Hwa Jun Lee
Hwa Jun is a Senior Beauty and Personal Care Analyst at Mintel, based in Seoul.

South Korea’s skincare category continues to grow despite current economic uncertainties. The facial skincare market alone is forecast to reach KRW 5.47 trillion (approx. US$ 4.3 billion) this year, which is 1.6% higher from 2021, according to Mintel Market Sizes.

This steady growth trend also highlights the dominance of eco ethics in the K-Beauty industry. Over the last three years, new product launches have seen ethical claims like environmentally-friendly packaging nearly double to 24% compared to 13% in 2020, according to Mintel New Products Database (GNPD)*.

Rising consumer consciousness around ethical and sustainable issues is driving a socially responsible response from brands. To put this into perspective, 32% of Australian consumers say that they are willing to spend more on a beauty or grooming product that is environmentally friendly.**

Recycling becomes the new norm

South Korean brands like Tirtir have focused on recycling. Launched in 2021, the Tir:cycle campaign encourages customers to bring empty Tirtir product bottles (made of glass or plastic) to its physical stores with incentives such as discounts and coupons to encourage participation. Beauty brand Melixir also launched a similar campaign with global recycling company TerraCycle.

Brands are taking this a step further through packaging innovation. For example, Benton Goodbye Redness Centella Powderwash retails in a 30g pack, using 100% sugar cane-derived, tree-free, biodegradable, and soy ink-printed paper, bearing the Earth Pact and FBC (free from bleaching chemicals) logos.

Benton Goodbye Redness Centella Powder Wash; Source: Mintel GNPD

Offer ethical ingredients and sourcing

To strengthen sustainability claims, brands need to be transparent with their communication. As interest in the safety and environmental impact of ingredients used in beauty products increases, consumers will demand detailed information on the origin of ingredients. Over one-third (36%) of Chinese consumers are willing to spend more on a beauty or grooming product that provides information on ingredient sourcing.***

Ma:nyo Zaódam Acorn Mask Pack; Source: Mintel GNPD

Ma:nyo Zaódam Acorn Mask Pack is one example. It is formulated with fresh acorns from Hongcheon, South Korea, that are fermented twice for 72 hours to maximize the active ingredients. It also contains green tea from Boseong, Centella Asiatica from Jeju island, and bamboo shoots from Damyang which have a soothing effect on the skin.

Highlighting locally sourced ingredients in a sustainable way will stand out and forge a deeper connection to local communities while feeding consumer appetite for eco-friendly beauty products.

Expand offerings with vegan formulations

Vegan skincare is also gaining popularity in South Korea. Our research indicates that a vegan formula is strongly associated with sustainability and brands can combine this with other eco-friendly aspects of ethical beauty. 

Dr. Ceuracle’s vegan kombucha tea gel cream; Source: Mintel GNPD

Dr. Ceuracle’s vegan kombucha tea gel cream has been vegan-certified by the Korea Agency of Vegan Certification and has undergone eco-ethical manufacturing processes. It retails in FSC Mix-certified packaging made with upcycled and recyclable material. It is also free from elementary chlorine and plastic.

What’s next

As consumers demand more from brands and become increasingly sophisticated in their understanding of environmental issues, brands will be under pressure to ensure they are incorporating sustainability into their core business practices. According to Mintel Trend Rethink Plastic, brands and consumers are reviewing their behaviors to prevent plastic pollution. We expect South Korean beauty brands to continue to move in this direction, focusing on packaging and product formulation.

References:

* Between January 2019-December 2021

**, *** 1,000 Australian internet users aged 18+; 1,000 Chinese internet users aged 18+; Mintel Global Consumer, August 2021