Retail notes from Seoul: [Show Report] International Beauty Expo Korea 2015

I arrived in Seoul, the first stop on my Asian tour, a few days ago and my goodness, it’s wonderful to be back! Luckily I don’t get troubled by jetlag when I am flying from Europe to Asia (on the way back it’s a different matter unfortunately) because I arrived on a Wednesday evening and at 10am the very next morning, the 13th International Beauty Expo Korea trade show opened its doors in COEX Convention Center.

It was an interesting show: as far as I could tell, the exhibitors were primarily salon brands and smaller Korean cosmetics labels looking for distributors. There were only a few brand names that I recognized – like Elishacoy and Incoco – but since I like discovering new beauty labels, I found plenty to occupy my attention.

Beauty Expo Korea Intro (2)

Beauty Expo Korea Intro (3)     Beauty Expo Korea Intro (1)

The scope of Beauty Expo Korea 2015 also included a small OEM/ODM section (ingredients/packaging/filling), a K-Beauty Sourcing Fair for companies from other Asian countries, a Beauty Contest and a small conference programme. Altogether there were some 190 exhibitors although this number also includes the OEM/ODM fair.

And here are some of my favourite brand discoveries from Beauty Expo, in no particular order!

Kell Cosmetics manufactures a range of beauty brands aimed as a younger female clientele, including colour cosmetics brand Urban Dollkiss, cute animal face masks and a skin care range. The Urban Dollkiss colour cos is packaged in a 1950s retro burlesque-inspired Western design – reminiscent of Benefit – which is a look that I’ve noticed in a number of Asian makeup brands. Incidentally, I was walking though Myeung-dong area earlier today and came across an Urban Dollkiss store.

Urban Dollkiss (2)     Urban Dollkiss (3)

Incoco is a well-known nail care brand from the US and they had one of the largest exhibition stands at the trade show. The brand is famous for its nail polish strips – these are a type of adhesive nail wraps which made from several coats of nail polish – and at the trade fair Incoco showcased its impressive range of more than 150 nail polish strip designs.

Storyderm I had come across before – it’s a Korean salon skin care brand which is only sold in beauty institutes and spas. Their product portfolio includes Pure 99.9% Essence, an anti-ageing skin care range formulated with human stem cells, and Time Filler, an interesting-looking hyaluronic acid saturated undereye patch which is equipped with tiny needle tips that are said to help the hyaluronic acid penetrate into the skin.

There were also a couple of Western brands at Beauty Expo: I particularly liked Olivos from Turkey who make gorgeously packaged olive oil soaps. I was told that Olivos is doing very well in the Asian markets, especially China, Korea and Japan; in Europe the brand is available in Belgium, the UK Holland, Norway and, I think, Switzerland. Olivos’ line-up includes classic gift soap boxes and individually wrapped larger bar soaps – and the Ottoman Bath range whose packaging is inspired by traditional Turkish fabrics. Beautiful!

Olivos      Olivos (2)

An organic brand I had heard about but had never actually seen is Dr. J Organics from the US. Dr. J – or rather their Korean distributor – was at the show to present the brand’s product portfolio. I tested several serums and creams and was impressed by the ingredients and the textures. The products are USDA certified and include skin and body care, a range for sensitive skin and a baby care range.

And Wettrust is a Korean manufacturer of feminine care products – they had one of the larger exhibition stands at the show – and I was surprised by the many different product types you can find in this category. I was told that Wettrust has some 25 products – lotions, gels, spray, ampoules – in a bewildering range of textures and colours. Who knew!

Yakson: I liked this beauty brand! Yakson is a skin care manufacturer who has some 100 POS in Korea; the company is also active in the US, China, Japan and the Philippines. Yakson’s major brands include eosbeauté which offers several product ranges such as the Repair Collagen series and the Renewal Stem Cell Solution range.

Yakson (2)    Yakson (1)

Hongik Skin was another interesting Korean beauty manufacturer! Hongik has four main beauty brands which are aimed at different age groups: Saint Peau is a skin care brand for all ages with several product lines, including a snail range which in turn features a snail BB cream, a snail CC cream and a snail sun protection cream! They also have a Baobab skin care range and two pudding sleeping packs (in this case “pudding” refers to the texture).

The anti-ageing Hongik Skin range is brand new; it will be launched in Korea later this month and is for more mature consumers. Skin care range Naexy targets women aged 20-30 years and Yeowoo is Hongik’s teenager brand. Yeowoo also includes a charming range of colourants: check out the fox design!!! The packaging is exquisite and I was particularly impressed by the fact that they also sell the colourant in sachets – these are dual sachets (if I understood this correctly), you cut them open, squeeze out both creams (the colourant cream and the developer) and mix them together in their hand. Ingenious.

Hongik Skin (1)     Hongik Skin (2)

Ollmoll is the manufacturer behind KimSohyungFull’s Original Boncho Cleanser, a range of hanbang inspired skin care cleansers (hanbang is a term for products formulated according to the principles of traditional Korean medicine). The Original Boncho Cleanser range is mostly available online (online retail is a popular distribution channel for many Korean beauty brands) and through TV homeshopping (another very successful retail channel).

I had seen some of Ohkims Cosmetic’s products in stores before, especially their main brand Oolu. Oolu offers a range of toners, essences, lotions, cream mask and hydrogel masks and the packaging of the liquids is very pretty: they are clear glass containers which contain a sprig or blossom of the main herb or plant active.

