The Beauty Of South Korea

It’s a hotspot for skincare, makeup, aesthetic procedures and even hair products. And women in SG just lap them all up. Here’s why they do, and why they love K-beauty so much.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

It’s a hotspot for skincare, makeup, aesthetic procedures and even hair products. And women in SG just lap them all up. Here’s why they do, and why they love K-beauty so much.

It started in the mid-2000s. Massmarket South Korean skincare brands like The Face Shop and I Laneige were instant hits. Singapore women flocked to their stores, buying up moisturisers, cleansers, masks and more. That was the start of hallyu, the K-wave.

These days, you can’t walk into a shopping mall and not see a Korean beauty store.

There’s no stopping hallyu beauty. The budget-friendly as well as masstige brands soon paved the way for luxe names like Sulwhasoo. And most recently, in May this year, Hera opened its first beauty counter in Singapore at Takashimaya D.S.

Why is K-beauty so hip and hot? It’s because K-pop is hip and hot in Korea and Singapore. The two are inextricably linked, with many K-beauty brands using K-celebs to front their campaigns.

Hip factor aside, the belief exists among consumers that K-beauty brands are one step ahead of their competitors. The brands are seen as high on innovation and at the forefront of skin science and research. Products also seem to be more compatible with Asian skin; women swear by the results they see. That makes them more eager to try more K-beauty brands in Singapore as well as when they travel to South Korea.

Its research is top-notch

Luxury skincare brand Sulwhasoo (owned by Korean beauty giant Amorepacific) opened its first counter at Tangs at Tang Plaza in 2012. In the six years since then, it has opened six beauty counters and three standalone boutiques, offering facial treatments on top of skincare and makeup.

Says Doreen Chia, brand general manager of Sulwhasoo: “Amorepacific has a strong global research and development team that does rigorous and in-depth studies to understand different skin needs to ensure our products work.”

The commitment to R&D can also be seen in Su:m37, which uses naturally fermented ingredients in its skincare. It has its own Natural Fermentation Research Institute, where it studies the optimal balance of light, sound, temperature, water, soil and air for effective natural fermentation.

Says Joyce Teh, president of The Face Shop Singapore, which manages Su:m37: “Because of their naturally occurring detoxification ability, naturally fermented products are hypoallergenic and safe, even for sensitive skin types.”

Its focus is clear

Women also appreciate how each K-beauty brand is clearly differentiated. Take Sulwhasoo, which focuses on ginseng as a skincare ingredient. All its products, including the newest three – the Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Serum, Water and Emulsion – use different parts of the ginseng plant.

“Singaporeans are familiar with herbs and their multiple benefits to overall health and wellness. Hence, they trust beauty products formulated with traditional herbal ingredients, which Sulwhasoo is known for,” says Chia.

Other brands have similar strategies. Innisfree uses natural ingredients like green tea and Jeju water. Laneige focuses on hydration and was the first to introduce sleeping masks here. Etude House is known for its huge selection of affordable makeup.

Executive Jaslyn Lim, 24, uses only moisturisers from K-brands, saying that she finds their natural ingredients hydrating yet gentle on her sensitive skin. Those from non-Korean brands sting her skin because of their potency or ingredients, she adds.

Teo Yan Teng, 32, a senior executive and beauty influencer with an Instagram (@tebisha) following of more than 9,000, says that eight in 10 of her skincare and makeup products are from K-beauty brands. “They focus more on hydration and brightening, which Singaporeans like, and are also more suitable for Asian skin.”

It pushes boundaries

For social media marketing executive Nerissa Lee, 23, K-beauty is cutting-edge and exciting. “Every time the Koreans come up with new products, like the splash mask (where you splash your face with essence), or a trend, like the sevenskin method (where you layer on your toner seven times), I’ll go, ‘Why didn’t I think of this?’ because they work wonders for my skin.”

Korean makeup, too, has a way of breaking new ground. Cheryl Chio, a part-time beauty blogger and an avid K-beauty user, says the makeup looks are effortless, wearable, and flatter her Asian features better. “The constant stream of different looks inspires me to experiment. Plus, in recent years, the formulations have become more suitable for Singapore’s humidity, with longwearing and matte finishes.”

Teo adds that her K-beauty makeup posts garner more likes. “It’s because the makeup has that natural, porcelain-type look that everyone wants to have.”

Cute looks, gradient lips and glowy skin are among the many trends K-beauty has brought – and the trends keep moving forward. Just look at the success of Hera, a makeup and skincare brand targeting urban women.

According to Chia of Amorepacific, which owns Hera, opening sales hit the roof, even beating figures for the brand’s debut in China. She says: “Hera appeals to Singapore women because they share the same traits as a ‘Seoulista’ in Korea – one who is trendy, passionate about life, modern, well-informed, and always on the lookout for the latest products and finer things.”

It’s moved into aesthetics

The K-craze has gone beyond skincare and makeup. In aesthetic procedures, anything K-based has an edge. Says Dr Y.Z. Tan, founder and medical director of Mizu Aesthetic Clinic: “Koreans have been at the forefront of aesthetic treatments because of their widespread acceptance of such treatments. They also generally have fewer manufacturing scandals and higher quality control.

“I’ve had patients making requests for procedures their friends have tried in Korea – sometimes even before we offer them in Singapore – because they see the effectiveness of the treatments on their friends.”

One popular treatment is Rejuran Healer, a skin booster that is meant to help regenerate and repair damaged skin cells. The key ingredient used is polynucleotide (PN), a purer and more concentrated form of polydeoxyribonuclotide (PDRN), extracted from salmon DNA and known for its biocompatibility with human skin.

People who are not into treatments that use needles can turn to Koreanstyle spas like Korea Beauty Centre and Hanbang Skin Solutions, which employ traditional Korean skincare therapies like massages, and whose treatments use ingredients rooted in oriental medicine.

Don’t forget the hair trends

Before you think the popularity of K-beauty stops at skincare and skin treatments, consider the entry of Korean hair salons in the last two years. Korean perms are offered by almost all hair salons in Singapore, but few are as truly Korean as Leekaja Beauty Salon.

The 46-year-old brand is one of the top hair salons in Korea, and has more than 200 outlets globally. Its Singapore flagship opened in end 2016 and is mostly staffed by Korean hairstylists, some of whom have styled the hair of K-pop groups. It also provides nail art, eyelash extensions and makeup packages, and has an in-house cafe.

In July, Amorepacific launched professional haircare brand Amos Professional, which is carried by more than 56,000 salons in South Korea. Singapore is the salon brand’s first point of entry into the East Asian market.

It’s probably safe to say that the K-wave is here to stay – in Singapore, and around the world. Go to our digital edition to read more about the many Korean beauty brands, salons and aesthetic clinics in Singapore.

My Reading Room
K-beauty and beyond: (from top) 28-year-old Kim Tae Ri is the new face for Kenzo’s signature fragrance, Flower By Kenzo, an example of the appeal of Korean celebs even with non-Korean brands; Song Hye Kyo of Full House and Descendants of the Sun fame is Sulwhasoo’s latest ambassador; Im Yoon Ah, better known as Yoona, and one-eighth of K-pop group Girls’ Generation, has freshfaced looks that make her perfect as naturalistin spired brand Innisfree’s ambassador.