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Do you know your K-Beauty from your J-Beauty?

When in search of cosmetics innovation, you will likely find the compass needle flying back and forth between South Korea and Japan. Such is the influence of these trend-setting markets that the rest of the cosmetics world seems to march to the beat of their drums.

Comparatively, however, Japan continues to have a slight advantage over South Korea. For the first time, Japan became a net exporter of cosmetic products in 2017 when global orders exceeded USD 3.4 billion. South Korea, on the other hand, has chalked up increasing success over the past couple of years in the international markets.

K-Beauty exports, according to the Korea Customs Service, have more than doubled from USD 1 billion in 2012 to over USD 2.6 billion in 2017. South Korea is presently the eighth largest cosmetics market in the world and the third-largest cosmetics exporter to China in the first quarter of 2019.

Such huge growth figures show producers in both markets are flying, but what gives them wings? Let’s observe the similarities and differences behind their ascents.

Do you know your K-Beauty from your J-Beauty?
  • Focus on local ingredients and unique practices that are ingrained in daily life
  • Inspired by ancient wisdom and rituals
  • Smooth and fair complexion are the ultimate symbols of beauty
  • Women actively avoid sun exposure and use sunscreen protection
  • Moisture and hydration are essential
  • Focus on cleansing and hydrating formulas using effective and high-quality ingredients


  • Focus on rapid innovation
  • Zany ingredients
  • Boundary-pushing products
  • Complex, multi-step routines
  • Trend-driven fast beauty


  • A “slow” beauty approach
  • Future-facing science
  • Time-tested products
  • Simple rituals
  • Refinement and longevity

It is fascinating to watch Japan and South Korea spread their influence around the world. I, for one, am very keen to see what other exciting cosmetics trends will emerge from these influential markets. How do you see things playing out for these counterparts?


Roland Kraut

About the author

Roland Kraut is based in Zurich, Switzerland. He is currently Vice President, Global Personal Care Industry, Performance Materials at DKSH Switzerland Ltd.