Korean cosmetics aren't all about cutesy packaging and dessert-inspired products. The latest beauty brands target women who are way past their tweens with credible formulations and no-nonsense branding.
It might not have a catchy name or starlet of the moment emblazoned on its boxes. But CNP Cosmetics, the latest beauty acquisition by mega-chaebol (or South Korean conglomerate) LG, is the brainchild of a whopping 50 dermatologists. Joining the deluge of Korean beauty labels that have flooded our shores in the past decade, the leading cosmeceutical company in Korea is bucking the trend of heavily marketed, disposable prettifiers aimed at K-pop fans. Instead, it prescribes doctor-researched treatments for beauty junkies of every demographic.
Let's face it, Korean beauty has gone fully mainstream: Nestled among the glossy celebrity spreads and high fashion editorials in W magazine's May 2014 issue was an in-depth feature on Korean beauty regimens and products; while Vogue.com also devoted a column to shopping for K-beauty essentials last December. And not only do brands such as CNP Cosmetics and other more recent arrivals such as PureHeal's boast the usual Korean beauty calling cards like affordability and efficacy, they also tout exotic ingredients and plenty of science to rival long-established, more premium competitors from the US, Europe or even Japan. After all, they cater to some of the world's most sophisticated consumers of beauty products: Who hasn't heard of a Korean woman's 10-step skincare regimen or coveted the pore-less, flawless skin of the country's TV idols - both male and female?
When asked how often a Korean woman visits an aesthetics clinic, Lee Dong Won, founder of CNP Cosmetics, says nonchalantly, "once a week". Located next to an artist management company, the dermatologist's well-established clinic receives a regular stream of traffic including celebs who need subtle touch-ups, which led him to develop home care products for his patients in 2000. "Women in Korea are very proud of going to a clinic and coming out with clearer skin," adds Dr Lee, whose most popular procedures are chemical peels and iontophoresis treatments. "People who use some of my products eventually don't have to go to the clinic any more."
The brand's bestseller is a pore pack that's gone all fancy: Called a Black head Clear Kit (right), the two-step treatment softens sebum with a mask. The residue is then removed by rolling a black cotton bud over the skin, followed by a pore-tightening mask to reduce the appearance of pores. Aestheticians in Dr Lee's clinic would use the first step of the same product to open up pores prior to treatments.
The pharmaceutical-grade products were chanced upon by Singaporean entrepreneur Patrick Jonathan Wong, who was part of the founding team that started Star TV, the global television network from Hong Kong. The skincare addict who has been trying out beauty products to battle acne since his teens saw potential for bringing in a new skincare brand to Singapore. Currently the chairman and CEO of the Hong Kong public-listed company, Focus Media Network, he was introduced to the brand by a friend who has distribution rights in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
"A lot of Korean brands come in because everyone wants to look like a Korean actor or actress," says the youthful-looking 50-year- old, who asserts that he has never gone under the knife. "But we are not afraid of competition. People tend to use a brand that they trust, and knowing that CNP has the backing of LG, I am confident that it will make a big impact."
Packed in minimalist tubs and tubes, with no-nonsense branding, the dermatologist-developed brand is reminiscent of established professional skincare labels like US company Dermalogica, rather than the pastel-hued, girlie packaging of other Korean beauty marques. For a start, 20 products are now available at Guardian Health & Beauty stores. However, Mr Wong, who is also CEO of CNP Cosmetics Singapore, plans to open standalone stores for better exposure followed by a chain of aesthetics clinics under the same brand name.
"The global cosmeceutical market is growing two times faster than the conventional skin care industry and that means tremendous growth opportunities for our brand," says Mr Wong.
Step it up
Supposedly more concentrated than regular serums, facial ampoules also come in lighter textures for restorative ingredients to better penetrate deep into your skin.
TRY: CNP Cosmetics Propolis Energy Ampoule, S$40.90.
First released in Korea in April 2013, Sulwhasoo was the first to introduce the concept of a "finisher" into a skincare routine. The final step in a regimen, the product helps to lock in active ingredients of other skincare and form a natural protective barrier. TRY: Sulwhasoo Luminature Essential Finisher, S$112.
Perhaps the most important step in a Korean skincare regimen, pat on this nourishing liquid after cleansing and before applying an ampoule or serum. The liquid-y texture means ingredients soak into skin and preps it for the next step.
TRY: Heynature 88 Treatment Essence, S$61.90.
Slap these convenient masks on your entire face, or use targeted products shaped to fit specific areas over your undereye region or even lips twice a week for maximum results. These mini-facials are also great for travel.
TRY: CNP Cosmetics Hydrogel Eye Lifting Patch, S$14.80.
This article was first published on Feb 7, 2015.
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