The hottest ingredient launches at in-cosmetics Korea

By Belinda Carli, director of The Institute of Personal Care Science

- Last updated on GMT

Nexgen was offering spider and scorpion toxin ingredients at the show
Nexgen was offering spider and scorpion toxin ingredients at the show

Related tags: Personal care, Cosmetics

Following up from the inspirational in-cosmetics Korea 2017, what were some of the key trends we’ve seen emerging in this region, and actives being launched set to dominate in the coming year? And which of these trends are we likely to see migrate to the West in the coming year?

There was plenty to choose from at the event, and some of the new launches were a little out of the ordinary. Although most of these ingredients may never reach Western markets, it is still very interesting to note the types of ingredients that are being targeted at Asian consumers.

The Weird

First, let’s start with the ingredients sure to give the biggest reaction… but before I do, please let me remind you that we are talking about an Eastern culture here, so some of these items have been traditionally used as medicines or foods for centuries even if they may sound really new to those of us from the West!

  • Bird’s nest extract:​ based on an extract from the nest of a Swift, which creates its nest using its saliva. This extract is apparently rich in nutrients and immunomodulatory agents from this saliva. Before you start gagging, let’s look at the evidence; it’s even been clinically proven in respected medical journals to inhibit the influenza virus and regenerate cartilage! Obviously it is highly refined and in a much more diluted form in cosmetics.
  • Horse oil:​ its popularity is based on its emolliency, because it is apparently very similar to human oil in its composition, particularly linolenic acid content. 
  • Belinda Carli
    Belinda Carli
    Snail filtrate ferment:
    ​ the use of snail filtrate has had a resurgence in Korea and these types of products are a big feature in most skin care outlets. The snail filtrate is reputed to boost hydration. There is even Gold Snail skin care – where the snails were fed with gold green tea.
  • Shark’s fin:​ traditionally used in soups, shark fin has found its way into cosmetics. In personal care, it is claimed to boost elasticity and collagen, especially around the delicate eye area.
  • Spider venom: ​synthetically produced as an analogue to spider venom, it is a new age botox alternative. We also saw similar synthetic analogues for jellyfish venom.  
  • Gold and precious gems:​ okay so it’s beautiful to wear, but I’m just not sure why it’s added to skin care… and I couldn’t see claims as to why either; besides the imagery to justify the expense that using gold and precious gems seems to inspire.

I’m not expecting much of this to reach the West, if for no other reason than the stand-off we’ve had against animal derived or based ingredients for many years now. I also don’t think the average Western consumer is going to be prone to apply bird’s saliva or snail slime to their skin – even if that is not the true form these highly refined extracts take, that’s not what they’ll think!

The Wonderful

Now let’s look at what was great!

  • Companies are actually starting to claim the input of some ingredients in their finished products. What does this look like? For example, ‘with 30% coconut water’, or key ingredients written in % inputs or parts per million (ppm) – so consumers can compare products that claim to have an ingredient present versus those with an actual input specified.
  • Finished products in the stores and ingredients at the in-cosmetics exhibition showed an overall ‘greening’ of the personal care industry, with multiple ‘natural’ and ‘naturally derived’ materials now being utilised in personal care products – from emulsifiers to surfactants, oils to preservatives and more active ingredients than ever before, the growing green trend was extremely evident in Korea this year.
  • Ginseng and traditional Eastern medicine extracts and foods featured heavily in both finished products in the stores and raw materials at the in-cosmetics exhibition. This no doubt boosts local and traditional economies and cultural exchange, which is great for any industry!

I’m personally hoping we’ll see more of the ‘truth in labelling’ concept come to the West along with some of these exciting and clinically proven local extracts.

The Future

So, what does the future hold, and what is emerging both in finished products and raw materials?

  • Customisation:​ consumers can purchase ‘base’ lotions or masks and then add serum to them – enabling them to mix and match product to suit their skin’s needs on any given day or season. We’ll definitely see more of this, not only in Asia, but migrate rapidly to the west. We’ll also see greater choices of customised colour emerge in all regions; as one thing that seems common to consumers around the world: they are getting more particular with what they want; and an increasingly e-based society is enabling this. Companies that harness the concept of customisation will definitely lead the way.
  • Multi-phase and dual pouch products: ​there were a few ‘dual pouch’ products in the stores and even more ‘dual product’ concepts at the exhibition. Examples include 2-phase emulsion products – where a floating emulsion layer sits atop a gel or watery base but comes together when shaken; or products where the packaging is dual pouch or dual sachet – both to be opened and mixed when ready for use. This opens-up formulation flexibility as chemists no longer need to only use in 1 product what will sit compatibility together; but instead, can use otherwise incompatible ingredients but package them creatively for full bioavailability on application!
  • 5 free claims: ​we’re now seeing claims of what products ‘don’t contain’; a real backward step for industry to suggest that many ingredients are harmful when they in fact are not (such as parabens) or naming ingredients with regulatory restrictions as ‘bad’ when most products are free of them anyway (such as triclosan). Unfortunately, there is nothing that changes a consumers’ purchasing behaviour more than fear. In a competitive market such as the personal care industry, we see fear used to drive consumer choices when really, it should be the benefits of a product that lead to selection because regulations help keep consumers safe.
  • Seeing is believing: ​from barely visible sparkle to 10mm dissolving encapsulates and even Ginseng root itself, finished personal care products in Korean stores had visual impact. The concept is simple: if a consumer can see ‘threads’ of gold, they’ll believe it’s in there; if they can see a large sphere dissolve on application, they’ll believe the product provides better delivery. In every store we visited, there were at least a few – to many – products with visual spheres, threads, even plants, in the product itself. Since Korean personal care has already mastered the art of beautiful fragrance and skin feel, it seems obvious the next sensory application was to be visual – and there were multiple examples of this in every store we visited and many of the exhibitions at in-cosmetics.

Since the West has already exhausted ‘free from’ claims, we’re likely to see industry move to the ‘truth in labelling’ with what’s GOOD about the product itemised, as well as the customisation, multi-phase and visual effects trends. If you’re a personal care brand take note – it’s where the industry is heading!

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