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This article contains affiliate links* It’s time for my 2022 K-beauty trend report, focusing on 5 Korean skincare trends that I believe will have a major impact in 2022! And, well, not to be overly smug or anything, but usually I’m preeeeeetty good with my predictions…
2022 K-Beauty Trend Report: How the Pandemic Has Irrevocably Changed Consumers’ Priorities
When I started writing about Korean beauty in 2016, life sure looked a hell of a lot different! Back then, cute makeup products à la the “princess castle” brand Etude House were all the rage, at least for the Western market, hungry for that (supposedly) playful K-beauty pop culture aesthetic of the 2010s. Ah, and of course we here in the West were all convinced that the 10 step skincare routine was a real thing and that Koreans just absolutely love to smear as many products on their skin as their pores can absorb.
Apart from the fact that most of the ideas we had back then (ok, many people still have these ideas even now) about Korean beauty were almost entirely made up and had nothing to do with the reality of Koreans and their skincare or makeup habits, the world of beauty has also changed dramatically thanks to the pandemic. The emphasis on makeup in the beauty world has dwindled, what with us wearing masks all the time and working from home. Meanwhile, our intense need for self-care and fixing something about our lives led to a noticeable increase in skincare content and skincare-related searches. All of a sudden, the “skinfluencer” became the newest hot thing on social media, a change to the skincare niche that I myself haven’t fully processed yet, to be honest.
Thanks to maskne and co., more and more people were (and still are) battling with sensitivities and breakouts, and so a more carefully planned, often rather minimalist skincare routine has become popular. Now for me personally, the minimalist skincare trend that is hyper-focused on “functionality” is sometimes a tad too dogmatic and, frankly, boring. But, there is no doubt about it: stripped-down routines and stripped-down skincare products are all the rage at the moment, both in the West as well as Korea.
As you will see a bit later in this 2022 K-beauty trend report, the pandemic has also made Korean consumers more aware of whether or not their skincare products are “safe” or “good” for them. And, just like us here in the West, they also look more carefully at ingredient lists than they might have before. I remember going to trade fairs in 2018 and 2019 and whenever I talked to Korean brand reps and asked them about ingredient lists they were slightly flustered. One brand consultant told me that Koreans do not look as closely at ingredient lists, rather seeing the entirety of the formula and how it performs. She was fascinated by the way us Germans in particular were so meticulous about ingredient dosages. Ah, we Germans are a pedantic lot, no doubt!
But, I would say this has changed quite a bit when it comes to Korean consumers and their ingredient list awareness! Whenever I see advertisements from Korean brands now, there is a very strong focus on key ingredients and their dosages within the overall formula. And, sadly, the very problematic EWG with their flawed rating of the “safety” of ingredients is a very popular measuring tool for how “safe” a product is. Korean brands love the EWG “green” rating and plaster it all over their marketing materials. So, safe products that are good for sensitive and sensitised skin is definitely an overarching theme when it comes to K-beauty trends this year.
Alright, let’s dive into 5 K-beauty trends for 2022 that I feel will be particularly impactful!
2022 K-Beauty Trend 1: Onion Extract
OK, I’ll be honest – this one came a bit out of left field for me, but actually only because I didn’t know that using onion in Korean pharmacy salves has a long tradition. Even here in the West, onion extract is a classic ingredient in scar creams such as Mederma and has been around for quite some time. Apparently, there is some research backing up the scar-softening properties of onion extract, though I’m not scientifically literate enough to know if the research is sound or not.
Apart from potentially helping to soften and smooth scar tissue, red onion extract in particular is also high in antioxidants and other phytochemicals that can boost the skin’s defences against premature aging caused by pollution and UV damage. Onions also contain all sorts of minerals and vitamins, among them a high vitamin C content, though I am always sceptical as to whether or not the skin can absorb any of the benefits from the vitamin contents of plant extracts.
I’ve also seen red onion juice being sold as a hair tonic, and organic K-beauty brand Whamisa uses onion extract in their oily scalp shampoo*. But the real trend potential for 2022 undoubtedly lies in the skincare niche! So far, K-brand Isntree has been the main player here: they just released a red onion focused skincare trio, the Onion Newpair skincare line, consisting of a Cleansing Foam*, a very intriguing Essence Toner* and what I predict to be the standout product from the line, the Newpair Onion Gel Cream.*
2022 K-Beauty Trend 2: Multi-Purpose Stick Products
Multi-purpose skincare products aren’t really a new thing, and I’ve been waiting for them to become more and more impactful for a while now, what with “skipcare”/stripped down, quick routines being such a big trend. Stick products also aren’t necessarily new, I remember eye sticks being all the rage in the early 2010s, which proves yet again that if you live long enough, you will absolutely see even the most obscure trends come back at some point!
What is new in regards to this 2022 K-beauty trend is the combination of multi-purpose and stick products! And, frankly, so far there is only one truly impactful player when it comes to this trend, and that is K-beauty brand KAHI. Their Wrinkle Bounce Multi Balm* has been storming the bestseller lists of Korean drugstore giant Olive Young for months and months now, and the stick is featured heavily in social media/influencer ads. If you watched the most recent Lee Min-ho drama “The King: Eternal Monarch”, you may also have spotted the multi balm being used by the female lead a few times, as it was one of the many products advertised throughout the show (no but seriously, the product placement in that drama was insane!).
So, I’m personally still a tad sceptical whether or not this will be a real and sustainable trend, simply because the whole thing seems somewhat too “pre-planned”, if you know what I mean. KAHI seems to have done a very aggressive marketing campaign, with the stick suddenly being everywhere. But, how organic will the popularity growth be, long-term?
Be that as it may, given the insane success story of the KAHI multi-balm and the release of all sorts of other KAHI stick products recently, I would be more than a little surprised if other brands won’t also jump on the stick product bandwagon. In case you were wondering what is so special about the KAHI balms, they contain collagen (jury is out on whether or not collagen applied topically actually has an effect on skin), schizandra berry extract (also known as omija berry, also used in many Sioris products, rich in antioxidants), as well as a number of nourishing oils and butters. I would say given its rich formula, this probably works best for dry to very dry skin. You can use the KAHI balms for your regular skincare routine or just on the go, if you can live with the slight “ick” of a stick product that keeps touching your bare skin over the span of multiple weeks.
2022 K-Beauty Trend 3: “Clean Beauty”
Like it or not, if I had to choose just one impactful 2022 K-beauty trend, clean beauty or natural beauty would probably be it. And, well, I don’t like it, if I’m honest. “Clean beauty” is such a problematic trend in my eyes, and this is coming from someone who actually loves organic beauty. I love the innovation and out of the box thinking in the natural skincare industry, and their focus on sustainability and eco-friendly packaging has become more important than ever.
However… “Clean” beauty implies that there is such a thing as “dirty” beauty, and that in itself is such a dodgy, vague concept. Clean beauty marketing often relies on a number of wrong assumptions about certain ingredients such as, say, the perfectly harmless silicones or mineral oil. They push forward the idea that we cannot trust “non-clean” beauty products, confusing consumers with their fear-mongering and creating unhealthy anxiety around cosmetics regulations. To me, using fear as your main marketing tool is repulsive, since we already have to battle more than enough daily fears and insecurities in these trying times. Nevertheless, I am not fully anti clean beauty, like some skincare influencers are. Because, honestly, the hatred organic skincare in particular sometimes get is just as over the top as the fear-mongering from certain natural brands. Personally, I do not want to outright dismiss a brand just because it is marketed as “clean”, but their products do need to work a tad harder to convince me to talk about them on social media.
If a product is good, it’s good, ya know? And, well, I am not going to lie – many of the currently popular, “clean” K-beauty brands are really good! Take Round Lab, for example: they have been a bestselling brand for years now, and every single one of their products that I have tried, I’ve loved. Be it their famous DOKDO Toner or the massive smash hit that is the Birch Juice Moisturizing Sun Cream, and my latest moisturiser obsession, the Birch Juice Moisturizing Cream* (I’ll do a review on this soon, promised!), the Round Lab products are gentle, fairly-priced and contain a number of reliable, trusted ingredients that do what they need to do without being too fussy or needlessly flamboyant.
Or take the latest Man:yo Factory sub-brand, Our Vegan – I just recently bought the Our Vegan Heartleaf 98 Cica Serum*, and I don’t care if it’s “clean beauty” or not, the product is fantastic, period. It is a lightweight, soothing serum which always manages to calm down my skin even at its angriest. Given that the serum bottle also hold a whopping 100ml, it’s also a total steal, so I’d always happily recommend it to someone looking for a sensitive-skin friendly, affordable hydrating serum with added antioxidant benefits.
For 2022, the rise of clean beauty will most definitely continue, both in Korea as well as worldwide. People are scared of where the world is heading, so they are looking for reassurance wherever they can find it. For me, the clean beauty label is meaningless, and I steadfastly believe that only high quality, well-formulated skincare will win over consumers long-term, no matter the label.
2022 K-Beauty Trend 4: Drugstore Retinol Products (Oh and Bakuchiol…for whatever Reason…)
As is usually the case when it comes to in-depth knowledge of the Korean beauty market, I have to thank Odile Monod for teaching me that retinol products are actually not new in K-beauty, as some publications like to claim. I think the misunderstanding that Koreans don’t use retinols comes from the tendency in K-beauty marketing to the West to focus predominantly on the younger age ranges, 16-30ish, and mostly promote brands meant for those young people, e.g. Cosrx or Rovectin. In Korea, however, you’ll find a whole marketing machine devoted to promoting skincare to more mature consumers aged 40+, with brands and products that are incredibly popular there but virtually unknown here in the West. You should definitely follow Odile if you are interested in K-beauty favoured by older consumers, as she has some awesome background knowledge in this area.
So, retinol as such is not, in fact, new to Koreans. What is new, however, is that just like here in the West, retinol is being increasingly promoted to a younger customer base, and a number of brands already have or are in the process of launching their own lower percentage, drugstore brand retinol serums. The most popular Korean brand using retinal, a highly effective Vitamin A derivative, is Dr. Different. Both their Vitalift-A Forte* and Vitalift-A Eye & Neck Creams* are bestsellers in Korea, though I personally find them a tad overpriced given that Hungarian brand Geek & Gorgeous offers a perfectly good retinal emulsion* in a lower and higher retinal concentration* for a fraction of the price.
Lately, there has also been quite a bit of buzz around the newly launched innisfree Retinol Cica Ampoule*, with influencers all over social media swearing to its effectiveness, though a discussion I found on Reddit about the retinol content in the serum makes me seriously question if this isn’t more a placebo effect than anything else (because apparently the percentage of retinol in the serum is minuscule). It’s probably still a lovely, hydrating and soothing serum, I just doubt that it will do anything for your wrinkles, not that 20-something influencers have any of those yet anyway.
Oh, and then there is also bakuchiol, the supposed retinol alternative that is very popular among clean beauty brands. I’ve tried a few bakuchiol products and, frankly, have yet to be convinced that it’s doing anything for the skin at all besides being a strong antioxidant, but be that as it may, you will definitely see more K-beauty products featuring bakuchiol* in 2022.
2022 K-Beauty Trend 5: Soft Matte Skin
Despite the fact that most mainstream Western beauty media is still pushing the tired old “glass skin” or “glazed donut” aesthetic, Korean celebrities and popular makeup brands have been very much about that softly matte skin. I feel that this particular trend prediction will likely fall on deaf ears, since I’ve been seeing the overly shiny glass skin ideal heavily pushed on TikTok lately, but still, this is about Korean beauty trends for 2022 after all.
In fact, if I am fully honest, it seems that the matte skin trend, which has been going on since 2020 pretty much, may almost be at a tipping point right now. So, there could very well be a change in aesthetics during the latter half of 2022. For now though, softly matte skin and matte to semi-matte lip tints such as the Hince Mood Enhancer* lipstick are where it’s at in Korean makeup!
Again, I think that the pandemic was a driving force here, with mask wearing leading to less and less flashy looks and a need for skin-like, barely there base products such as the Phymongshe Aqua Blemish Cover Balm.* Matte foundations have also been super popular since last year, especially the Laneige Neo Cushion Matte* (because yes, cushions are still popular in Korea) and the liquid foundation version*, which was one of the most-sold foundations at Olive Young in 2021.
As for eye makeup, last year brought a flood of neutral-coloured palettes such as the WAKEMAKE Soft Blurring Eye Palette* or the Dasique Shadow Palette* with both mattes and shimmers/glitters, and I do not see the trend towards a neutral, mostly brown to copper (or the cool-toned equivalent with greys and lilacs) eye makeup die out anytime soon. The extreme glitter trend centred around the aegyo sal (that “fatty” bit under the eye, usually more prominent in Asians vs. us Caucasians and seen as a mark of youthfulness in Korea) seems to be on the decline, though glitter on the lid is still popular with teens, no doubt (the Cologram glitter* became hugely popular thanks to K-drama hit “True Beauty”).
Let me know in the comments: Which K-beauty trends do you think will be big in 2022? Which of the 2022 K-beauty trends discussed here intrigue you the most?
Take care guys, and stay safe – don’t forget to follow me on Instagram and Facebook for all the latest K-Beauty and skincare news, and check out my other work, e.g. my review of the AXIS-Y Dark Spot Correcting Glow Serum!
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