Demystifying K-beauty’s Impact on Southeast Asia: 3 Key Trends Currently Dominating the Region

Korean beauty, also known as K-Beauty, has left an indelible mark upon the world. What are the key trends dominating the SEA region? 

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Korean beauty, also known as K-Beauty, has left an indelible mark upon the world. 

Responsible for introducing sheet masks, BB creams, and serums to people’s daily skincare routines, K-beauty products are globally lauded for their use of traditional ingredients with science-backed formulas. Research from WGSN found that the global K-beauty market is forecasted to be worth USD 13.9 billion in 2027, with China, Hong Kong, and the USA accounting for the majority of K-beauty imports worldwide. 

Listen: Daini Wang, SEA Solution Lead, Ascential Digital Commerce and Sharon Ahn, Beauty Analyst, WGSN. Fill out the form below to get a full recording of the webinar and PDF presentations. 

Inside emerging K-beauty trends in Southeast Asia

K-beauty is also widely searched for in Southeast Asian countries like Singapore, Cambodia, and the Philippines. Yimian, an Ascential Company, has done a deep dive into the data surrounding online K-beauty sales in Southeast Asia. While K-beauty brands only account for 12% of Southeast Asia’s overall beauty market, they have steadily been gaining popularity, with Laneige, Innisfree, Sulwhasoo, and Cosrx among the top-performing brands in APAC.

Ecommerce platforms like Shopee and Lazada have been key to popularising K-beauty brands in the region, with Shopee accounting for as much as 73% of overall beauty sales. Both marketplaces have been steadily ramping up their K-beauty offerings over the years, with Lazada hoping to entice consumers with large seasonal and promotional campaigns. In countries with high ecommerce traffic, including Indonesia, Vietnam, and The Philippines, Shopee accounts for the majority of online beauty transactions. 

Southeast Asia beauty market size by site and by platform

This research was covered in Ascential Digital Commerce’s recent webinar on K-beauty in Southeast Asia, which examines key trends inspiring APAC brands:

1. Bringing superstar appeal to K-beauty 

The Korean wave — propelled by its media, movie stars, and celebrities —  has successfully captivated global audiences. It has been instrumental in driving popularity for K-beauty labels, which are acutely aware of how keen fans are on using products endorsed by their idols. 

“Korean beauty trends are inextricably linked to K-pop stars and artists,” explained Daini Wang, SEA Solution Lead, Ascential Digital Commerce. “People want to feel a special connection to their beloved idols. Celebrity-themed gift boxes and limited-edition packages are some ways brands can bring them closer to their favourite K-pop stars.”

Korean skincare label Cosrx, which recently appointed Korean singer Jeon Somi as its new face, is one of the many brands using celebrities to win over dedicated consumers. Somi appeared in a series of Cosrx TikTok campaigns titled “Snail Dance Challenge”, where she prominently featured the brand’s bestsellers. “Social media and K-pop idols make for a winning combination, especially for brands trying to generate online buzz and website traffic,” Wang continued. “We have seen regional brands replicating a similar strategy in hopes of finding new customers.”

Both Cosrx and SOMETHINC have enjoyed rapid surges in sales since 2020, proving that collaborating with celebrities reaps handsome benefits for brands.

K-Culture is one of the key selling points of Korean brands

Southeast Asian beauty labels are following suit

Sharon Ahn, Beauty Analyst, WGSN, noted how APAC beauty brands are eyeing lucrative K-celebrity partnerships, in a bid to attract international consumers seeking novel beauty products and practices. Indonesian label Beneath! By Bhumi fuses K-beauty ingredients like centella asiatica (cica) and mugwort with local tropical fruits like acerola cherry. 

Meanwhile, Indonesia-based Mad FOR MAKEUP collaborated with popular Korean online mascots LINE FRIENDS BT21 for its Green Planet initiative, upon the request of its customers. Wang spoke about Indonesian skincare brand SOMETHINC, which tapped onto actress Han So Hee and K-group NCT Dream’s star power to promote its bestsellers and encourage sales for celebrity-themed gift boxes. 

