumers are adopting an increasingly simplified skincare routine. More consumers are now purchasing creams (81%), essences (73%), and facial masks (63%), all of which are designed to provide intensive care. 

In fact, demand for intensive-skincare products with benefits, such as skin soothing, moisturizing, and firmness, is rising. Among these products, the ones that are more popular are those that have expanded formulations and all-in-one benefits. d’Alba's ‘White Truffle First Spray Serum,’ Dr.G's ‘Red Blemish Clear Soothing Cream,’ AHC's ‘Youth Lasting Real Eye Cream For Face,’ KAHI's ‘Wrinkle Bounce Multi Balm,’ LANEIGE's ‘Cream Skin,’ RoundLab's ‘1025 Dokdo Toner,’ Anua's ‘Houttuynia cordata 77 Soothing Toner,’ Skinfood's ‘Carrot Carotene Calming Water Pad,’ Aestra's ‘Ato-Barrier 365 Lotion,’ Mediheal's ‘Tea Tree Essential Mask,’ Banobagi's ‘Vita Genic Jelly Mask,’ and It’s Skin's ‘Power 10 Formula LI Jelly Pad Licorice Julen’ are some examples. 

Above all, products that deliver all-in-one benefits with expanded formulations continue to be loved by consumers. d’Alba's ‘White Truffle First Spray Serum’ received rave reviews for adjusting the serum formulation to a mist type and has exceeded 20 million bottles in cumulative sales since its first release in 2016. AHC's ‘Youth Lasting Real Eye Cream for Face,’ acclaimed as having presented a new paradigm for eye creams that can also be applied to the entire face, has been sold steadily for more than 10 years. 

KAHI's ‘Wrinkle Bounce Multi Balm’ is also among the more popular products, applicable to different areas to improve the appearance of wrinkles, including around the eyes, nasolabial folds, and the neck, differentiating itself from existing stick-type products that were used previously for limited areas only. Since its first release in April 2020, more than 15 million balms have been sold. LANEIGE's ‘Cream Skin’ continues to be popular as an intensive moisturizing product that combines a cream formulation with toner. More than 3.35 million units of this hypoallergenic skincare product that can be used on sensitive skin have been sold since it was first released in 2018. An upgraded version of the product, ‘Cream Skin Cerapeptide Refiner,’ which uses Cerapeptide™ as an added ingredient, was launched by the same brand last January.

Dr.G's ‘Red Blemish Clear Soothing Cream,’ Anua's ‘Houttuynia cordata 77 Soothing Toner,’ Skinfood's ‘Carrot Carotene Calming Water Pad,’ Aestra's ‘Ato-Barrier 365 Lotion,’ as well as It’s Skin's ‘Power 10 Formula LI Jelly Pad Licorice Julen,’ all of which focus on calming, moisturizing the skin and strengthening the skin barrier, continue to be in demand. Facial mask sheet products, such as Mediheal's ‘Tea Tree Essential Mask’ and Banobagi's ‘Vita Genic Jelly Mask,’ are also some other well-received products.

In particular, hypoallergenic toner pads that help soothe sensitive skin and replenish moisture are becoming increasingly popular. Skinfood's ‘Carrot Carotene Calming Water Pad’ and It’s Skin's ‘Power 10 Formula LI Jelly Pad Licorice Julen,’ as well as Aestura's ‘A-Cica 365 Soft Soothing Pack Pad’ and Rataplan's ‘Minari Calming Pad’ are some examples of hypoallergenic toner pads.

The tendency of consumers to prefer simple-routine, hypoallergenic products is giving rise to a growing demand for derma cosmetics. ‘Centellian 24’ (Dongkuk Pharmaceutical), ‘CNP’ (LG Household & Health Care), ‘Physio Gel’ (LG Household & Health Care), ‘Banobagi Cosmetics’ (Banobagi), ‘Dr.G’ (Gowoonsesang Cosmetics), ‘Dr.Jart’ (L’oreal), ‘Aestra’ (Amorepacific), and ‘Fation’ (Dong-A Pharmaceutical), to list a few. 


A growing importance in value consumption gives rise to the popularity of clean beauty products 

Increased consumer awareness on value consumption has led to the rise of clean beauty. Clean beauty refers to cosmetics that created alongside values of sustainability taking into account their impact on the earth and the environment. It encompasses a wide range of products, from those free of harmful chemical ingredients and those packaged in eco-friendly materials, to vegan cosmetics made without using animal-derived ingredients and animal testing. 

