France has been the historical skincare giant in the global beauty industry. Marie Claire states that South Korea is the “new France” in skincare.
After spending a wonderful macaroon, art, and beauty-discovering week in Paris, Stella brings us her thoughts on both the latest and time-honored traditions in French skincare. We now better understand the deep legacy of French skincare and also see why Korea is described as the “new France”.
Skincare in France
It’s no secret that French women value having beautiful skin and put a big emphasis on using the best skincare products. How they take care of their skin, though, is not as readily apparent until you immerse yourself in the French culture. I spent hours speaking to locals (amazing how far you can get with translator programs on your iPhone, and animated gestures about what all women love – being beautiful) and I learned that it’s not uncommon for French women (or rather, girls) to start getting facials and using high-quality products as early as age 15. Their products are more natural, meaning formulated with botanicals and essential oils, and can be found literally on any street corner at a local Pharmacie store (New Yorker culture shock: I saw much more Pharmacie stores than Starbucks coffee shops, and many more facial salons than nail shops in Paris compared to what I see on the streets of New York).
The French also wear minimal makeup compared to cosmetic consumers in the States, and they stay away from microdermabrasion and chemical peels. Instead, they focus on early prevention in order to avoid future invasive procedures that supposedly try to turn back the clock.
Korean skincare in the world
So here’s what Marie Claire says: South Korea is about “12 years ahead of the United States in terms of (beauty) technology” and “outpacing other countries in beauty innovation” and, in the skincare world, has become “the new France.”
How did Korea become this global beauty mecca? Well, interestingly enough, this Korean beauty obsession with flawless skin isn’t a recent trend; it links back to the royal dynasties when having clean, refined, translucent skin meant that you came from a noble family. This concept still carries on and the demand for brightening and skin refining in Korea has helped create new technology treatments in the country where laser treatments cost 80% less than those in the U.S. These hyper-targeted treatments and products are becoming increasingly popular in the U.S. where many women are conscious of sun-freckling and/or hyperpigmentation.
And that is what led to Korea becoming the new France: legacy of beauty heritage that defines flawless skin as an essential status symbol à the standard for perfect skin being sky-high and globally unparalleled à drives technology innovation in beauty faster than any other country. It all begins with the culture and the consumers.
Korean women are voracious beauty consumers; they spend 7x more on beauty products and skincare than women do in the States. Korean consumers are extremely overparticular and do hours upon hours of research on blogs and beauty/health websites before purchasing a single serum – this national beauty obsession drives the industry to meet demands with the newest and latest innovations. This focus on beauty began to raise international attention with the worldwide uptake of BB Creams with other active ingredients targeting acne, hyperpigmentation, wrinkles, etc.
And that is what led Korea to become the new France in skincare: the legacy of beauty heritage defined flawless skin as the essential status symbol and set the standard for “perfect skin”. These standards are globally recognized, and we realize now that it all begins with the culture and the consumers.
Another group of products worth mentioning are gentle exfoliators. Gentle exfoliators lend more effective results than the normal facial scrubs sold on typical drug store shelves – they are carefully formulated with an artistic blend of sulfur, herbal extracts, and refined physical exfoliants without potent glycolic acid or other AHA exfoliants that are popular in the U.S. market. I like to use gentle exfoliators in lieu of cleansers – they leave my skin feeling baby-soft and supple.
The similarities & differences
What’s remarkably clear in both the French and Korean cultures is that women aren’t interested in stripping the skin, but nurturing it. They both value minimal use of makeup and seek an aesthetic translucence that can only be found with proper skincare techniques and strict regimens.
There are some notable differences though in skincare and culture. For one, a cigarette in a perfectly manicured French woman’s hand is a super common sight – obviously, detrimental to the skin. That aside, walking through tons of beauty stores and pharmacies in France, I wasn’t able to find sheet masks or any type of essence (which Korean women use religiously), but am pretty sure the French would take up these Korean products in a heartbeat.
All that said, the true distinction that I saw lies in skincare regimens: French women are satisfied with using the simple 3- to 5-step regimen (e.g. cleanser, toner, serum, cream, sunscreen) whereas Korean women strictly adhere to the longer 6- to 12-step regimen (e.g. 2-step cleansing, toner, essence, serum, lotion,…sunscreen). Korean women seem much more focused on hyper-targeted and personalized skincare solutions that do very specific things for the skin. For example, Korean Woman 1 could have a mental a la carte menu of what they want for their skin: more radiance, less fine lines, more firmness around the eye area, more hydration without the oiliness, sebum control, and minimized pores…whereas Korean Woman 2 could be seeking plumpness in the cheeks, smooth our forehead wrinkles, brighten under eye areas and heal acne scarring. And the amazing thing is that these women will then go out and hunt down beauty products that specifically target those very specific and personalized needs – and that’s where the Korean skincare regimen can explode into as many as 15 steps.
It was a beautiful, beautiful week in Paris and one thing that seems to connect women from all across the world is a pursuit of beauty that can both empower and dazzle. Inner beauty and confidence, of course, are the cornerstones of the most radiant kind of beauty.
Stella for Peach and Lily