Cianan O’Dowd, Product Design Lead, and Luna Aw, Social Listening Associate, at Quantum unpack the emerging trends within the beauty industry and share findings from new research across the two largest beauty and cosmetics markets globally – South Korea and the United States.

After the inevitable worldwide downturn in the cosmetics industry during the 2020-2021 Covid pandemic, consumers enjoying their return to personal freedoms outside the home have given the cosmetic industry its fastest predicted rise in a decade. And as beauty products become more essential in people’s daily arsenal it is important to identify and understand the key drivers and trends behind this ever-booming industry.

In a new report, we unpack the emerging trends within the beauty industry (cosmetics and skincare) in the first quarter of 2022 across the two largest beauty and cosmetics markets globally – South Korea and the United States.

Korean beauty is steering the US beauty market and continues to be on the rise for its superb formulations and affordable price points compared to some of its western counterparts. Brands such as Glow Recipe are benefitting from this and is projected to continue growing.

Apart from quality, Korea’s cultural export strategy also has a hand in pushing these home grown brands onto centre stage of the beauty industry.

With the combination of these two factors, many in the West have started to see Korean beauty products as a level above the rest. Even after the pandemic, interest in Korean skincare and cosmetics remains high after the initial peak during the start of COVID-19.

Beauty has always been a huge part of the Korean economy, thus a lot of adaptation was needed when COVID-19 hit. Cosmetics were adapted out of their usual functionality and experimented with, such as using blushers on other parts of one’s face apart from the cheeks.

Heavy skincare routines were also phased out as the beauty industry adapted with the times, releasing cutting edge products that are seasonal to the weather and different skin conditions.

On top of that, the average Korean visits beauty salons and aestheticians on a regular basis, and when that was restricted, home care devices became a hit. From facial lasers to water peeling devices, the need for professional home care devices rose.

While all that happened in the consumer space, attitudes towards beauty also shifted from fairer skin to the enhancement of natural skin tone. Traditional beauty standards in Korea alluded to a preference for fairer skin tones, but that is changing today, as there is more appreciation for one’s natural skin tone as a “glowy” look takes over.

In terms of ethical concerns, there were many surrounding animal cruelty, giving rise to more vegan beauty offerings and retail chains such as Olive Young are leading the push.

With all these factors at play in the Korean market, the US market had its own take on beauty trends too.

When COVID-19 brought most of America’s workplace back inside their own homes, consumers started adopting minimalism in different aspects of their life, including skincare. With little use for makeup, consumers started noticing a change in their skin’s health without prolonged coverage.

Despite this, many were still self-conscious as video calls required one to show their face and physical presence. This shifted their focus to alternate beauty routines and products.

With more time to let their skin recover, consumers are increasingly exposed to skin barrier protection routines involving sunscreen, no-frills skincare routines and tinted moisturisers. Sunscreens are increasingly used to protect the skin from signs of early aging due to harmful UV rays and tinted moisturisers are now preferred over traditional foundations. There is less emphasis on coverage as compared to letting one’s skin breathe.

Consumers have also shown concern about the packaging of beauty products as environmental awareness increases, driving a stronger push to focus more on the functionality of a product.

There is pressure from consumers for brands to be ethical as beauty brands with clean eco footprints pick up traction. One great example would be UpCircle Beauty which has been a hit with consumers due to its zero waste policy and formulations that make use of often-discarded by-products.

With both markets, there will be more brands with a strong focus on sustainability and ethical concerns springing up as consumers continue to adopt green practices in their lives.