Clean beauty is evolving into conscious beauty, which refers to conscious consumption that demonstrates consumer faith in internationally accepted certification marks, such as cruelty-free, vegan, organic, and ESG. A growing number of conscious beauty brands use the wide list of certifications they receive as advertising tools. 

As such, clean beauty has become a must in this environment-conscious era. The emergence of clean beauty can be attributed to the outbreak of the pandemic. The trend is demonstrating continuous popularity in the different types of market research, with more than 60% of product developers reportedly taking into consideration clean beauty when making new products. HWAHAE, a Korean mobile beauty platform, named ‘Aware Beauty,’ referring to conscious and sustainable beauty, was a key trend last February. According to HWAHAE, the number of searches related to ‘vegan’ and ‘green’ has increased 3.6 times over the past year, and the interest in conscious and sustainable beauty, including vegan and eco-friendly, is being expanded to all ages and genders. 

In particular, an increased number of vegan cosmetics made without animal testing or animal-derived ingredients have been introduced in the market. According to the Korea Vegan Certification Institute, the size of the Korean vegan cosmetics market last year was 570 billion won, with this figure expected to double reaching 1 trillion won by 2025. 

Olive Young, an H&B store that became the first of its kind to introduce a clean beauty zone in Korea in 2020, has chosen vegan beauty as its market operation strategy keyword this year, and has plans to operate separate vegan beauty zones at major stores nationwide, including the Myeongdong and the Gangnam flagship stores. 

Hyundai Department Store also opened B.CLEAN, a beauty select store with a focus on vegan cosmetics, in The Hyundai Seoul (Yeouido) in 2021, and then opened 2nd and 3rd stores in Pangyo and Mokdong, respectively, at the end of last year. Compared to February 2021, when the first store opened, sales in February of this year have tripled. ‘Label C,’ another clean beauty select store run by Samsung C&T, entered the main branch of Lotte Department Store in Myeongdong at the end of last year. 

As such, clean beauty brands, including vegan brands, are becoming increasingly influential. Among these are Aromatica, d’Alba, Tone 28, Belif, Athe, Dear Dahlia, and Beige. Aromatica, which started out as a green, natural, and organic brand in 2004, is acclaimed as having pioneered the clean beauty era over the course of 20 years. 

As a partner of the Vegan Society, a vegan certification body in the UK, the brand is known for exerting a good influence on the Korean market by implementing various green policies. 

d’Alba, a premium vegan beauty brand, obtained the Italian vegan certification V-LABEL, known for its strict qualification criteria. The brand is expanding its presence in the clean beauty market with the release of a number of flagship products, including the ‘First Spray Serum’ as well as the vegan sun care product ‘Vegan Waterful Sun Cream.’ 

The vegan cosmetics brand Athe, first introduced in 2019 by the fashion company LF, is also well-received for its products, all of which meet the standards of global certification organizations such as Eve Vegan and the Vegan Society, across all aspects of product development, from raw materials to packages. Dear Dahlia, a vegan makeup brand that debuted in 2017, has established a strong foothold in the market with a high-end strategy that incorporates vegan ingredients concentrated in skincare products with color cosmetics. 

Larger companies are also entering the market. It’s Hanbul launched its vegan beauty brand ‘Chasing Rabbit’ in November 2020, followed by LG Household & Health Care, which launched the vegan makeup brand ‘Freshain’ in June of last year. LG Household & Health Care implemented its ‘Clean Beauty Inside System,’ designed to measure and manage the company's exclusive clean beauty standards, applying it to key brands, including ‘Belief,’ ‘Beyond,’ and ‘The Face Shop.’ 

‘Muzigae Mansion,’ a vegan makeup brand newly launched last spring, went viral with its Objet Liquid, a series of lip products that feature unique designs that resemble crumpled paint tubes. The brand has been expanding its product portfolio, from liquid lip products to eye shadow palettes and lip glows. 

In November of last year, Gowoonsesang Cosmetics launched a clean beauty brand named VIVIDRAW, whose products are 100% vegan. The brand is the company's first new brand launched in 19 years, after the launch of Dr.G. COSMOCOS launched ‘VPROVVE Real Carrot Series,’ a vegan cosmetics line developed exclusively for Daiso. Laka, Korea's first gender-neutral brand, has also been expanding its vegan product portfolio, starting with vegan lip balms, blushers, and eye shadow palettes. 


No Mask, Yes Y2K! 

Above all, the biggest emerging trend in the Korean cosmetics market is ‘Y2K style.’ The Y2K craze, also referred to as the ‘New Jeans Look,’ mimics the looks that were popular at the end of the century and is spreading to various areas, from fashion and beauty to music. 

