How K-Beauty Conquered the West

Fueled by support from the Korean government, sheet masks and glass skin have taken over the world

Joanna Fuertes
Published in
7 min readSep 4, 2018

KKimchi, K-pop, and K-dramas. Welcome to Hallyu 2.0, in which everyone in the West is losing their minds over all things Korean.

Playing a starring role is a glorious onslaught of Korean beauty products, with the K-Beauty market now valued at over $13 billion, and $7.2 billion of which is from facial skin care alone. Serums, acids, oils, cushion compacts, CC creams, BB creams, masks that bubble on your face, masks to sleep in, volcanic clay, and snail slime are seeing improbably explosive popularity, and they’ve done so with accessible pricing and cute packaging that has grown women reaching for panda face masks.

“What people don’t see is the amount of government support and PR that drives interest.”

Jude Chao, director of marketing for BeautyTap and somewhat of an oracle on K-Beauty (who also happens to have excellent skin) believes in empowering the masses with education on K-Beauty ingredients. (Her blog, Fifty Shades of Snail, is a solid starting point if you’re overwhelmed by the 12,000 active brands on the market, the proliferation of which Chao believes is no coincidence.)

“What people don’t see is the amount of government support and PR that drives interest around everything from Korean food to Hollywood buying the rights to Korean dramas,” she says. “Skin care is another form of popular culture that’s proved to be a powerful export. So, if you go to beauty trade shows, it’s not unusual to have a Korean government presence supporting at least some of the homegrown brands.”

CCommerce aside, the cultural impact of K-Beauty on Western ideals has also been compelling, at least because it has provided an antidote to the Instagram look of which Kylie Jenner is the undisputed queen. This August, Jenner graced the cover of Forbes with the somewhat erroneous title of “self-made billionaire: as her makeup line, Kylie Cosmetics, stood valued at $900 million, thanks to her trademark style of matte, full-face femme fatale makeup that is studiously copied by her fans.