K-celebrity partnerships will continue to be a powerful driver of sales, recognition, and customer loyalty for beauty brands looking to ride the Korean wave. 

2. Winning over green consumers with clean beauty

In Southeast Asia, eco-conscious consumers have been quick to stock their shelves with “clean” beauty products. Formulated with natural and organic ingredients, clean beauty speaks to their need for sustainable products that are gentle on the skin and minimise environmental damage. 

Leading Indonesian skincare label AVOSKIN has received rave reviews for its “green” beauty offerings. In 2022, the brand enjoyed sales worth over USD 1.2 million, with customers flocking to purchase its vegan, and cruelty-free products. 

Clean beauty continues to be the trend

 

“People are paying greater attention to product ingredients, and are extra-conscious of the environmental impact of their purchases'' said Wang, during the webinar. “Modern customers are conscientious, and do their own research. They are keenly aware of their skin types, skin issues, and products that would best suit their needs.”

Biotech beauty as the answer to skyrocketing demand for organic skincare

While clean beauty products may use non-toxic, cruelty-free ingredients that do not harm the planet, they are not always ethically sourced. So, customers are demanding that brands do better by being mindful and transparent about all stages of product development: ingredient sourcing, manufacturing, packaging, and delivery. 

Ahn commented on the development of lab-made, plant-based biosynthetic ingredients, spearheaded by select APAC beauty brands. “Companies are researching plant-based biosynthetic ingredients that mimic the effects of natural ones. They have realised that the demand for sustainable products might outrun the supply of natural ingredients, and are already working on lab-grown alternatives.”

Brands like Shiseido, J-beauty brand Thinkin, and Singapore-based N&E Innovations are experimenting with bio-engineered compounds upcycled from organic waste.  

3. Empowering skincare aficionados with bespoke beauty 

K-brands are now offering consumers the flexibility to mix and match products that best suit their individual needs. 

Research by Yimian, an Ascential Company, showed that brands are modifying SKUs to cater to varying skin types and skin issues. For example, Korean brand April Skin allows customers to mix and match serums with specific ingredients and skin benefits. 

Global and local makeup businesses are taking a page out of the book of K-beauty brands. Estée Lauder-owned Clinique’s classic Dramatically Different™ Hydrating Jelly line is now available in gel, jelly, and lotion formats, offering customers the option to create a unique blend that works best for their skin. In Malaysia, skincare brand B&B launched a sheet mask series aimed at combating a myriad of skin conditions. 

Customisation provides the flexibility for consumers to mix and match

 

“While customised beauty is not a new trend, more beauty labels are waking up to its potential. Brands both local and international offer tailored solutions that tackle a wide range of dermatological challenges, “ explained Wang. 

Differentiated strategies for brands of varying sizes

Depending on their size, brands are approaching beauty hyper-personalisation in different ways. Market leaders like Clinique are revamping flagship SKUs to capture a wider market share, while indie labels are spearheading innovative ingredients, package sizes, and formats to build a solid reputation. 

To stay ahead of the curve, some APAC beauty brands are relying on artificial intelligence and high-level analytics to deliver a made-to-order beauty experience. Vegan Indonesian beauty brand BASE’s “30 Days of Summer” programme offers Ramadan observers a slew of skincare hampers, tips, and digital activities. In Singapore, startup Sequential Skin developed an at-home skin test that analyses skin microbiomes, and C-beauty brand Unskin provides product recommendations based on customers’ skin genetics.

K-beauty products will continue to fascinate APAC consumers, with social and digital commerce platforms playing a key role in driving sales and growth in market share for brands. Online availability of K-beauty brands offers shoppers a cross-border experience with the opportunity to explore unique skincare brands not easily available in their region. Customers will always be on the lookout for complex, groundbreaking beauty offerings that stand out for their ingenuity and efficacy. 

Yimian, an Ascential Digital Commerce brand, can help skincare and beauty brands grow their online businesses on Shopee, Lazada, and Tokopedia by examining data on product performance, studying consumer behaviour, and identifying potential merchants and resellers. 

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