What’s Next: Asian beauty and the American market

It all started with the BB cream craze. Seemingly out of nowhere, they were everywhere. The promise of skin-healthy moisturizer, combined with the kind of coverage you would expect from a favorite foundation in a lightweight formula akin to tinted moisturizer was just too good. Suddenly, if your brand didn’t carry a BB cream, you were very much behind the curve. That went for high-end luxury and drug store brands alike. This spawned the CC cream and the EE cream, and a few other alphabetic plays. It all comes from a seemingly unlikely place — the Asian beauty market.

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South Korea and Japan have emerged as a dominant force in the beauty market. Japanese brand SK-II has crossed the globe to American stores like Sephora and Saks Fifth Avenue. Asian product formulations have been innovative enough to capture the attention and dollars of the American beauty consumer. Whether it’s a snail serum or a foot cream that causes rough, dry skin to shed like a molten lobster, Asian beauty is not to be ignored. Western women will go out of their way to research and obtain these often hard-to-get products.

If you want to discuss Asian beauty, it is helpful to understand Asian culture and the Asian woman — and South Korean women, in particular. South Korean women, to a great extent, embrace traditional feminine gender norms in a way that American women do not. This is reflected in every aspect of the culture — respect for elders and traditional family are given the highest value. It translates into the workplace in some ways that American women would find unacceptable. YouTube vlogger Martina has lived in Korea with her husband for over five years, and she recounts how business executives would ignore her in meetings and defer to her husband and business partner. She also talks about the Korean trend of being “Aegyo” — an exaggerated innocent girlishness often seen in Korean dramas.

Florence Bernardin, founder and CEO of Information & Inspiration, travels to conventions like Makeup in New York to educate professionals about the Asian beauty market. She discusses how women are expected to present a perfect image at all times, which includes wearing a full face of makeup for a run to the grocery store. Allowances in the workplace exist to accommodate this expectation, such as scheduled “touch up” breaks and designated “touch up” areas.

Given this cultural dynamic, it’s not hard to understand that marketing to Korean women would be different, particularly when it comes to cosmetic packaging. American brands such as MAC and NARS focus on sleek, minimalist packaging that emphasizes sophistication — perfect for the strong-willed, career-minded American woman. This sharply contrasts with the girly, whimsical packaging of Asian brands like Peripera and Tony Moly. Peripera cosmetics come presented in pastel packaging with big-eyed cartoon dolls and polka dots, while the Pocket Bunny Moist Mist from Tony Moly features a bunny face and bunny ears. American women across social media have been enamored by the aesthetic, finding it refreshing and unique.

While American brands haven’t necessarily picked up on the trend of cute packaging, they are certainly taking notice of the innovations in Asian products — and BB creams are just the tip of the iceberg. The sheet mask is the latest product to inspire American brands. Yes To, Sephora, Garnier and Freeman have all released sheet masks as part of their line.

It’s very possible that soon the Asian brands will be as common as the other beauty lines Americans have come to embrace like Dior, Chanel and Boots No.7. Time will tell.

What’s Next is a new feature of Drug Store News, written by consumer beauty blogger Lonni Delane. The goal is to help give beauty merchants the cutting edge they need to stay ahead of the latest and greatest beauty trends.

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