The Y2K style was in vogue in the late 1990s and early 2000s, referring to the minimalistic expression of one's identity with minimal elements, comfortable and free-spirited grunge, and street fashion, often represented by sneakers and cargo pants. Alongside Y2K fashion is ‘Y2K beauty,’ known for featuring dark and thin arched skinny eyebrows, sparkling glitter eyes and skin, and glossy lips. A makeup style popular in the early 2000s, the trend can be summarized using three key words: metallic, glitter, and glossy. 

This rising trend can be attributed to the girl group New Jeans, who debuted in July of last year and immediately became the talk of the town. New Jeans, who quickly rose to fame, incorporated Y2K elements throughout their style, capturing the hearts and minds of Gen MZ as well as Gen X, who were reminded of end-of-the-century youth. 

The popularity of the group can be seen by the fact that 3 of its 5 members, namely Minji (Chanel), Hani (Armani Beauty) and Danielle (Yves Saint Laurent Beauty), have been designated as ambassadors of global beauty brands in less than a year after their debut. 

Gen MZ is driving this new consumption trend. Korea's Gen MZ is the first generation who grew up perceiving Korea as an advanced country, unlike previous generations. They grew up witnessing the world-class cultural power of the country, as represented by K-pop. Thanks to this phenomenon, their cultural pride is high, with a strong belief that they are the leaders of global trends. 

The Korean cosmetics industry is also actively responding to this demand for ‘Y2K style.’ The market has become vital again, following the transition of the pandemic to endemic status and the lifting of the mask requirement in public spaces. According to a survey conducted by A-bly, a style commerce platform, in January, when the mask obligation was lifted, the figure increased by more than 200% compared to the same period last year. Purchases of tint, one of the most widely used lip makeup products, increased by 210% compared to the same period last year, and sales of base makeup, such as cushion, foundation, and concealer, increased by 155%. In particular, the transaction amount for contouring, high-lighter, and blush products increased by 300%. 

A March sales (3.1-26) analysis conducted by Olive Young, the largest H&B store in Korea, also revealed similar results, showing a significant increase in the sales of color cosmetics. The sales of color cosmetics increased by 73% compared to the same period last year, and lip makeup, in particular, surged by 129%, mainly due to the increase in tinted lip products. January sales of Hourglass, a makeup brand of Shinsegae International, more than doubled (109%) compared to the same period last year. In particular, sales of highlighters, lip balms, and concealers, which had remained stagnant due to the mask requirement, increased noticeably.

Zigzag, a style commerce platform run by Kakao Style, stated that the Y2K craze had had an impact on the actual makeup trend. An analysis of Zigzag transaction data in January of this year showed that the transaction amount of eyebrow products designed to create arched eyebrows as well as glitter products for bold and sparkling eye and skin makeup increased by 49% and 21%, respectively, compared to April of last year when the platform first officially opened its Beauty Hall. In particular, the transaction amount of lip glows and tinted lip products for fuller glossier lips, soared by 210% and 238%, respectively.

Tinted lip balms are the most popular lip product associated with the Y2K style. Among them are Muzigae Mansion's Object Liquid, Romand's Juicy Lasting Tint, Amuse's Due Tint, BBIA's Last Velvet Tint, Dasique's Water Gloss Tint, and Peripera's Ink Mood Glowy Tint.

Popular eye makeup products that make the eyes look more charming include Clio's Stay Perfect Hard Brow Pencil, eSpoir's The Brow Balance Pencil, BBIA's Glitter Eyeliner, Luna's Lighting Up Formula Pot, Forencos' Bay Glitter Palette, Dasique's Shadow Palette, Clio's Kill Lash Superproof Mascara, Tony Moly's The Shocking Vegan Liner Super Fixing, and 3CE's Futurekind Edition Shadow Palette.

As for base makeup products, HERA's Black Cushion and LANEIGE's Neo Cushion continue to be well-received products, while products from new brands, such as Hince's Second Skin Tone-up Base, FWEE's Cushion Glass, and Javin De Seoul's Wink Foundation, are also gaining popularity. Hince was launched in 2019, and FWEE and Javin De Seoul were launched last year.

Industry experts predict that the trend for simplified skincare and lighter base makeup will continue. In addition, the demand for point makeup, which has seen a significant increase since the mask obligation was lifted, is expected to continue to see growth and contribute to an increased number of transactions in the market. 


Edited by Shin Dae-wook (Beauty Freelancer)

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