Korean Beauty Trends Capture New Yorkers’ Hearts

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by Yeseul Oh
Glow Recipe, a Korean beauty brand, shines in New York.

Korean cosmetics have become popular in the United States. One success story is that of Glow Recipe. In January, as soon as Glow Recipe launched their new product, Watermelon Moisturizer, it sold out in two hours. Glow Recipe is a Korean startup founded in November 2014 by former L’Oréal executives. The company’s goal was to make natural Korean beauty products accessible to people around the world.

Glow Recipe was featured in ABC's business reality program “Shark Tank,” which connects investors with entrepreneurs. After the show, they launched a number of partner brands within Sephora. In March 2017, Glow Recipe opened a pop-up store in Soho, as well as Saks Fifth Avenue's first K-beauty pop-up at their 5th Ave flagship location, attracting a crowd of beauty product lovers. The founders, Christine Chang and Sarah Lee, are now two of the most popular proprietors of K-beauty in New York.

South Korea is among the top ten global beauty markets, accounting for $13 billion in beauty product sales in 2017. K-beauty exports to the United States more than doubled from 2014 to 2016. The global cosmetics chain Sephora started carrying K-beauty products in 2011, prompting other retail chains to follow suit, including Ulta Beauty and the drugstore chain CVS. Since the implementation of the US–Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) in March 2012, tariffs on imported cosmetics have been reduced.  K-beauty products have grown in prominence in the US cosmetic sector. US imports of Korean beauty products account for 27.1% of total market share, valued at $293 million. Additionally, there is some collaboration between Korean and American beauty companies. Korean cosmetic brands often release new makeup lines with Disney. Panacea, an American cosmetic startup brand, is among the more recent gender-neutral skin-care brands to hit the scene. Their products were inspired by the K-beauty philosophy.

Yeseul Oh is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington D.C. and an Asan Wahshington Young fellow with the Asan Academy in Seoul. She is a student of Kyunghee university in South Korea