Lee Ok-sup is Korea's leading cosmetics scientist who has been working on cosmetics research for 43 years. He joined the Pacific R&D Institute (currently AMOREPACIFIC Research Institute) in 1976 and has published 57 patents and thirty papers at home and abroad.
He, as a member of the Society of Cosmetic Scientists of Korea and a member of the presidency of the International Federation of Societies of Cosmetic Chemists, worked hard to globalize Korean cosmetics research. Currently, he is an honorary chairman of the Society of Cosmetic Scientists of Korea, a member of the Korean Society of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, and a CTO member of the Korea Industrial Technology Association. He was awarded Patent Awards (2000, Patent Office), Jang Young-Sil Award (2000, Ministry of Science and Technology), the Presidential commendations (2002), Minister's Award at HITEK Daejeon (2003, Ministry of Health and Welfare), Korea's Top 10 Technology Awards (2004, Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy), the 1st 'Lee Ui-Gab Award' (2013, Korean Society of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry) and the Award for Leader of Korea's top 100 Technology (National Academy of Engineering Korea).
Lee Ok-Sub, vice chairman of SK BIOLAND (a chairperson of the supervisory board of this magazine), told K-beauty's past, present, and future.
Q. How has research and development of cosmetics developed in Korea?
A. After Korea's liberation in the 1950s, cosmetics brought in by U.S. soldiers in Korea gained immense popularity. Since it was hard to find the ingredients to make cosmetics, there was no concept of cosmetic research in Korea back then.
By the 1960s, the Korean government enacted the "Anti-Foreign Trade Law" and prohibited the import of alcohol, tobacco, and cosmetics. Then, the Korean cosmetics industry has developed dramatically. Cosmetic research at that time in Korea was at a level that could only prevent creams and lotion from phase-separating.
In the 1970s, the concept of quality improvement was introduced as the use of skin care products and makeup products increased.
In the 1980s, biotechnology has evolved, and the concept of bio has been combined with the concept of cosmetics, and safety has become an essential goal of cosmetic research. Also, the Korean government's liberalization of imports had led the era of unlimited competition with global cosmetics brands. The Korean cosmetics industry has come to significantly increase investment in the research and development sector to not fall behind in the competition with foreign products, which eventually led to a major development at this time.
The cosmetic research in the 1990s was focused on the development of functional cosmetics with efficacy. Besides, sales and production of cosmetics are separated, and many OEM/ODM companies are established. The advent of OEM/ODM companies has a great influence on the development of Korean cosmetics research and development.
In the 2000s, China has emerged as a major importer of Korean cosmetics, and Korean cosmetics research has opened its eyes abroad and aimed at the skin types and tastes of people around the world.
Based on these developments, Korean cosmetics research from now on should focus on developing cosmetics that will attract the attention of the world by reflecting the laws and customs of many countries.
Q. K beauty has gained great interest worldwide today. What do you think is the background of this popularity?
A. There are many factors behind K-beauty's success today. The biggest reason is the superior quality of the products, and it is the results of many companies have invested in R&D with the belief that only quality can survive the fierce global competition.
Another factor in K-beauty's success is the fact that the cosmetics market opened earlier than in other industries. To compete with those imported cosmetics that have capitals and fame Korean cosmetics had to invest heavily in the research and development sector. As a result, Koreans cosmetics are able to produce high-quality products today.
In addition, the outstanding artistic sense and creativity of Korean people led to the success of K-Beauty, and the improvement of national power due to economic growth and the rapidly growing Chinese cosmetics market also played a role in the success of K-Beauty.
Q. ‘Sustainable’ is emerging as an important issue in the Korean cosmetics industry as well as in the world.
A. 'Sustainable' here means continuous growth, rather than comforting in current status. For companies to grow steadily, it is necessary to continuously develop quality-improved products, expand sales through new distribution channel and market exploration. Ultimately, the efforts to advance the technology and to understand and analyze markets and consumers must be pursued steadily. Short-term and medium-term strategies based on this are needed. The most important requirement for sustainability that should be prioritized is 'honesty.' You have to be honest not only with the consumer but also with the business itself. For instance, if you falsely package products in the way you are not confident, temporary success might be achieved, but sustainable growth is impossible. In conclusion, a constant search for new things is the key to sustainability.
Q. The fourth industrial revolution is raging around the world. How should the cosmetics industry respond to this trend?
A. When talking about the fourth industrial revolution, a lot of keywords such as autonomous navigation, robots, block-chain, artificial intelligence, and shared economy often emerge. They are originated from different areas, but what they have in common is the technology to collect a lot of information and extract and leverage the information they need. The cosmetics industry also needs to collect various market-related information, such as products and customers, production and distribution, quality and promotion, and find the most effective way to utilize the meaningful information needed. This process will produce a fruitful result of excellent quality and pioneering new markets.
Q. Recently, cosmetics technology has developed at a remarkable pace. As an expert who has studied cosmetics for a long time, we would like to hear your views on future cosmetics.
A. Science technology is developing at a very fast pace. As a result, new products are being developed every year. But the changes in human life habits and values is gradual. Future cosmetics will not be much different from today's cosmetics. I think the essential nature of cosmetics such as cleansing, beautifying, and helping the health of the human skin will continue. However, I believe that there will be significant improvements in the areas of efficacy and sensibility, such as products that are more effective and of better texture abreast with the technological advances. In addition, the beauty device market, which maximizes the efficacy of cosmetics through physical action, is expected to grow significantly.
Q. What are the virtues and attitudes of cosmetics researchers today? We would like to ask for your advice for the young scientists who are engaged in R&D around the world.
A. Not only in cosmetics but also all researchers feel the greatest happiness and rewards when the consumers are satisfied with the products they have created through their research. The primary goal of researchers is to develop new products of high quality that are recognized by consumers. To achieve this goal, we need to analyze the products that are currently loved the most and add new value to them.
It takes a creative effort to figure out which areas to study to make a better product than the current popular product. And it's not just about making products, but you also have to look at consumers' response. This process will lead you to create products that are impressive and recognized. It is only when one's emotions combine with those of consumers that perfection is created. The effort to search for good products, research them, and to make better products, that's the way to make yourself, your company, and your country a success.
Q. You're still active in many areas, what are your plans?
A. For the time being, I will focus on developing cosmetics and food materials. Furthermore, I want to deliver my long-term know-how and experience to juniors so that I can help them develop products that customers are satisfied with. If I get a chance, I want to make the best brand representing Korea.
Q. To wrap up the interview, we would like to ask to give us the final advice or comments.
A. Think about all the necessities of life that we need to maintain our lives, it is all created by others and given to me. We are not conscious, but we are living with the help of countless others. We also have to think about what to do for others. As a cosmetics researcher, the only way to reward others for their help is to make good cosmetics products that can impress customers.