While doing a bit of research for another Seoul post I was writing, I stumbled upon a lot of information on the history of Korean beauty and I just couldn’t condense everything to fit without leaving out all the good stuff, so, well, here we are.
South Korean women, on average, spend twice as much on beauty products and cosmetics than American women and South Korean men spend more on beauty products than men in any other country. I read an article by the Korean Times that went a little into the history of beauty in Korea, and its long standing importance in Korean culture. The article stated that, in the past, Koreans believed makeup and self care not only benefited your external appearance, but also your internal self. Kind of like a “Look Good Feel Good” mentality. In terms of ingredients and order, the makeup game hasn’t changed too much.
The history of Korean makeup began in the Three Kingdoms era (57 B.C.-668, which by the way is one of my FAVORITE time periods) and peaked during the Goryeo Kingdom (918-1392). Back in the day, the industry was focused mostly on looking healthy, so facial scrubs, lotions, and eyebrow ink (ancient Korean Anastasia Beverly Hills, where u at). Interestingly enough, while most mainstream culture spreads from the upper socioeconomic class to the lower classes, in ancient Korea, the elite copied fashion and beauty trends from the gisaeng, who were the working class female entertainers (aint no trickle down cosmetics over here).
History then took a shift for Korean beauty trends in the end 19th century with the introduction of Western culture, which spurred mass production and consumption of K-Beauty within the country. Until, yanno, colonialism. After Korean liberation from Japanese colonial rule, Korean beauty and cosmetics experienced another revival. But then there was the Korean War and that once again shut things down for a while.
It wasn’t until 1961, when South Korea implemented a law banning the sales of foreign products, that K-Beauty really started to pick up speed again. South Korean beauty companies have the ability go from product development to production in just under two months, which is an incredible feat in the manufacturing business. France may have held the global crown of Beauty Leader of the World for a long time, but in just the last few years a shift has moved to South Korea, especially with the popularity of K-Pop and K-dramas expanding to other countries. Currently, South Korea’s biggest export markets for K-Beauty are China, Hong Kong, and the United States.
Who needs natural land resources like oil and minerals when you have BB cream?
Anyways, that’s just a brief history and the Korean Times does a way better job at explaining it than me so please check them out for more information.