Retail notes from Seoul: [Show Report] Cosmobeauty 2019

This was my fourth visit to Cosmobeauty Seoul and I must say, this trade fair is getting better every year. The 2019 edition took place from 9th-11th April 2019 and it was so busy; it definitely felt much more crowded than last year. Official figures confirm this: according to the organisers 52,376 visitors attended the 2019 trade fair (last year’s Cosmobeauty attracted 50,673 attendees). And, on a personal note, there were so many Westerners/foreigners amongst the visitors this year!

I remember my first Cosmobeauty in 2016: there were just a handful of foreign faces then. I guess it goes to show how K-beauty continues to influence the international beauty industry. Or something. Anyway, if you’re interested in the trade show review of my previous visits, you can check out Cosmobeauty 2016, Cosmobeauty 2017 or Cosmobeauty 2018.

And here are the official facts and figures about Cosmobeauty 2019! The exhibition space reached 11,088 m2 this year and there were around 520 exhibition booths with a total of 373 exhibitors from 13 countries – a significant increase compared to the 2018 edition of the show with its 342 exhibitors. The majority of exhibitors – 308 companies – were Korean, the remaining 65 companies came from Europe, China, South East Asia and the US.

Cosmobeauty 2019 also felt a lot more trend-driven than the previous shows – exhibitors came from the organic/natural sector and from the green/clean category; there were several young millennial-style brands and quite a few start-ups. The organisers also added some exciting features in 2019: a new section was the “Rookies of the Year” showcase which introduced interesting new exhibitors and their product innovations. Altogether a very exciting show!

And now let’s jump straight in! Click on the link below to read about some of my favourite brand discoveries.


Barulab Seoul was launched two years ago and they’re one of the millenial-style brands that I mentioned in the previous paragraph. The Korean face care brand specialises in products for deep cleansing, something that is especially important when you’re living in an environment that is characterised by heavy air pollution (dust, smoke, exhaust fumes).

The big Asian capitals – like Taipei, Seoul, Beijing or Shanghai, Jakarta, Bangkok and so on – have to deal with air-borne contamination of a level that is difficult to imagine for most Europeans. Look at us Germans, always complaining about how bad the air is in the big German cities.

In Seoul or Taipei you can see the dense smog that hangs over the city, making the buildings look like they are wrapped in fog. Often the sky looks almost yellow or has a brownish tinge and when the pollution level is especially bad you can almost taste it in the back of your throat. Air pollution is a genuine health hazard in this region of the world; hence the enduring popularity of “anti-pollution” beauty products.

Barulab Seoul currently offers eight sku: the hero product is the Foaming Clay Mask, a deep-cleansing creamy face mask formulated with volcanic ash, bentonite clay and activated charcoal powder.

There is also a clay sheet mask (see pic above) which contains the same key ingredients and works much like nose pore patches do, physically pulling out the clogs and impurities lodged in the pores of nose, chin and forehead. In addition, the line-up includes a calming face mist, a BB cream, a salve cream (a rich ointment said to have superior healing power), a “normal” cleansing foam and the hydrating Blue Aqua Sheet Mask.

Barulab Seoul has very quickly built up a solid distribution network in Korea and internationally; in the domestic market the brand’s yellow-packaged products are sold in Olive Young and LOHBS drugstores as well as tax/duty free shopping malls plus, of course, online.The company is also active in mainland China and South East Asia and plans to further expand into the Middle East and India.


Another highly attractive brand! The packaging (especially the colours) is eye-catching  – I was told that the brand’s founder has a design background and this definitely shows in the visual appearance of this brand.

So Natural has been around for 10 years but they weren’t particularly visible up until a year ago, when the Korean brand moved from online sale into offline retail: I’ve seen the products in Olive Young and Lalavla (two of the biggest drugstore chains in Korea) plus, of course, in the major tax/duty free malls.

EXCURSUS: It occurs to me that perhaps I ought to briefly explain what these tax/duty free malls are and why it is such an important distribution channel in Korea.

Basically, these are gigantic department stores/shopping malls which sell luxury goods, fashion, accessories, food stuff, cosmetics and handbags at duty-free prices. We’re talking about massive retail spaces here, entire skyscrapers with multiple floors  of brand counters, shop-in-shop retail areas and promotions.

Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit but seriously, the scale of these malls has to be seen to be believed! These stores cater to the affluent and spending-happy international tourists that come to Seoul to shop; from mainland China, Hong Kong, South East Asia but also the Middle East, Russia and, occasionally, Europe – however, the majority of customers you see crowding the sales floors (and toting gigantic suitcases!) are Asian, and especially Chinese.

Many of these Chinese are so-called daigou (google this term if you’re interested, it’s a fascinating industry!) which are semi-professional re-sellers – daigou means something like “buying on behalf of” and the daigou are shoppers that buy luxury products abroad for China-based customers. In this case, cosmetics,  luxury fashion, accessories at duty free prices and as soon as the daigou are back in China they sell these to private individuals, stores and companies. Much like what Chinese shopping tourists do in Germany with DM and Rossmann own label products.

The South Korean capital is still a highly popular Asian shopping destination although the stream of mainland Chinese visitors – which account for the majority of Asian shopping tourists – has slowed down over the past two years due to political reasons (North Korea/China).

Seoul offers many duty free mall chains which are operated by South Korea’s vast retail conglomerates (chaebol) – the Lotte group, for example, runs the Lotte Duty Free malls, Shinsegae operates the Shinsegae Duty Frees, The Shilla belongs to the Samsung group, Doota is one of the Doosan groups’s duty free store chains and so on.

The big duty free chains also offer the option of buying in-store and picking up your purchases at Incheon or Gimpo Airport – anything to incite you to spend even more money.

But back to So Natural! The brand’s portfolio comprises around 160 sku across all categories – face, body, hair, makeup and men’s cosmetics; product formulas are natural-inspired (I think So Natural can definitely be counted as a clean beauty brand) and the company sells in South East Asia, the US and Russia as well as some European countries, such as Denmark, Hungary, Switzerland and even Germany.

The company’s bestseller are the Makeup Fixing Mist and the  Face Oil (which, by the way, is all natural) while the Red Peel Tingle Serum (I kind of like this name; it’s so descriptive!) is a top seller in South East Asia and especially in Vietnam.


When I saw Korean newcomer brand Axis-Y with its product claim of  “climate-based skin care”I was immediately reminded of Toun28 but no; Axis-Y doesn’t offer customised beauty nor uses climate data as a base for the formulation of their cosmetic products. The company has developed three face care products which are expressly designed for customers living in humid climates.

The line-up includes a cleanser, a toner and an ampoule and I was told that there are more products in the pipeline, like a moisturising cream and a rinse-off mask pack. Somewhat to my surprise the product formulas of Axis-Y 6+1 Advanced Formula range are organic – not certified, of course, but still, as far as I could see (the INCIs were listed in English), the product don’t include any synthetic ingredients. The focus lies on plant extracts and herbal ingredients and the textures are very light and pleasant. Price range: between 18-25 USD.

Although Axis-Y was only launched in November 2018 the brand is already expanding in South East Asia and Russia; in Korea they are still primarily sold online but soon the product range will also be available in Olive Young drugstores.


Isn’t the pack design of these two new travel-friendly skin care products cute? The 33 Bubble Pad and 33 Ampoule Pad are Korean skin care brand Wish Formula‘s newest launch and as you might have guessed from the suitcase-inspired outer packaging, these are covenience-focused 3-in-1 products; individually wrapped pads which are saturated with a foaming facial cleanser (pink packaging; the material of this pad has a slightly rough sponge texture) or moisturising serum (blue packaging; a cottonwool pad).

Wish Formula has been around since 2006 and their skin care line-up comprises around 60 sku, mostly sheet masks, serums, ampoules, intensive treatments and so on. In Korea the brand’s products are retailed through dermo clinics but Wish Formula is also available in the US (through UIta Beauty stores), Russia and South East Asia, plus a few European markets including Germany (in Rossmann drugstores) and, I was told, the two new 33 Pads will be launched on German home shopping channel HSE this September.


