Three approaches to Korean Beauty for the US market

By Deanna Utroske

- Last updated on GMT

Bradley Horowitz of Amorepacific US (left), Sarah Lee of Glow Recipe, and Priya Venkatesh of Sephora (image courtesy of JF Productions)
Bradley Horowitz of Amorepacific US (left), Sarah Lee of Glow Recipe, and Priya Venkatesh of Sephora (image courtesy of JF Productions)

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Monday in New York City, CEW hosted a panel on the K-Beauty Boom. Industry leaders from Glow Recipe, Sephora, and Amorepacific US shared insights into the latest trends and innovations in the category as well as their company’s distinct strategies for gaining K-beauty market share in the States.

“The growth of the Korean beauty market has been exciting to watch​,” says Carlotta Jacobson, president of Cosmetic Executive Women, a global non-profit serving industry professionals.

“From innovative ingredients to creative delivery systems, our members can learn a lot from these K-Beauty experts about how to satisfy today’s beauty consumers​,” Jacobson adds in a press release about the event where Jenny B. Fine, editor of WWD’s Beauty Inc., moderated the conversation among Sarah Lee, Co-CEO and Co-Founder of Glow Recipe; Priya Venkatesh, vice president of merchandising for skin care and hair at Sephora; and Bradley Horowitz, president and CEO of Amorepacific US.

The go-to-market strategies

Market readiness is the purview of Glow Recipe. It’s a Korean Beauty site that carefully curates product for the US consumer.

But more than that, Glow Recipe is a brand incubator that helps K-Beauty brands bring product to the US, by rethinking formulation if needed and tailoring packaging, branding, and marketing to match this region’s directives and tastes. Korean beauty brands have great innovations to share, Sarah Lee, Co-CEO of Glow Recipe, says, but they don’t tend to be US market ready without a team like hers “leading the incubation and localization process.”

Sephora has redefined specialty beauty retailing and though its experiential shops and careful merchandising, the company is bringing K-Beauty to consumers in much the same way it introduces or bolsters any category.

The company has a category-first approach, explains Priya Venkatesh, vice president of merchandising for skin care and hair at Sephora. Within a given category, Sephora then “parks a lot of brands and products formats,” ​she says.

Amorepacific is dedicated to building a portfolio of global brands, as Bradley Horowitz, that company’s president and CEO told the 400+ people gathered for the CEW event. Korea-based Amorepacific is carefully developing brands and introducing them in select regions with the aim of eventually becoming one of the world’s top-five beauty corporations.

The company is also growing its retail presence to reach this goal. Horowitz says that by year’s end there will be 40 Aritaum shops in North America, and by 2020 that number will reach 100.

The trends

Skin care is what K-Beauty does best. Ingredient trends in the category include green tea, ginseng, and beans, as well as fermented ingredients that often mean smaller molecules and require fewer preservatives in formulation, according to the panelists.

K-Beauty, while being known for a 7 – 9 step skin care ritual, is tending now toward efficiency and efficacy, Lee says. So popular masks are becoming multitasking, delivering benefits like exfoliation / peeling and hydration.

Lee also notes that K-Beauty products formulated with 50% to 60% of a hero ingredient are popular in Korea and that this trend is coming to the States. Products so rich in a single ingredient do well to have the product color and packaging match closely to the ingredient color, Lee explains.

Beyond this, light, curious product textures are very on trend in the K-Beauty category as is anti-pollution skin care.

The innovations

“Seoul is the Silicon Valley of skin care,”​ according to Venkatesh. So it’s little wonder K-Beauty is so innovative and that other skin care brands can (and perhaps should) borrow readily from K-Beauty. Venkatesh believes that playful, oversized visuals, and clear benefits are top reasons that certain K-Beatuy brands sell well. And she says that brands from other countries can incorporate these same strategies and educate US consumers to the advantages of skin care.

Beauty hacks and rituals that can be linked to product and readily lead to conversion is another innovation that K-Beauty is leveraging well. Lee gave the example of the 7 Skin Method, a beauty hack that has consumers using a toner seven consecutive times to achieve glowing skin (and skipping the conventional moisturizing step).  

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