From Segyehwa to Skincare: How the Korean Beauty Philosophy Redefined An Industry

Characterised by innovative ingredients, a myriad of up to the minute trends and a focus on skin aesthetics, Korean Beauty or K-Beauty, has become something of an obsession the world over.

The iconic 10 Step Korean Skincare Routine had beauty fanatics clawing to bring their routines up to scratch and replicate the luminous, hydrated glow of the ‘less is more no make-up make-up’ look that emerged in its wake, setting a new standard for the beauty industry.

Consumers have since flocked to the unique products synonymous with Korean Beauty, such as snail slime, bee venom, birch extract, fermented ingredients and rice extracts just to name a few, all encased in a trend-defining spritely-minimal aesthetic echoing the contents promised inside.

So how exactly did the Korean beauty industry, which is projected to balloon to $26 billion by 2026 according to Allied Market Research, get to where it is today?

While it’s easy to see K-Beauty merely as an extension of the K-Pop and K-Drama sensation — make no mistake, these worlds certainly aren’t hindering its popularity — the success of the Korean beauty industry represents a culmination of tradition, government strategy and a dash of luck.

Everything K Dash

From K-Pop to K-Drama, from Parasite to BTS and from Blackpink to the revolutionary double cleanse, the world is arguably enamoured with the K-dash phenomenon.

South Korea has always been something of an export-focused country, so while the Korean culture wave might feel more like a sudden tsunami, Director of the Korea Research Centre of Western Australia and Associate Professor of Korean Studies at the UWA, Dr Jo Elfving Hwang, says this sensation is equal parts serendipitous and equal parts calculated.

Segyehwa, a Korean term for globalisation, was a strategy under President Kim Young-Sam’s administration in the mid-nineties that cultivated an effort to differentiate South Korea from its northern neighbour and liberate its own economic and trade opportunities.

“There was a push to start thinking about South Korea’s soft power and how it could also introduce its culture,” Dr Elfving Hwang explains.

Pair this momentum with the burgeoning beauty industry and society already enmeshed with visual culture and it was only a matter of time before South Korea’s beauty industry became another promising export.

“The use of cosmetics and looking after your skin was very much about modernity and being a global modern citizen,” Dr Elfving Hwang says.

“And then with the idea of this ‘cool Korea’, where things Korean are quite popular anyway, it’s just so nicely fitted into that K dash beauty narrative – everything is now K dash!”

A matter of decorum

Personal appearances have long been held in high regard in Korean culture, but not just for the reasons one might think.

“It’s not just about beauty, it’s also about health,” Dr Elving Hwang explains.

“[Korean beauty] is very much focused on presenting a healthy appearance, projecting health and looking at how the outside actually interacts with the inside.”

More recently adopted Korean beauty philosophies also transcend widely-held gender assumptions about skincare and the idea that it’s simply an endeavour to attract others.

“In Korea, skincare is not necessarily done just for the opposite sex – you might as a man engage with beauty cultures in order to look good for your boss, not to attract them necessarily, but to look lively,” she says.

“In Australia, there’s sometimes this approach of ‘I’m just going to turn up’, in Korea, if you turn up in the workplace looking look like you’ve just crawled out of bed, it can send a message that you don’t care.”

Instead, Dr Elfving Hwang explains looking after appearances in Korean culture is part of being polite to others and to oneself.

The 10 steps that changed it all

When viewed through this lens, nothing says self-care quite like the 10 Step Korean Skincare Routine, perhaps one of South Korea’s most well-known beauty philosophies.

This renowned twice-daily endeavour was coined back in 2014 by Soko Glam founder Charlotte Cho and offered consumers a clear educational skincare guide in a market once diluted with all the products but little direction.

Source: Forbes

It was also arguably one of the key elements that brought Korean Beauty into the mainstream at the time and introduced an abounding array of new products to the global market.

The principle has since spoken to a new wave of consumers who want to embrace healthier approaches to beauty, both on the inside and out.

Who knew a skincare routine could be so profound?

  1. Cleanse — The absolute cornerstone of the Korean beauty routine or arguably any beauty routine for that matter. Cleansing oil is recommended to remove all the products used the night before, makeup used during the day or general build-up that can occur overnight.
  2. Cleanse again — a process so important, K-Beauty principles affirm you should do it twice. The double cleanse eliminates impurities and dirt often missed in the first cleanse. Using a water-based cleanser provides that final clean and preps your skin for the products applied next.
  3. Exfoliate — A process that should be undertaken sparingly during the week, exfoliating gets rid of dead skin build-up. It’s generally recommended chemical exfoliants are used at night to avoid interactions with direct sunlight soon after applying.
  4. Tone — Toners not only help get rid of any unwanted oils and dirt but also play a key part in balancing your skin’s PH levels, which can, in turn, affect your skin condition.
  5. Essence —Typically lighter than most serums but used effectively the same way, skin essence serves as another preparation step allowing your skin to absorb more product while offering a dash of moisture along the way.
  6. Serum — Serums usually contain highly concentrated specific ingredients designed to penetrate the skin with their gel-like or liquid consistency. These ingredients might be vitamin C, hyaluronic acid or retinol to name a few and can be used to treat oils, wrinkles, dryness and acne depending on their properties.
  7. Face mask – If you want to use a sheet mask, now would be the time. Just be sure to use one with non-aggressive ingredients if you’re using one every day.
  8. Eye cream — Ageing is a wonderful thing but if you’re keen on keeping the accompanying fine lines and wrinkles to a minimum, there’s a lot to be said for a good quality eye cream. General consensus is that prevention is better than a cure in this department, but some antiageing ingredients might be unnecessary for younger skin. Eye creams can also help keep undereye puffiness under control, manage dark circles and maintain moisture in the area, where the skin is a lot thinner and more delicate.
  9. Moisturise — The clue is in the title with this one – apply as liberally as required and be sure to include the neck.
  10. Sunscreen — Aesthetics aside, suncream is a crucial step for health reasons and should be used every day — in the morning — come rain or shine.

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