August 26, 2019

Is Korean skin care the future of beauty?

Alicia Yoon // WTF BEAUTY

When aesthetician and Harvard M.B.A. Alicia Yoon launched three Korean beauty skin care products this month on her e-commerce site Peach & Lily and at Ulta, skin-care obsessed customers snapped up the supply nearly as fast as a new Adele album. But ask the average person about K-beauty and you’re likely to get a blank stare. When Yoon asks What the Future, she wants to know how beauty shoppers differentiate Korean beauty from other regimens.

What the Future: Before we could answer your question, we asked shoppers in Ipsos’ Syndicated Online Community what they know about K-beauty. The results make it seem like a niche even though it’s everywhere on beauty content. What did those results mean to you?

Alicia Yoon: What I find interesting is either you have heard about it and then have actually gone down the rabbit hole a little bit, or you just aren’t familiar at all. It’s really bifurcated. Also, I love seeing the thread of investing in your skin care which aligns really well with this self-care movement that’s happening. If you’re putting in that effort you’re going to see the result. That’s a pretty big shift.

WTF: It’s interesting that people are buying Korean skin care products like sheet masks and not realizing that’s it’s part of “K-beauty.” Where do you think that’s going to take people in curating their own beauty routines?

Yoon: It’s totally a natural evolution and a great sign that Korean beauty is now just integrated into beauty. That’s a really good sign that it’s really here to stay and it’s being integrated in this permanent way.


WTF: What does that tell you about how K-beauty might shape North American beauty culture in the future?

Yoon: Number one, it’s a very bespoke, empowered, self-care movement where people are keeping all that information and realizing everyone’s body is a little bit different and “this is what works for me.”

Then number two, it’s also more transparency, more value and “I’m going to really think about what I’m paying for and not just go off a branded marketing campaign.” Korean beauty is really making that harder and harder to do because that same ingredient is in this Korean beauty brand and it’s literally a tenth of the price. With some ingredients you would see a difference in quality, but there are a lot of ingredients where the difference is so incremental there shouldn’t be that price disparity. That’s what is pushing the industry forward.

WTF: As younger beauty shoppers put more focus on self-care and investment, they’re also looking for quick results. Do you think that has potential to create a culture clash in what North Americans are looking for from their beauty routines?

Yoon: I don’t think the two are separate. I don’t think self-care would be as big of a conversation if every part of self-care was this long-term thing that you don’t feel the immediate benefits from. With Korean beauty I always saw both elements.

WTF: Do you think that there will be a point where we stop talking about it as K-Beauty?

Yoon: Maybe. But one thing that is different is that Korea still has so many innovations they’re launching before anybody else. Innovations that have already launched and have become incorporated into everyday dialogue like sheet masks, or brands that have already launched from Korea and have been just incorporated into beauty aisles, maybe those things are not referred to as Korean beauty per se. But I do think because of these new innovations that keep coming out, phrases like “the latest K-Beauty trend” won’t go away as quickly as it might have for French beauty.

WTF: Another Ipsos survey showed that awareness of Korean skin care was much higher among people of color. What does that mean to you for the future?

Yoon: Naturally with Asian-Americans there was more embedded awareness and almost a pent-up demand. I actually did a series of focus groups before launching Peach & Lily. The survey is very in line with my findings. With darker skin tones your skin actually can scar more easily. Because of that darker skin tone there are lots of conversations on Reddit. I just did a YouTube video with a big YouTuber Cydnee Black, who’s African-American and it was all about why Korean beauty is so great for people with darker skin tones. So, if somebody who has a darker skin tone is talking about it, they’re also talking about it in their communities.

WTF: For Korean beauty, there’s this ideal of achieving “glass skin” through the products and routines. One thing we see in digital culture is filtering apps where people are presenting themselves in a more perfected way but also going to plastic surgeons and asking to have their faces made more like their filtered look. Where do you see this going?

Yoon: We actually talk about that a lot with our community where we say we never want to be advocates of saying you never get older. That’s just unrealistic and unnatural and would be scary. There is a world of difference between preserving the health and quality of your skin when you consistently care for it versus you just say since you’re going to get older anyway who cares. But we do support, advocate for, and are big believers in preventing unnecessarily accelerated signs of aging.

Alicia Yoon, founder and CEO of Peach & Lily

Alicia Yoon, founder and CEO of Peach & Lily


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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 »

, Founder and CEO, Peach & Lily

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