August 26, 2019

How will South Korean and Pan-Asian beauty culture shape North American beauty culture?

S. Heijin Lee // WTF BEAUTY

Heijin Lee

S. Heijin Lee, Assistant professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University

38%
of adults 18-34 are familiar with K-beauty, compared to 15% of adults ages 35-54 and 5% of those age 55 and older.
(Source: Ipsos survey conducted July 2 to 4, 2019, among 1,208 U.S. adults.)

divider

share on linkedin

From South Korean boy band BTS’ world domination, to the ubiquitous facial sheet masks at retail beauty counters, the global influence of the Korean culture wave known as Hallyu is growing, says S. Heijin Lee.

Lee is an author and assistant professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University. When Lee thinks What the Future, she wonders how South Korean and Pan-Asian culture and beauty will shape broader North American beauty culture.

WTF: Korean beauty and Korean pop culture are rather intertwined. While their influence is growing in North America, awareness is still fairly low overall. What did the survey data tell you about the potential for K-beauty here?

S. Heijin Lee: One is that it’s obviously very generational. The respondents who really know about K-pop, K-beauty and Pan-Asian culture in general are the 18-to-34 demographic. K-beauty, before 2012 in the U.S., was a kind of underground thing. In addition to Asians, the fan base is largely people of color. What that signals to me is that youth of color in the U.S. are really looking for alternatives to mainstream American pop culture to see themselves reflected in what they’re listening to and watching. Lastly, male respondents [in the survey] seem to really know about K-beauty and K-pop. The only thing that I could think is that in the U.S., K-beauty and K-pop are really popular with LGBTQ folks. There are all kinds of subcultural pockets of K-pop fans, and it means different things for these different groups.

WTF: As these people age, do you see Hallyu and K-beauty being more of a fad in North America or do you think they have staying power?

Lee: Subculture is a key word and a way to think about how K-pop and, adjacently, how K-beauty is popular in the U.S. We don’t want to attribute too much power to it and say that everyone knows about it and everyone’s doing it. But of those Americans or Canadians that are, they’re very hardcore about it. They may not necessarily be listening to K-pop anymore. But they will have been exposed to the idea of buying something from Korea or elsewhere. That’s exactly how K-pop is designed. Your favorite pop star is going to be the face of your favorite K-beauty products. But also the face of an automobile line, a bag line, a clothes line and even water heaters. It creates a brand loyalty, and that’s what will continue to grow.

“Brighter, creamy, dewy—those adjectives weren’t necessarily part of the conversation before. That’s what Korean or Asian beauty is bringing into the mainstream discourse about beauty.”

WTF: When it comes to K-beauty specifically, are you seeing Korean beauty ideals being increasingly adopted on this continent in the future?

Lee:  The shift is that skin care is now a priority for young people. We really think of youth as acne products or Neutrogena, that kind of thing for teenagers or for early 20s that’s in their price range. The thing that American and European companies usually use to sell their products is convenience: “Use this one product and it will do everything.” Korean companies are reversing this and saying, “You have to do these 12 steps to improve your skin.” This idea that you work really hard to achieve something, this is a very Korean work ethic. Brighter, creamy, dewy —those adjectives weren’t necessarily part of the conversation before. That’s what Korean or Asian beauty is bringing into the mainstream discourse about beauty.

WTF: As technology shapes beauty standards, one tension we see is the role technology plays in helping us craft custom looks for ourselves in reality while also in presenting us with a more homogenous, filter-driven virtual self. Where do you see this going, and what does it mean for future beauty standards?

Lee: A lot of these critiques revolve around the idea about a natural self vs. an artificial self, and that technology helped us get to this artificial self. But coded in that debate is the idea that the natural self is always seemingly better and that we should love our natural self. Humans have always manipulated how they look through piercings, jewelry and makeup. What is alarming is reports that people are taking their filtered selves to the plastic surgeon and asking to be remade as such permanently. What that points out to us is that beauty standards are about something that is seemingly more perfect than what you have. The thing to be wary of is not necessarily the technology, but the kind of slippery slope of what we have available to us, or what gets marketed that says, “I can make you look like that.”

Subscribe to the Ipsos Future Monthly Newsletter

Receive monthly insights, perspectives, and research tips from experts across all of Ipsos' specialty research practices.


