Buying Guide

The Long History of Korean Cosmetics

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The history of Korean cosmetics is a fascinating tale of beauty, innovation, and tradition. Moreover, the development of Korean beauty products has been influenced by cultural, social, and technological changes throughout history. Furthermore, this article delves into the captivating story of how South Korea’s cosmetics industry has evolved, from its ancient roots to its modern-day global success.

korean cosmetic history KoreanBeautyShop1. Early Beginnings

The story of Korean cosmetics begins in the Three Kingdoms Period, when the foundations of the Korean beauty industry were laid. The people of the “Goguryeo”, “Baekje”, and Silla kingdoms valued beauty and both men and women used cosmetics to enhance their appearance and beauty.

In the “Goguryeo” Kingdom, makeup was used for both aesthetic and symbolic purposes. Men and women applied a white facial powder called “baekbun” which was made from ground rice and/or white clay. “Baekbun” represented purity and refinement, and wearing it was a sign of nobility.

The “Baekje” Kingdom was known for its people’s interest in beauty and fashion. They used natural ingredients to create cosmetics, such as ground mung beans for facial scrubs and safflower oil for skin moisturizers. Makeup was worn by both men and women, and a healthy complexion was considered a sign of good fortune!

In the Silla Kingdom, cosmetics were used to enhance beauty and express social status. The “Hwarot”, a traditional wedding garment, was adorned with intricate makeup designs, including dots of red rouge on the cheeks and a yellow pigment called “hwangchil” on the forehead.

The cosmetics culture of the Unified Silla Period and Goryeo Dynasty was heavily influenced by Chinese and Japanese beauty standards. During this time, cosmetics were used as a symbol of abundant wealth and higher social status.

2. The Importance of Cosmetics in Court Life

In the royal court, cosmetics played an essential role in daily life and routines. Makeup was used to indicate rank and hierarchy and women wore ornate hairstyles adorned with precious jewels and gold. Moreover, the use of cosmetics was an integral part of rituals and ceremonies, such as weddings and coronations.

The Goryeo Dynasty saw significant advancements in the production of cosmetics, with the introduction of new materials and techniques. The manufacturing of “baekbun” was refined, and a variety of new cosmetic products were created, such as “miinbun” (a facial powder made from ground rice and minerals) and “gyobun” (a facial powder made from ground seashells).

The Joseon Dynasty marked a major shift in beauty ideals and standards, as Confucian values began to influence Korean culture. Modesty and simplicity became the new standards of beauty and makeup was worn very sparingly.

3. Minimalist Makeup Trends

During the Joseon Dynasty, women’s makeup focused on enhancing their natural beauty rather than creating a dramatic look. The makeup routine typically involved applying a light layer of “baekbun” followed by a touch of red lipstick on the lips.

The “Donguibogam” was a comprehensive medical encyclopedia compiled during the Joseon Dynasty which documented a variety of herbal remedies and cosmetic recipes. This marked a significant shift towards using natural ingredients for skincare and makeup, with a focus on promoting health, beauty and overall well-being.

During the Korean Empire and Japanese Colonial Period, South Korea was exposed to Western beauty ideals, standards and cosmetic products. For instance, this led to the adoptio of new makeup trends and the development of a modern cosmetics industry.

4. Introduction of Western Makeup Techniques

Korean women began to adopt Western makeup techniques, such as applying foundation and using eyebrow pencils. Imported cosmetics from Europe/the United States, and Japan became very popular, and the use of traditional Korean makeup gradually declined.

The modern Korean cosmetics industry was born during this period with local entrepreneurs establishing their own cosmetics companies. These South-Korean companies began producing cosmetics tailored to Korean women’s skin types, complexion and preferences; laying the foundation for the future success of the Korean beauty industry.

Following the horrific Korean War, the cosmetics industry in South-Korea experienced significant hyperbolic growth, driven by increasing consumer demand and technological/scientific advancements.

5. The Rise of Domestic K-Cosmetic Brands

As the Korean economy grew, so too did the overall cosmetics industry. Domestic cosmetic brands emerged focusing on producing high-quality products at affordable prices. These brands laid the groundwork for South-Korea’s global beauty dominance in the years to come.

South-Korean cosmetics companies began to invest in research and development leading to the introduction of new cosmetic products and technologies. Furthermore, this period saw the development of innovative skincare products, such as BB creams and Korean sheet masks (which would later become Korean beauty staples).

In recent decades, South-Korean cosmetics have gained international recognition for their very innovative products, high quality and relatively affordable prices.

6. The Korean Wave and the Rise of K-Beauty

The global popularity of K-pop culture (known as the “Korean Wave”), has played a significant role in the success of the South-Korean cosmetics industry. K-pop stars and K-drama actors have served as ambassadors for K-beauty, promoting its products and trends worldwide.

K-beauty is known for its innovative and effective skincare products, such as snail mucin-infused creams and multi-step skincare routines (known as “layering”). Additionally, Korean makeup trends like the “glass skin” look and gradient lip, have become extremely popular worldwide.

Social media and e-commerce platforms have played a crucial role in the global success of South-Korean cosmetics. Beauty influencers (on Instagram) and online retailers have helped introduce Korean beauty products to a global audience, contributin to their widespread popularity and success!

In Summary

The history of South-Korean cosmetics is a story of innovation, cultural exchange, and adaptability. Furthermore, from its ancient beginnings in the Three Kingdoms Period to its current status as a global beauty powerhouse, the South-Korean cosmetics industry has evolved through the centuries always staying true to its roots in tradition and natural ingredients. Today, Korean cosmetics continue to captivate the world with their very high-quality natural products and innovative techniques, solidifying South-Korea’s position as the main leader in the global beauty industry.

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You can read our next beauty article on Korean Serums: The Secret to Glowing Skin 🙂

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