Biotechnology in skincare
Starting with skincare, the buzzword for 2023 is biotechnology. Despite the hype surrounding snail mucin on TikTok, it’s not the be-all and end-all of Korean skincare anymore. As I strive to demonstrate on this channel, Korean beauty has evolved beyond snail mucin and fad-based trends. Biotechnology is currently the most significant trend driving Korean beauty and various other industries in South Korea.
The Korean government has identified biotechnology as one of the country’s three main growth drivers and is investing heavily to support its development. In the beauty industry, companies are leveraging the latest biotech breakthroughs to create cutting-edge products based on human stem cells, gene editing, or microbiology.
For instance, in the past year, Amorepacific, a Korean beauty conglomerate, introduced a new skincare line featuring a patented flavonoid complex that was bio-engineered to reverse skin aging and restore its natural regenerative ability. Kolmar Korea, a cosmetic manufacturer, is developing an innovative hair loss treatment using microbiome technology. They found a correlation between androgenetic alopecia and the microbes found in the gut and on the scalp’s surface. Finally, LG Household & Health Care used DNA profiling to identify ten genes responsible for retinol-induced skin irritation and developed cosmetic products that inhibit the action of those genes, offering anti-aging benefits without irritation.
Apart from biotechnology, there are many other exciting trends that we can expect to see more of in 2023. Glass skin, which refers to a flawless, dewy complexion, will remain popular. However, the emphasis will be on achieving the look through natural and sustainable means, such as plant-based ingredients and eco-friendly packaging.
Introducing the Hair Care Trend of 2023: Scalp Microbiome
In recent years, many Korean beauty brands have launched probiotic skincare products that promise to restore the skin’s natural microbiome and enhance overall skin health. South Korea is leading the charge in research on the skin microbiome, a complex ecosystem of microorganisms that play a vital role in maintaining skin health.
Now, the microbiome trend has extended to hair care, with researchers investigating the role of the scalp microbiome in the development of conditions like dandruff and hair loss. Hair loss has become a significant concern for young Koreans, with around 48% of hair loss patients in Korea being young adults in their 20s and 30s, according to the Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service.
Experts suggest that high levels of stress and an increasingly westernized diet are two of the leading causes of this phenomenon, as they increase the levels of DHT, a hormone responsible for hair loss in both men and women. This has resulted in a booming consumer demand for hair loss treatments in Korea.
Korean retailers like Olive Young and Gmarket reported a significant increase in sales of hair loss products last year, especially from young consumers in their 20s and 30s. Traditionally, over-the-counter hair loss treatments have focused on promoting new hair growth and strengthening weakened hair to minimize existing hair loss.
However, recent advancements in microbiome research have opened the door to a new approach to hair loss treatment in Korea. Many Korean beauty companies have started investigating the microorganisms that naturally live on the scalp and found that individuals who suffer from hair conditions like alopecia or dermatitis have one thing in common: a compromised balance of microorganisms on their scalp.
Compared to a healthy scalp, their scalp showed a reduction in microbial diversity, along with an overgrowth of particular bacterial strains. Tests have shown that restoring the balance of the scalp microbiome could improve the health of hair follicles and effectively reduce hair loss.
Nano exosome revolution
Exosomes, which are nano-sized extracellular vesicles produced by living cells, are the new frontier of biotechnology that is garnering a great deal of attention in Korea today, particularly in relation to their application in topical cosmetics. Originally believed to be responsible for the elimination of cellular waste, exosomes were discovered in 2015 to play a crucial role in cell-to-cell communication. Essentially, exosomes function as an intercellular messaging system. All living organisms, from bacteria and plants to animals and humans, are made up of cells that are in constant communication with each other, working together to maintain the health of the organism.
Cell signaling molecules are exchanged between cells in the form of tiny particles that the cells release, known as exosomes. The contents of exosomes can vary widely, ranging from proteins to growth factors and genetic information such as DNA and mRNA. The exosomes’ outer layer consists of a double lipid membrane that shields the contents, ensuring that they are delivered intact to the recipient cell without degradation.
The membrane of exosomes is identical in structure to that of human cells, and they exhibit a high degree of biocompatibility. This means that they can be easily absorbed by human cells without causing any adverse reactions or irritation. Moreover, exosomes have the ability to recognize and bind to specific cell surface receptors, enabling them to deliver their contents directly to target cells. This distinguishes exosomes from synthetic nanoparticles or other types of delivery systems.
In effect, exosomes are emerging as a next-generation delivery system for both pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Although the concept of exosomes may initially seem complex, it can be easily understood by thinking of cells as individuals and exosomes as portable safe boxes. Consider a scenario where person A has fallen ill with a virus and person B, who has recently recovered from the same virus, has a bottle of medicine left that they want to send to person A. Person B is concerned that the bottle could be damaged in transport or stolen, so they place the medicine inside a portable safe box and send it to person A. Later that day, person B contacts person A to provide them with the code to open the safe box. As a result, person A can receive their medicine safely and quickly.
