The K-Beauty wave is swiping the global market of beauty and skincare products. Just like K-Drama and K-Pop’s popularity, Korean cosmetics are attracting attention to South Korea’s cultural economy. Korean beauty products and brands are in demand for their usage of natural ingredients and affordability. K-beauty products exports have increased in the last few years, and in 2021 was over $ 6 billion. According to a Market Data Forecast report, the K-beauty market worldwide will grow to over $20 billion by 2026.
Korean beauty startups especially have been very successful as the companies have gone beyond the surface and infused technology, R&D, and innovation in their products. From skin care serums, essences, masks to makeup products, affordability is a key factor, and high importance is placed on quality and effectiveness. K-Beauty startups are leading domestically selling skincare products, beauty brands, providing innovative AI-based platforms on cosmetics, and growing globally.
MBX, earlier known as Memebox, is a household name in Korea. Launched in 2012 as a subscription box service for Korean beauty products, MBX has transformed itself into a mobile e-commerce platform selling over 200,000 cosmetics and beauty products and over 5 million active users. The company focuses on the US market and has offices in San Francisco, Seoul, Shanghai and Taipei.
MBX has raised over $ 190 million from prominent domestic and international investors. It has also got into a strategic partnership with brands like Sephora and Ulta to promote K-Beauty Brands. The company’s products are made in Korea, with the latest K-beauty innovations in the formula and packaging. MBX platform brands include Kaja, I Dew Care, Pony Effect, I’m Meme, and Nooni. The brand has also involved popular beauty influencers such as Hye-Min Park (Pony), Korea’s top beauty vlogger. The founding team is the alumni of Y-Combinator, the leading startup accelerator known for its massive database on skin types and beauty trends.
MediHeal, by L&P Cosmetics, has found instant popularity due to its partnership with the globally famous K-pop group BTS. With the singers becoming the faces behind the Mediheal line of moisturizing masks from L&P Cosmetics, the company’s sales have skyrocketed. Before BTS, the company had Korean movie star Hyun Bin as their spokesperson. MediHeal is one of the leading sheet mask brands and has sold over 1.6 billion sheet masks since its launch in 2009. It is known for its signature NMF masks and two-step mask system. L&P Cosmetics launched its US market online store in 2019 and got in a deal with select Walgreens outlets for offline selling.
Glow Recipe specializes in sleeping masks, which are so high-in-demand that they have a waitlist of over 5000 customers! Their most famous product is the watermelon mask, consisting of AHAs, watermelon extract, antioxidants, hyaluronic acid, and peony root that hydrates the skin at night. The company pays attention to its ingredients, and most of its products have a fruit concept, from watermelon to even pineapple. In 2022, the K-beauty-inspired brand launched its first sunscreen, the Watermelon Glow Niacinimide Sunscreen SPF 50. The sunscreen was a rage on TikTok, and it was sold out on Sephora within a few days of launch.
Reziena’s USP is its intense, focused ultrasound (IFU) technology. It develops personal homecare beauty IoT devices, and most of its products are customizable and handheld, making them convenient for consumers.
Rezeina provides home skin treatment solutions that save a visit to a dermatologist. The company focuses on increasing business in the American market and developing a Big Data platform based on the user’s data to provide a personalized beauty care service at home. Founded in 2017, the beauty tech startup has been selected for various global programs like Incheon Creative Center Global Membership, igniteXI Beauty Acceleration Silicon Valley, Beiersdorf Nivea Accelerator, etc. The company also showcased its Young &be skincare solution at the Consumer Electronics Show 2019.
Dear Dahlia is a luxury vegan K-beauty brand by Baram International Co., Ltd., a cosmetics distribution and marketing company. Established in 2017, Dear Dahila’s cosmetics are available in over 25 countries, with major high-end retailers in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Dear Dahila’s skin-friendly makeup products are infused with patented Dahlia Variabilis flower extract rich in powerful antioxidants. From Lip Mousse to Eye Sequins, Dear Dahila’s vegan cosmetics are growing in popularity and endorsed by celebrities, influencers and beauty professionals worldwide. The cosmetics brand registered a revenue of $27 million in 2021.
