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Beauty Innovation in Asia

By: Sarah Chung
Posted: January 27, 2014, from the January 2014 issue of GCI Magazine.

Much has been said about Asia being at the forefront of beauty in terms of both consumer discernment and product innovation. The Asian beauty regimen has long been recognized and praised, and for years, Western companies have been looking East for product innovation idea.

However, it seems that now more than ever, the influence of Asian beauty innovation can be seen in the U.S. market, and the implications are being felt directly by North American and European brands looking to expand internationally.

Making the Jump

Asian women are avid beauty enthusiasts. Proper skin care routines and maintenance are of utmost importance to them, and practices such as double cleansing and a regular regimen of facials, weekly treatments and hydrating masks, and topical vitamin treatments are all commonplace in the overall beauty regimen for Asian women of all ages and income levels. Compared to the average American woman, who uses about 12 personal care and beauty products, Asian women use an average of 18 products.

And now, there are many common Asian beauty products filtering into the U.S. market. In fact, several of the emerging products in the U.S. have their origins in Asia—including BB creams, brightening products, skin care oils and facial masks, resulting in retail sales in excess of $400 million in 2012.

While BB creams make up 13% of the beauty market in South Korea ($8.7 billion in 2012), they were largely unknown in the U.S. until 2011, when sales reached $2 million in prestige channels. By 2012, BB creams grossed nearly $37 million in prestige channels alone. Since 2011, major Western beauty companies have begun launching a host of BB cream products—with Clinique, Dior, Estée Lauder, Garnier, Maybelline, Revlon and Smashbox making notable launches.

More importantly, American consumers have embraced BB creams as an ongoing part of their beauty regimen, and are finding satisfaction in doing so. The majority of BB cream consumers have reported being extremely or very satisfied with their last BB cream purchase, and 77% express positive repurchase intent. And almost seven in 10 BB cream consumers have replaced either a makeup or skin care product with a BB cream.

Brightening products—which are typically known as whitening products in Asia—asre another category that has seen tremendous growth in the U.S. in the past several years. In the West, moisture levels in the skin have been targeted as the primary anti-aging measure. However, dullness and discolorations are also key signs of aging, which brightening products are designed to address. In addition to brightening skin tone, these products promise to fade away discolorations, diffuse freckles and create youthful, radiant skin.

Brightening/whitening products have always been wildly popular in Asia as anti-aging care; however, it wasn’t until the February 2010 launch of Clinique’s Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector that a craze was sparked in the U.S. The category’s sales have catapulted from $190 million in 2009 to an expected $350 million last year, according to The NPD Group. This number is expected to grow exponentially for 2013 thanks to a slew of launches in both the mass and prestige markets. And in 2012, The NPD Group also noted that products with both anti-aging and brightening benefits almost doubled in share in the past four years.

Another staple of the Asian skin care regime, skin care oils for cleansing and moisturizing only recently became popular among U.S. consumers. U.S. prestige department store sales of face, body and hair oils rose nearly 41% to almost $31 million for the 12 months ended in June 2013, according to The NPD Group, and in prestige skin care alone, sales of facial skin care oils grew 30% in 2012, becoming a $14.9 million business—more than doubling since 2008. Dior recently debuted its first cleansing oil, while Shu Uemura celebrated the 30th anniversary of its cleansing oil, one of the first in the beauty market.

Lastly, the use of skin care masks may be the biggest difference in the Western and Eastern skin care regime. Skin care masks with collagen, brightening, acne treatment, anti-inflammatory and a slew of other benefits are a regular part of the Asian beauty regimen. In Asia, women can find masks targeting under the eyes, mouth, neck, décolletage, spot masks for blemishes, and on and on and on. Brian Park, CEO of O.R.G Skincare, a U.S. skin care line based on Asian ingredients and technologies, noted that skin care masks are a great supplement to skin care regimens, as they help provide immediate results at an affordable price. Park noted that beauty bloggers and enthusiasts have been buying up masks in South Korean stores and online retailers carrying the masks, helping to spur their popularity.

And the numbers support Park’s observations. U.S. consumers are increasingly looking to skin care masks as they seek ways to up the ante on their skin care routines. Skin care masks can provide an affordable alternative to frequent spa facials, and also can offer a wide range of treatment focuses. According to The NPD Group, facial masks experienced a 21% growth in 2012 in prestige channels, following double-digit growth in both 2011 and 2010.

Innovation Entries

It may be no surprise why the West is looking to Asia for product innovations. Reportedly, product innovations in the U.S. have dropped dramatically in recent years. In 2009, more than 16,000 new products were launched in the U.S. market; however, this dropped to around 7,000 new products in 2011. This may be attributed to the growing trend of skin care brands outsourcing their R&D to focus on sales and marketing. What is certain is American consumers have a growing interest in new products from Asia.