Korean skincare and cosmetics have gained a strong foundation in Malaysia writes Meera Murugesan
ON a trip to Seoul, South Korea three years ago, I felt awfully self-conscious about my greasy complexion because most people I saw (both men and women)were walking around with clear, radiant complexions and it seemed an accepted fact among Koreans that skin should look that way.
I seriously began to wonder if there was anyone in the city with bad skin.
Most of us already know about the strict and long (between 8-12 steps) skincare regimen that Koreans subscribe to and this has a lot to do with the products they use.
And since 2000 when the Korean beauty wave hit Malaysia in a big way, local consumers have also been turning their heads in the direction of the big “K”.
One would be hard pressed today to not find a Malaysian fan of K-beauty, K-pop or K-fashion.
The top three factors that make Korean skincare and make-up popular are innovation, effectiveness and affordability says Margaret Chin, country manager for Amorepacific Malaysia.
The Amorepacific Group, a South Korean based global skincare and cosmetic company has 33 brands in its stable, five of which are available in Malaysia – Laneige, Innisfree, Sulwhasoo, Mamonde and Etude House.
Korean brands try to innovate every year explains Chin. They want to make their products better and better so their R &D people never stop working and every year, one will see an upgraded version of a particular product.
Secondly, these products are effective and deliver results, even though they are not priced as high as European or American brands.
“They’re not cheap but very affordable and they work. That’s why the return rate after the first purchase is high.”
Amorepacific’s return rate (repeat customers) for most of its brands is about 30 per cent but for Innisfree, it’s 50 per cent, which is high according to industry standards.
Chin says in Malaysia, the “K Wave” started in early 2000 with Korean television dramas like “Winter Sonata” which were hugely popular among local consumers.
THE MARKET LEADER
In 2008, Laneige became one of the pioneer Korean brands to launch in the local market and it remains hugely popular.
“In ten years, Amorepacific has done very well in Malaysia. Our sales has been growing from strength to strength and our average annual growth is 40 per cent,” says Chin.
Amorepacific has captured about 15 per cent of the market share in the beauty and cosmetic industry in Malaysia.
Chin says a study by Universiti Sains Malaysia in 2013 also indicated that of the USD400million worth of beauty and cosmetic products imported into the country, 6-7 per cent were of Korean origin.
“Some people say you get what you pay for but in the case of Korean skincare, you get more than what you pay for.”
The hugely popular Laneige Water Sleeping Mask for example, costs RM113 a jar, which is only a fraction of what a competitor brand would cost. Most other brands would offer a similar product starting from RM250.
The fact that Korean skincare focuses on natural ingredients also makes it popular as this ties in with the trend and demand for natural beauty products among consumers.
Sulwhasoo for example uses ginseng extensively in its product range, Innisfree is known for its skincare with green tea and lava seawater, Mamonde harnesses the power of flowers while Laneige uses pure mineral water.
The top two brands in Malaysia for Amorepacific are Laneige and Innisfree followed by Sulwhasoo, Mamonde and Etude House.
In December, the company will be launching a new brand, a premium haircare brand called Ryo and the key product will be an anti-hair loss solution.
“Korean skincare is also more suited for Malaysian weather because of its fresh and light texture and it has been made specifically for Asian skin,” says Chin.
For many consumers this is one of its main appeals as thick, creamy products rarely suit Asian skin, especially when used in humid weather.
THAT N0 MAKE-UP LOOK
Where make-up is concerned, Korean cosmetics have colours and shades for the lips, eyes and face which are also more suited to Asian skin tones.
Chin says in Korea, nearly all the top drama stars have been signed up by Amorepacific as brand ambassadors for its skincare and cosmetic products.
“’We have 33 brands in Korea and for the top 10-12 brands, we have signed up the big names like Park Shin-Hye and Song Hye-Kyo to be brand ambassadors and product placement is done in their dramas and that hikes up the appeal of these products.”
