Korean beauty products, especially skincare, have become a huge global phenomenon, but there are signs of a domestic backlash against prescribed beauty norms and the associated costs in time and money.

The country’s beauty industry, known as ‘K-beauty’, is estimated by Mintel to have been worth some US$10.7bn in 2018, and has long been driven by innovation. It’s typically seen as years ahead of the rest of the world.

There are signs that something of a revolution is under way in South Korea itself, however, as an increasing number of women are insisting on breaking free from restrictive and stereotypical beauty ideals.

According to Campaign Asia, some women have begun doing the previously unthinkable – abandoning lengthy daily hair and make-up routines, and instead wearing their hair short and reducing make-up to a minimum, a practice dubbed ‘skip care’.

The ‘Escape the Corset’ movement is still small-scale but is nevertheless a big deal in a country in which beauty is a great deal more than skin deep, and involves, above all, conforming to an established ideal – and beauty brands are taking notice of it.

South Korea has the highest rate of cosmetic surgery per capita and, Campaign said, many women have been ready to spend the bulk of their income – as well as several hours a day – on their looks.

But now younger Korean women especially are turning their backs on K-beauty’s arduous routines. And, said Lee Hwa Jun, senior beauty and personal care analyst at Mintel in South Korea, beauty brands are responding to the changing mood by offering minimalism – whether that’s simplified skincare routines or all-in-one beauty products or simpler, smaller packaging.

South Korean skincare giant Amorepacific is an example, with its website promoting a simplified make-up routine, the three-step “Basic Ritual regimen”. Another skincare brand, Jullai, has launched a ‘skip-care edition’ of its products and talks about “unnecessary skincare steps”.

While Escape the Corset has yet to go mainstream, Lee believes it is part of a growing trend towards individualism, and a rejection of sexist values.

For Philip Hwang, APAC strategy director for marketing agency SGK, it’s natural that the industry should seek to champion women’s fight against patriarchy and sexism.

“Given how patriarchal societies have long equated women’s worth with beauty, it’s not at all a stretch for beauty brands to champion gender issues,” he suggested.

“Beauty has always been intimately tied to female roles or expectations—it’s two sides of the same coin.”

Sourced from Campaign Asia-Pacific; additional content by WARC staff