I first met this attractively packaged clean beauty skin care brand at the Soak Lifestyle retail space launch in Seoul’s Going Mary concept store on the weekend prior to Cosmobeauty. It was great to see the company at the trade show – I’d been curious about their brand concept – so I asked their international sales manager a ton of questions.

Ok, so Keep Cool launched in 2016 with three sheet masks (pink, blue and green) which were followed by matching skin care creams in 2017 and toners and serums in 2018. In total, the brand’s product portfolio comprises 18 sku.

The company has an impressive domestic and international distribution: in Korea Keep Cool is sold in LOHBs and other selected offline retail locations; in the US the range is available in Anthropologie stores (online and offline); UK retail takes place via online store Skinlibrary and in mainland China, Japan and Malaysia – three of the company’s key Asian markets – the products are sold primarily sold online.

The company is also planning to expand into the European market, with Italy ear-marked as the first EU country.


This charming farm-to-face brand was launched three years ago. Founder Jungeun Chung (who was at the booth at Cosmobeauty) has been farming sesame and perilla (shiso) oils for many years; her farm is located near Jiri Mountains in the Southern part of Korea.

The Oilaria product line-up includes six sku which are formulated with locally sourced ingredients; sesame seeds and sesame oil and perilla: there’s a sesame body scrub, a sesame oil body lotion, a sesame seed face scrub, an evening primrose oil-based facial oil, a perilla serum ampoule and a sheet mask. I like the brand’s pack design – the outer packaging of the face scrub (see pic above) and the sheet mask shows typical views of the landscape around Jungeun’s farm.

At the moment, Oilaria is only available in Korea (and is sold mostly online) but Jungeun told me that she is planning to expand into the European and US markets and her products are currently going through the EU product registration process.


Now this is a rather unusual brand! Korea is not a particularly vegan (or even vegetarian) country and if you’re not into animal products (or by-products) life can be tricky, or so I’ve been told. But even here “vegan” is slowly making its impact felt.

Happy Vegan is a newcomer brand; they were launched last year and currently sell two sheet masks: Brightening (orange packaging) and Madecassoide (green packaging). These two products are actually certified by the UK’s Vegan Society (which also had a booth at Cosmobeauty 2019, by the way) and the products also carry the Cruelty-Free Bunny seal. The product formulations are pretty natural (not entirely organic but respectable nonetheless!) and I like the packaging design – so pretty!

The sheet masks are already sold in the US (through various online platforms) and in several European countries, including Germany where the masks are (apparently) available in Rossmann drugstores. Rossmann’s the second-biggest drugstore retailer in Germany so this equals a pretty solid distribution. I’m more of a DM girl (DM’s the drugstore market leader ) but as soon as I’m back in Berlin I’ll check my local Rossmann for Happy Vegan!

Happy Vegan co-founder Heeyoung Lee told me that her brand will launch more face care products in the future – her goal is to provide an entire vegan face care range – with a vegan face serum and a vegan moisturiser set to join the line-up later this year.


Here’s another interesting beauty brand: Arencia specialises in zero-waste and plastic-free solid cosmetics. The company was launched in June 2018 and the shampoo bars you can see in the second picture below (Bora Bora Dream and Go Green Hair) were introduced on the occasion of Cosmobeauty Seoul 2019.

Arencia also has two egg-shaped solid face cleansers, the French Egg (formulated with French pink clay) and the Fiji Egg which contains activated charcoal.

The company is planning to introduce more solid cosmetics soon, starting with solid toothpaste (I would imagine these will be in the shape of toothpaste tablets) and a “solid mist cube”. That sounded intriguing so I asked for more information. Arencia founder Joohyun Katherine Lim told me that the mist cube will be a moisturising toner (probably a compressed tablet kind of format) which will dissolve when you drop it into water. You can then use the water as a face spray or pat it into the face with your hands like an essence.

A very interesting brand that I’ll definitely keep an eye on. Zero-waste and solid cosmetics are a bit of trend in Germany and Europe at the moment, especially in the organic sector, but in Korea this is a highly unusual – not to say, exotic – approach to personal care. Kudos to Arencia for being so bold!


This was my last brand discovery of Cosmobeauty Seoul. I walked past the booth of newcomer brand Pibu Pibu several times during the day but it was always mobbed by visitors; I could barely get close enough to take pictures without a forest of smartphones in my view!