Following the discovery of the potential of exosomes, all of the leading Korean beauty companies have formed partnerships with biotech firms to develop cosmetic products using exosome technology.
Sooryehan’s “The Black Serum” gained widespread attention in early 2022 for being the first Korean skincare serum to utilize exosome technology. Sooryehan is a beauty brand that is deeply rooted in Traditional Korean Medicine practices and was established by LG Household & Health Care, which is one of the most advanced cosmetic companies in Korea. Traditional Korean Medicine, known as Hanbang, is a type of Oriental medicine that is unique to Korea, and Sooryehan’s reinterpretation of it has been a significant factor in the brand’s popularity.
LG’s cosmetic division is renowned for its research on the cosmetic applications of Traditional Korean Medicine and its pioneering work on stem cell biotechnology. Sooryehan’s “The Black Serum” is the outcome of combining these two fields of research. This serum aims to combat the signs of micro-aging, which is a common term used in Korean and Japanese skincare. Micro-aging refers to the premature signs of skin aging that people start to experience from their late 20s. This includes fine lines, decreased elasticity, age spots, and loss of volume, which will become more prominent with time.
“The Black Serum” uses exosome technology and incorporates a traditional remedy from Traditional Korean Medicine. The proprietary ingredient used in the serum is “Black Exosome™”, which is based on years of research on orchid flowers. The Black Exosome™ is derived from the Black Yeast strain, which is known for its longevity properties in wild orchids.
LG discovered the secret behind wild orchids’ resilience by isolating the bacteria strains found in the plant. They identified a particular strain known as “Black Yeast”, which is rich in polysaccharides, natural sugar molecules that are on the surface of cells. Although it is a relatively new discovery in skincare, studies have shown that Black Yeast has vast potential. “The Black Serum” is not the only product in Korean skincare that targets micro-aging. O Hui’s “Prime Advancer Ampoule Serum”, Donginbi’s “Daily Defense Essence,” and Iope’s “Stem III Ampoule”
Hydro-Dew Plumping Cream
Hera, a Korean brand, fully embraced a current trend by launching the “Hydro-Dew Plumping” skincare line. This line aims to provide a smooth canvas before applying makeup. It consists of three products, which can be used together as a complete skincare routine or selected individually based on personal needs.
The line starts with the “Hydro-Dew Plumping Water Drop,” a gentle exfoliating treatment. The product contains a low percentage of glycolic acid and lactic acid, coupled with hydrating components like hyaluronic acid and resurrection plant, all within a watery formula. It also boasts numerous antioxidant elements, which help in smoothing skin texture, revitalizing overall skin tone, and visibly plumping skin simultaneously.
Another product in the line is the “Hydro-Dew Plumping Ampoule.” It is specifically designed for targeted plumping treatment and has a soft, milky texture. This product is proven to deliver intense hydration up to ten layers deep into the surface of the skin. Additionally, its unique formula is rich on the inside and silky on the outside, making it perfect for use before applying makeup.
The “Hydro-Dew Plumping Cream” completes the line, a hybrid cream that combines the moisturizing properties of a day cream with the luminous finish of a makeup primer. Several makeup primers are commonly used in Korea to create the glass skin look, with MAC’s “Strobe Cream” being the most frequently mentioned by Korean beauty bloggers.
However, what makes the “Hydro-Dew Plumping Cream” exceptional compared to a regular makeup primer is that it provides a glowy finish without shimmering. Most glowy makeup primers on the market contain tiny shimmer particles that create the illusion of a more luminous complexion. This effect is not necessarily bad, but it’s not the most natural look either.
The “Hydro-Dew Plumping Cream,” on the other hand, is formulated with finely milled tiny particles of black pearls, which are not visible to the naked eye. Applying the cream gives you a beautiful lit-from-within type of glow that looks incredibly natural. It is, without a doubt, the most natural-looking glowy makeup primer ever to be found.
Sensual Spicy Nude Gloss
The “Sensual Spicy Nude Gloss” was initially launched in 2020 and it quickly became a bestseller globally due to an exceedingly effective promotional campaign featuring Kpop sensation, Jennie Kim. In early January, the iconic “Sensual Spicy Nude Gloss” was reintroduced with a revamped formula that makes it even glossier and more plumping than the original.
The latest version of the “Sensual Nude Gloss” was enhanced with an innovative polymer that minimizes the stickiness of the lip gloss while simultaneously increasing its longevity and creating a noticeable shine. While the previous formula had a warm, tingling sensation on the lips, hence the name “Spicy,” the new version has a cooling tingle.
The lip gloss still operates by stimulating blood flow to the lips, resulting in a fuller and more plump appearance. However, unlike before, the tingling sensation is less intense and far more subtle. Hera states that they have updated the shades of the new “Sensual Nude Gloss” to be even more natural-looking and flattering.
What I observed while testing these shades in-store is that they attempted to make the four colors in this line a perfect match for each of the four seasonal color palettes. “No Hustle” is an excellent nude shade for light spring types, “Speechless” is ideal for warm autumn “Lingerie” matches the light summer color palette, and “Hush” is perfect for cool winter types.