A rather unusual exhibitor – unusual in the sense of not being a cosmetics brand! – was Angel Tech, a coffee manufacturer. They didn’t have any English-language information at the show so I googled the brand and it turns out that they specialize in the equipment you need for cold-brew coffee! Now, cold-brew coffee is a trend that is just starting to take off in Europe – in this preparation method, the roasted coffee beans are immersed in cold water for up to 24 hours or even longer. This results in a rich-tasting coffee which has very little bitterness. I tried some of their already prepared cold coffee and liked it very much.

Angel Tech Coffee (2)     Angel Tech Coffee (1)

There was also a special pavilion for Jeju brands (of course!) which assembled four companies. Three of these had skin care products that were formulated with an interesting-sounding ingredient – horse oil. Initially I assumed that this was a weird translation but when I googled the matter, I was surprised: horse oil is the fat extracted from the fur underneath the horse’s mane (the horse is not harmed by this, by the way). This oil is very rich in linoleic acid and palmitoleic acid and is considered to be an excellent skin moisturiser.

I knew the typical Jeju ingredients such as glacier water, lotus, herbs and so on, but horse oil? Who knew! Could this be the next starfish?! Although horse oil as a cosmetic ingredient is not actually new; I read that the first horse oil cream was launched by a Japanese company in 1988. Interesting!

Now I keep noticing horse oil as an active ingredient in other beauty brands! Vis-à-vis from the Jeju pavilion was Elishacoy who presented their most famous product ranges – like the Birds Nest cream which I’d seen before – and, as it turns out, they have a horse oil sub-brand, too. I also saw a horse oil range in a Nature Republic store today.

Kocostar is a manufacturer of masks for all parts of the body: face, hair, upper arms, body, feet….check out their hair mask which is pretty cool: the mask ingredients are in a little drawstring bag, you stick your hair into the bag, pull it shut and let it work its magic. Kokostar also have an extensive range of face masks: besides the “normal” foldable face masks their line-up also includes tomato, lemon and cucumber masks in the shape of individual vegetable slices. So cute! And really effective product design: one mask set includes eight “mask slices” which you can place on whichever part of the face you feel needs extra attention. Here is a Kocostar lady with individual cucumber and tomato mask slices on her hands! Kocostar masks are also available in the US by the way; they are sold in selected branches of Nordstroms, Forever 21, Urban Outfitters and Ulta.

Kocostar (6)     Kocostar (4)
Kocostar (2)     Kocostar (7)

Coscoach was at Beauty Expo to introduce its latest skin care range, Forestree: White Birch Aqua Soothing Gel, Silver Mushroom Nutrition Cream and Golden Yuzu All Night Sleeping Pack, three face creams based on the respective ingredient they were named after. I was particularly struck by the White Birch cream which is based on birch sap – not a traditional Asian ingredient! Yuzu fruit and mushroom extract, yes, but birch juice? Iinteresting choice!

The three main ingredients are all sourced in Korea, the birch sap comes from Inje in the mountain town of Seoraksan, the Yuzu extract is harvested in the Southern region of Goheung and the silver mushroom comes from Gimcheon in Gyeongsang province. I like the regional heritage! Forestrees is currently only available online but the company is hoping to find a distributor soon.

Forestree (1)     Forestree (2)

La Cell is another Korean skin care manufacturer: they showcased several of their skin care ranges at the trade fair, including the Gold Rush Liquid Pure Propolis skin care range which is based on deep sea water, EGF (Epidermal Growth Factor: human stem cell based skin care technology) and herbal extracts. The Pure Propolis range includes an cleansing oil, an essence, a light moisturizing lotion and a richer face cream and I was so intrigued by the ingredients that I bought the cleansing oil to try out!

Skineye is also from Korea: I had seen this brand before. They have an extensive skin care portfolio which primarily focuses on combination and acne-prone skin. The AC Pure range includes 14 products, the Pore line comprises two products; there is also the 6-sku Secret Plant range which is based on plant extracts and seven Tea Tree products made with Australian tea tree oil. The Skineye portfolio also includes a hanbang range (JBSoon) which comprises four products packaged in sumptuous red and gold and the 5-sku organic range Natural Camellia.

My very favourite brand at the Beauty Expo, however, was a charming organic beauty brand: Treeannsea. They have three product ranges, the 6-sku Eskimo range, the 2-sku Desert Rose series and the Madagascar range, a tamanu oil and a soap – check out the beautiful packaging! The brand is not certified but the ingredients look so good that they could easily get an Ecocert certification at least, as far as I could tell.

Treeannsea (1)     Treeannsea (2)


Filed under Asia,, Industry News, Retail, Show Reports, Trade Shows, Travel

10 responses to “Retail notes from Seoul: [Show Report] International Beauty Expo Korea 2015

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  7. Tram Nguyen

    I have been followed and read all of your articles for the last 6 months. Iam currently a pharmacist student but Iam very interested in Korean cosmetic. I try to open my business next year for all good Korean/ Japanese cosmetic. Would you mind write an article about how to get the license as wholesale and how to register for those expo. Thank you.

    • Hi Tram,

      I’m afraid I don’t know how to apply for a wholesalers license – I’m a journalist am so I’m not really familiar with the distribution and wholesaler side of the beauty business.

      However, visiting the two Korean trade shows that I attended (Cosmobeauty Seoul and International Beauty Expo Korea is easy; you can just go to the expo centre on the day of the trade show and buy a ticket. All they require is a business card and that you fill in a form; as far as I could see they didn’t check the credential of the visitors at all.

      With European trade shows it is very different, they tend to check carefully to make sure that all visitors are connected to the cosmetics business somehow but the Korean shows were very informal.

      I hope this info helps a bit; good lucck! And thanks for reading my blog ; )

      Best wishes

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