What the Future is a quarterly deep dive into different aspects of consumer and social thought and behavior. Each edition features exclusive new data from world-leading research firm Ipsos. WTF explores how a single industry or behavior fits into the broader culture now and in the coming decades. Read Previous WTF Issues »


Familiarity with K-beauty is low in the U.S. and Canada.

Please indicate how familiar you are, if at all, with each of the following things.

Very familiar Not very familiar Somewhat familiar Have not heard of it

Percent U.S.

K-beauty (silicon sheet masks, snail mucin, 10-step regimen) Very familiar 64% Somewhat familiar 17% Not very familiar 13% Have not heard of 5%

K-pop (Psy, BlackPink, BTS) Very familiar 59% Somewhat familiar 18% Not very familiar 16% Have not heard of 7%

J-beauty (4-step regimen with second hydration essence, cleansing oil) Very familiar 68% Somewhat familiar 18% Not very familiar 10% Have not heard of 4%


Percent Canada

K-beauty (silicon sheet masks, snail mucin, 10-step regimen) Very familiar 68% Somewhat familiar 20% Not very familiar 8% Have not heard of 3%

K-pop (Psy, BlackPink, BTS) Very familiar 58% Somewhat familiar 23% Not very familiar 15% Have not heard of 5%

J-beauty (4-step regimen with second hydration essence, cleansing oil) Very familiar 73% Somewhat familiar 18% Not very familiar 6% Have not heard of 2%


Source: Ipsos survey conducted July 2 to 4, 2019, among 1,208 U.S. adults and July 5 to July 10 among 1,000 adults in Canada.

WTF: The female K-pop aesthetic uses the schoolgirl image while male K-pop idols have a softer form of masculinity. That’s challenging feminist and masculine ideals. What does that mean for the future culturally, especially now with MeToo?

Lee: Korea is in a full-blown MeToo moment as well. There’s definitely the sort of innocent, doe-eyed schoolgirl aesthetic component of K-pop girl groups. But there are also the Girl Crush groups that are the kind of bad-ass, edgy, outspoken, in-your-face girls. The soft masculinity is maybe the most noticeable thing for us in the U.S., and that’s because soft masculinity is in such stark contrast with how we think about hetero male aesthetics. In the U.S. the heteronormative male culture is pretty strong. “Queer Eye” is as soft as it’s gotten here.

K-beauty most influences beauty routines for Millennials.

Please indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with the following statements.

U.S. 18-34 U.S. 35-54 U.S. 55+ U.S. total Canada total

I follow a multi-step beauty regimen but don't care where the products come from. I follow a multi-step beauty regimen but don't care where the products come from. 45% 33% 47% 41% 36%

I stick with one product and am loyal to it. I stick with one product and am loyal to it. 58% 52% 53% 56% 53%

I am committed to a long-term beauty philosophy. I am committed to a long-term beauty philosophy. 60% 54% 67% 59% 46%

I like to customize my skin products and ingredients as needed. I like to customize my skin products and ingredients as needed. 72% 60% 66% 67% 53%

I take my beauty cues from American hip-hop culture. I take my beauty cues from American hip-hop culture. 44% 25% 26% 36% 24%

I take my beauty cues from K-pop. I take my beauty cues from K-pop. 47% 22% 23% 36% 20%

I like beauty products from South Korea. I like beauty products from South Korea. 50% 38% 29% 44% 33%

I like beauty products from Japan. I like beauty products from Japan. 58% 40% 29% 49% 35%

I am interested in quick results from my beauty routine. I am interested in quick results from my beauty routine. 70% 70% 64% 69% 63%

It's important that my skin is really clean, dewy and glass-like. It's important that my skin is really clean, dewy and glass-like. 60% 49% 55% 56% 53%

The most advanced cosmetics come from South Korea. The most advanced cosmetics come from South Korea. 47% 32% 21% 39% 28%


Source: Ipsos survey conducted July 2 to 4, 2019, among 1,208 U.S. adults and July 5 to July 10 among 1,000 adults in Canada

divider

share on linkedin

, Assistant professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University



Editors Picks

Beauty

Are natural and clean beauty products scalable?

Alex Keith has concerns that many start-up and boutique beauty brands don’t. read more »

Subscribe to Ipsos Future

Receive timely insights to inform your research needs

ipsos

© Ipsos 2019, All right reserved

ipsos