Pibu Pibu’s whimsical brand concept obviously resonates strongly with their key demographic. The company was launched in 2018 and they offer two products – a body wash and a shampoo – that can be customised with different ampoules.

The entire range has a strong fairy tale slant  – the inspiration was Lewis Caroll’s novel Alice in Wonderland – and the clear square-ish bottles feature (modified) quotes from the Alice book as well as pretty drawing of a woodland scene. Each Pibu Pibu pack contains either the shampoo or the body wash and two ampoules.

The shampoo comes with the Jack & Pea ampoule (it contains pea peptides against hair loss and the product name is a playful reference to the classic fairy tale Jack & The Beanstalk) and the Snow White’s Apple ampoule (formulated with apple extract).

The body wash offers the ampoule options Cinderella’s Magic (with centella asiatica and camomile to soothe sensitive skin) and Little Bunny’s Brick House (detoxing flavonoids).

In Korea Pibu Pibu is mostly sold online although I was told that the products are also carried by selected offline retailers in Seoul; the company’s international markets include Hong Kong, Brunei and Shanghai.


I can never resist posting the new launches of Korean sheet mask manufacturer Kocostar! And this year they outdid themselves: check out the gorgeous booth design which matches the company’s newest launch, the 5-sku Waffle Masks.

Two of my favourite Korean natural beauty brands were also at the show: Urang Natural and Chobs.

I wrote about the new launches of these two brands in my Vivaness 2019 trade show report so I’m not covering them again; but you might be interested in reading about Skylake.


This is a beauty brand whose products are based on traditional Korean herbal ingredients (also called hanbang; it’s the Korean version of TCM). I’m not sure how long Skylake had been around but I would imagine it’s been a few years. The company’s product range is based on a proprietary plant-infused water blend and the formulations include a shed-load of medicinal plant extracts  which have been used for centuries in Korean traditional herbal medicine.

The product line-up includes face care, like the face mist which is seriously amazing (I buy it every time I’m in Seoul), essence, lotions, moisturisers, cleansers, sheet masks and so on but also hair care and body care.

I can’t find an official company website and the Skylake shop in NYC (which also had a website listing the entire Skylake portfolio AND the complete INCI listings) has also disappeared. Sadly. Here is the Skylake product listing of online store Beautykoreamall which is better than nothing ; )

The packaging is not particularly stylish but that’s not the point of the range; and the product scent is very herbal and earthy (which is something that I enjoy but might not be everyone’s cup of tea). As you can see from the pics Skylake had a pretty large booth at Cosmobeauty. I didn’t make any purchases because just two days before I had bought a pack of Skylake sheet masks at the brand’s store in Sinsa-dong.


Strictly speaking I didn’t meet Truezyme at Cosmobeauty 2019 but I DID come across them on the second evening after the show, on the way to dinner. We were cutting through the delicatessen department of the Hyundai department store that is located inside the Starfield Mall/Coex centre and walked past the brand’s promotional booth.

Truezyme was launched in 2016; the company is from Jeju and they’re a classic hanbang brand. The 7-sku line-up comprises two baby care products (a face & body lotion and a body wash), a feminine wash, two hair care products (scalp tonic and shampoo), a body wash and a multi tonic for face and body that I fell in love with (but ultimately didn’t buy because my suitcase was already overflowing with natural and organic K-Beauty). Check out the ingredients of the multi tonic in the pic below.

All products are based on Jeju lava sea water and fermented Korean herbal ingredients; the formulas are rated EWG Green/Grade 1 which roughly equals a near-natural/organic formulation in Europe. The brand’s 7-sku line-up is sold mostly online but the products are also available in the selected offline locations, such as the Starfield Hyundai supermarket.

I’ll leave you with some more impressions of the trade show! The next Cosmobeauty Seoul is going to take place from 23rd to 25th April 2020.

1 Comment

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

One response to “Retail notes from Seoul: [Show Report] Cosmobeauty 2019

  1. Pingback: Cosmoprof Bologna 2022 [Show Report] | TRENDS. TRAVELS. AND BERLIN

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