In the 2016 drama, “Descendants of the Sun” for example, there’s a scene where Song’s character uses a two tone Laneige Lipbar as a marker to write something on a board when she gets into trouble.
Chin says when the serial broke, that particular shade of lipstick was sold out worldwide.
Many Korean cosmetic products are also multi-tasking ones which speed up make-up application.
Chin explains that the Korean approach to make-up is that it should enhance not hide the face and that’s the reason for their 8-12 step skincare routine because they believe that one can only create good make-up by starting with a flawless complexion.
“Clear, flawless skin becomes the canvas for your make-up. It’s like art. First, you prepare the canvas, only then can you get great art onto it.”
IN LOVE WITH K-BEAUTY
KAVITA Ganesh, 30, switched to Korean skincare three years ago after years of using a skincare line from a major American brand.
Since she works in a hospital, the air conditioning tends to be very cold and her skin gets dehydrated easily.
The face cream from the American brand however, left her combination skin feeling very greasy, even in the air conditioned environment.
“I wanted something that would hydrate my skin without being too creamy so I switched to moisturisers from Korean brands after a friend told me to give them a try.”
Kavita says she has found the right balance with Korean products and now uses cleansers and toners from Korean brands as well.
Neili Faridza Mat Saad, a 42 year old executive, used to rely on European or American skincare products but there were times when she experienced breakouts or her skin became very dry.
She has combination skin and while her T-zone is oily, her cheeks tend to be dry. She switched to Korean skincare about five years ago and has seen an improvement in her skin.
“It’s less oily, more balanced, my open pores are not so visible and I notice an improvement in my uneven skin tone as well,” says Neili who uses the Laneige range.
Neili adds that since Korean brands are made for Asian skin, the texture of the products is usually light and many are water-based with plant ingredients.
“It’s more suited for our weather and skin”
Casey Tan, a 36 year old marketing executive used to purchase skincare from a popular European facial line.
While she didn’t experience any problems, she made the switch to Korean skincare after realising that the products could deliver the same results at a much more affordable price.
“Why pay more if you can get something that’s easier on the wallet and also works.”
Sue Koh, 50, a creative director whose job requires her to travel quite frequently says air travel and being exposed to weather changes in different countries as well as lack of sleep affects her combination skin significantly.
Over the years she has tried many different brands but although they are effective initially, after a while, they stop working on her skin.
“I used to switch brands every 2-3 years to find out what works and doesn’t work for my skin.”
She eventually turned to Korean skincare and is currently using the Sulwhasoo range. She uses a lighter face cream from the brand during the day and a richer one with anti-ageing benefits at night.
Koh says her skin has a better texture than before and her open pores are less visible.
“My friends often comment that I have a glow to my skin.”
But Korean skincare requires patience she adds. It’s a long routine with many steps in order to see results.
“I also like the fact that they use natural ingredients in their products and do in-depth studies on which ingredients can target a particular skin problem.”
Linda Saw, 47, a manager, also has combination skin. She has used European and American brands in the past but didn’t find them suitable for her skin and they were also on the high end of the price scale.
She made the switch to Korean skincare eight years ago and Laneige is the brand of her choice these days because it suits her skin needs and she’s happy with the results.
Saw says besides the price point and extensive product range what makes Korean skincare appealing is the way the sales promotors at the beauty counters handle customers.
They never take a “hard-sell” approach but are willing to explain patiently about the different products and even give samples for consumers to try.
“It’s a very consumer friendly approach compared to other brands. My husband is also using Laneige skincare after accompanying me to the cosmetic counters and trying the products himself.”
Sharmaine Khaw, 35 finds the innovativeness of Korean make-up and skincare to be its biggest draw.
She says there’s always something new to look forward to with Korean brands.
“They are very consumer focused and always thinking of ways to make your skincare or beauty regimen easier.”
Tan likes the fact that many Korean products are multi-tasking ones, which means she can speed up her morning routine.
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