by Kristen O’Brien, ETA ’14-’16
An Introduction to Korean Cosmetic and Skin care Brands
If you’re shopping for skincare products or make up products in Korea, most Korean brands fall under one parent company. The biggest names right now are Amore Pacific and LG.
Korean products are usually divided into different price ranges (low end to high end), with the lower end-mid range products being called “road shop” brands, or shops that you can find as individual stores on the streets, and the others being sold exclusively on official websites or in department stores.
Price points also coincide with target age ranges, with low end brands targeting 13-18 year olds, mid-range brands targeting 19-25 year olds, and high end brands targeting consumers about 26 and older.
Therefore, brands tend to sell products or collections according to their target consumers:
Low end brands tend to contain a lot of acne collections (called “trouble skin” in Korea), and have a lot of natural light-weight makeup, such as lip balms, tints, and colorful makeup for young consumers. They are also more likely to contain cute or young packaging (ie. Etude House and The Face Shop).
Mid-range brands contain more professional-type cosmetics, and have a more classic/mature feel and look to their packaging (ie. Iope, Laneige, Espoir). They also have skin care products and collections that focus on people in their young adult life, and are less likely to have “trouble skin” lines.
High end brands tend to focus on consumers with aging skin, because anti-aging products should start being using in our mid to late 20s. Cosmetics also reflect more mature adults, containing more muted colors with sleek, simple packaging. Usually oriental medicine brands (like Whoo or Sulwhasoo) contain ornate packaging.
There’s a ton of brands that fall under these companies, but in this article I’ll be including the most popular and well-known brands, and will be categorizing them based on their: parent company and price point.
Established in 1945, Amore Pacific is the leading cosmetic company in South Korea with ₩1.5 trillion in sales by 2008. Their low-mid end brands can be found in ‘Aritaum’, a South Korean department-type store.
- Amore Pacific
Amore Pacific’s high end brand, which uses natural botanicals to create anti-aging products.
The original Oriental medicine skincare brand, high end prices. ‘Sulwhasoo’ means ‘snow flower’ in Korean. The best-selling Korean cosmetic brand in history, supposedly a Sulwhasoo product sells every 20 seconds.
Mid to high end cosmetic brand, named after the Greek goddess Hera. Hera was Amore Pacific’s first ever cosmetic brand. Currently, Jeon Ji Hyun is the brand model.
Launced in 1996, Iope is supposedly the first cosmeceutical brand, fusing science and cosmetic knowledge. The brand is famous for its brand model, Jeon Ji Hyun. Most of the makeup she used was featured in the drama My Love from Another Star.
Mid end cosmetic brand, ‘Laneige’ means ‘snow of nature’ in French. One of its recent brand models is, Song Hye Kyo, and a lot of its products were made popular because of her drama Descendants of the Sun.
Hanyul is an oriental medicine skincare brand. It’s touted as the Sulwhasoo for younger skin. There are 4 distinct lines in Hannule which are encoded by their distinctive color, namely the Red, Purple, Blue, White and Green.
Mainly known for its cosmetics, Espoir is probably the closest road shop brand I’ve found to professional cosmetics. It feels and looks a lot like the brand Mac, with sleek black, minimalistic packaging.
A naturalistic brand that specializes in ingredients from Jeju Island; an island off the coast of South Korea.
- Etude House
The number one bestselling brand in Korea currently, with stores available all over the world. It’s a cosmetic brand with a cutesy, princess aesthetic. The staff even calls you ‘prince’ and ‘princess’ in their brick-and-mortar stores.
‘Mamonde’ means ‘my world’ in French. The brand tends to use floral ingredients, such as camellia, lotus, and jasmine. The model for this brand is Park Shin Hye, and the brand has increasingly become more popular since its feature in her drama Pinocchio.
LG Household & Health Care
is a Korean company specializing in electronics, as many of you know but it also has a large cosmetics brand market in South Korea. LG Household & Health Care is the second largest cosmetics company in South Korea, and it has continued to narrow the gap with its competitor, Amore Pacific.
Oriental medicine cosmetic brand with ornate packaging meant to embody regal beauty. ‘Whoo’ comes from the Chinese character meaning ‘empress.’ The brand currently has 5 distinct lines or collections. Whoo is recorded as having the highest sales among all other brands in duty-free Korea.
Su:m skincare products are naturally fermented, free of fragrances, artificial colors, and synthetic preservatives. ‘Su:m’ is the Korean word for ‘respiration’, and 37 is the optimal temperature for fermentation
A true herbal cosmetic brand, the brand uses the traditional herbal processing method passed down from a British herbalist since 1860. It uses natural ingredients, no synthetic preservatives, dyes, fragrances, mineral oil, or animal ingredients.
The famous model for the brand is none other than, Kim Soo Hyun. It’s a natural brand that is eco-friendly and against animal testing. Their products do not contain parabens, and use minimum chemical colorants and minimum chemical fragrances.
VDL is famous for its professional cosmetics image. Similar to Espoir, this brand is more expensive than the typical road shop brand. It has sleek minimalistic packaging that uses the colors purple and black.
- The Face Shop
A natural cosmetic brand that features ingredients like flowers, fruit, vegetables, grains, and more. This is probably Korea’s other most well-known brand, other than Etude House and Innisfree. The Face Shop Opened its first store in 2003 and had more than 500 stores worldwide by 2005.
For More Brand Information: