K beauty: What is it? And why is it so popular?

Last updated at 05:47
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WATCH: Discover the beauty parlours for kids in South Korea

Beauty is big business in South Korea.

Massages, facials, nail treatments, hair styling and make-up all form part of a multi-billion pound industry which is incredibly popular in the country.

In 2017, South Korea's beauty industry was estimated to be worth just over $13 billion (£10 billion), according to retail researchers Mintel.

But it's not just adults that are enjoying all that the beauty industry has to offer.

Children as young as three years old are getting involved too.

There are special spas where youngsters can receive treatments like face masks and massages. They can also get their nails painted, have their hair braided and buy special make-up aimed at children - something which has divided opinion.

Newsround has been to South Korea to find out more about it.

What is K-beauty?

K-beauty is the name given to the beauty industry in Korea - rather like K-pop refers to Korean popular music, and K-drama refers to Korean TV dramas.

The K-beauty industry targets everybody, both male and female, and it's not just about make-up. A huge focus goes on skincare.

Moisturising and looking after your skin, before even thinking about putting products on it, is hugely important.

"It's sort of ingrained in Korean culture from a very young age to look after your skin," explains fashion magazine Marie Claire's beauty editor Katie Thomas.

In Korean culture, it is very important to look after your skin

Main shopping streets in the big cities are full of beauty outlets.

"You may be walking down a street and there would be three or four within your sight of vision, so beauty is definitely an encouraged thing in South Korea," one young girl told Newsround.

"Every time you turn on the TV, everything you see is just K-beauty advertisements," explained another.

Make-up is big business too - especially with young people.

Why is K beauty so popular?

Magazine editor Katie told the BBC that one of the reasons that the world has become so fascinated with K-beauty is because it is so forward-thinking.

Before K-beauty products go on sale, a lot of research is done into what they should be like. This is because there are so many companies all competing to have the best items on shop shelves.

Many products also use unusual ingredients not used by other manufacturers.

According to Katie, the Korean beauty industry is always "10 to 12 years ahead of the rest of the world".

The K-beauty industry has also been helped by the popularity of social media and beauty bloggers

She also believes that its popularity has been helped by the rise in Instagram and beauty blogging, as people can look for their own reviews and be inspired by their idols.

Colourful, fun packaging and clever marketing has also played a big part.

What is K beauty for children?

The K-beauty industry is hugely popular with young people, as well as adults.

So much so that a few years ago, the government brought in new rules specifically for children's make-up to make sure that products would be safe for them to use.

Newsround went to visit a beauty spa aimed at children - where they can enjoy facials, massages and have their hair and nails done - to find out more about them.


The owner Sunny Han explained that as her daughters were growing up, they wanted to copy her and use her products.

"They were often using my make-up products without me knowing, so I thought if they're going to use them anyway, wouldn't it be better to give them safer, more child-friendly products?" she said. "When they tried out make-up in my shop, they felt special."

She also explained how the age of girls using make-up is getting younger and younger, so the regulations are important to make sure that young children aren't using cheap, unsafe products.

What is the problem with K beauty?

The beauty industry all around the world has faced criticism for putting too much pressure on people - especially those who are young - to look a certain way.

"Since I've been living in South Korea, I've been thinking more about my physical appearance," one teenage girl told Newsround. "Everybody's pretty, so why wouldn't I want to be good-looking too?"

"Sometimes I feel bad about myself when I'm not wearing make-up," explained another.

When asked about the pressure that the K-beauty industry can put on young people, the spa owner told Newsround: "All the make-up that we supply is the basic products that everybody needs. For example, the sun cushion [a light foundation-like product] has sunblock to protect from UV rays. The face masks are moisturising and don't irritate their skin.

"So rather than this being a make-up experience, I'd rather they think of it as skincare."

Other teenagers told Newsround that young people shouldn't feel that they have to look a certain way, and that they shouldn't care and just be themselves.

What do you think about children as young as three enjoying beauty treatments? Do you think that the beauty industry puts too much pressure on young people or do you think the focus on skincare makes it OK? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Click here to watch all of Newsround's stories from South Korea.

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