Lululab is an AI-based beauty care service startup established in 2017 through Samsung’s C-Lab accelerator program spin-off. Lululab has created LUMINI, an AI-based skin analysis solution. LUMINI provides a convenient and hygienic solution to diagnose skin conditions and customizes skincare services using AI and Big Data technologies. A user can upload a photo of its face, and LUMINI secures the skin data within ten seconds and analyzes it in terms of seven items, which are pores, wrinkles, sebum, melasma, redness, acne, and oil and moisture balance, at the accuracy of at least 90% through a deep-learning algorithm. It then recommends products that are best suited for those individuals using product information and user reviews.
Lululab has won the Innovation Award at the CES for three consecutive years since 2019. It has also developed a self-measuring instrument ‘LUMINI Kiosk’ which measures and analyzes the users’ skin conditions and provides product recommendations. Lululab introduced LUMINI HOME, a tabletop smart mirror version of the product for general consumers.
LYCL Inc.is a skincare and tech startup established in 2013. The company has three business models: unpa.me, a review and content platform for K-Beauty products, palett.me, an influencer network platform, and unpa.Cosmetics, a skincare brand. LYCL Inc. has a strong footprint in South Korea, with more than 1.2 million consumers. German personal care product company Beiersdorf has invested in LYCL as part of its Nivea Accelerator program. It has also partnered with Olive Young for its most popular product Bubi Bubi Lip. The company’s focus is to expand to more countries, including Singapore and the United States.
B2Link is a leading consumer brand aggregator and Korean Beauty (K-Beauty) brands B2B distribution company. It is a significant global player focused on the K-Beauty market. Seoul-based B2LiNK partners with more than 150 Korean cosmetics brands and 80+ online and offline distribution channels worldwide. B2Link has grown its portfolio into seven brands and surpassed $30 million in 2021. Its brand business has recorded more than 300 percent growth for the past two years, with 90 percent of its revenue outside South Korea.
The company is focussing on digital expansion with its online distribution platform Umma, which launched in 2020 and acquired Picky Inc., a popular digital skincare community app embraced by K-beauty fans, in 2022. The startup was established in 2014 by CEO Lee So-Hyung, who previously worked at McKinsey & Company, and Vice-Representative Park Hyunseok, who previously worked as a publisher of a tattoo magazine and a marketer for plastic surgery clinics. The two have been nicknamed “the men selling K-Beauty” for their successful brand.
Zamface is a K-beauty video platform developed by Zackdang. Launched in 2019, it helps users choose a streamer who offers the best beauty tips based on the user’s skin type, contours, and tone. The app uses Artificial Intelligence and facial recognition to match the user and then cuts the streamer’s video into sections for easy step-by-step viewing. It recommends streamers via their face-matching function. It also shares a list of the exact products the streamer is using. Zamface users can share makeup tips and access cosmetics-related videos. The total number of members for Zamface has surpassed 1.8 million in 2021. The startup raised 4.5 billion won ($3.76 million) from Hi Investment Partners and Daesung Private Equity in January 2022. The company’s accumulated investment amounts to more than 11 billion won.
Hwahae is a hugely popular cosmetics review app for K-Beauty products developed by Birdview. Hwa-hae (meaning reconciliation in Korean) app provides rankings to products by skin type, age, ingredients, usage, etc. and allows users to search for products that match their skin, based on ingredients and reviews.Hwahae features over 6 million user reviews, 187,809 products, and 11,914 brands and has more than 9 million followers. Its feature ‘Makeup Look’ is similar to social media use where users can post photos with makeup applied and allows others to view the products used.
HwaHae uses information from the Association of Korean Dermatologists (AKD) to categorize beauty products by ingredients and their suitability for different skin types and displays the hazard level for each ingredient, using the rating system created by the EWG (Environmental Working Group, a US activist group). Hwahae has already solidified its position as number one cosmetic information platform in Korea with over 80% of women in their 20s and 30s age group using it. The company wants to move forward with global expansion plans and a public issue in 2022.
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