As part of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we want to spotlight K-beauty products – a broad term referring to cosmetics from Korea. Clean beauty is all the rage now. I distinctly recall the moment the term “clean beauty” launched a thriving $7 billion industry. A retailer shared their frustration about how all the “free from – ” claims on personal care products often left consumers bewildered and uncertain. That retailer simplified the messaging and reshaped the beauty industry. The remarkable ascent of clean beauty is a testament to the ever-growing demand for healthier options and increased transparency among consumers. But the origins of clean beauty can be traced back to the skin health practices deeply rooted in the lifestyle trends of the Asia Pacific region, particularly in Korea. The K-beauty phenomenon has received significant recognition, with Korean innovations ranging from facial masks to BB and CC creams, and even products made with unconventional ingredients – like snail serums – capturing attention and receiving celebrity endorsements. But are they healthier? The answer is yes! In 2018, EWG published an analysis of 352 K-beauty serums and essences. Using the Skin Deep® database, researchers found that these products resulted in an average Skin Deep product rating of 3.3 on a scale from 1 to 10 – where 1 denotes the lowest hazard rating and 10 represents the highest hazard rating. Building on this analysis, we recently revisited K-beauty with popular brands including COSRX, Etude House, Dr. Jart+ and Some by Mi. Skin Deep now includes product ratings for 113 K-beauty products sold in the United States.
EWG VERIFIED® K-beauty productsA number of K-beauty brands also meet EWG’s stringent ingredient and transparency requirements to earn the EWG VERIFIED® mark. These products must not use substances on our unacceptable list and also must meet restrictions for chemicals used in formulations. And they must fully disclose the chemicals that make up their fragrance mixtures. Some of the EWG VERIFIED K-Beauty brands include Buddate, Cicago, Ecolline, Isoi, iUNIK, Rovectin, Sonreve, Urang, Varuza, Wellia and Whamisa. In 2023, K-beauty products now have an average product safety score of 2.9, an improvement of half a point compared to 2018. These products also outperform the average safety rating of all skincare products sold in the U.S., which stands at 3.6. Similarly, the mean product safety ratings for K-beauty and other skincare products in the United States are 3 and 4 respectively. A one-point differential may seem inconsequential, but it is important to recognize that these small improvements can make a significant difference in overall health, when you consider the cumulative impact of using these various skincare products over a lifetime. But it is also important not to generalize all K-beauty products as being healthy. In 2018, the Korean government banned the sale of 13 cosmetic products found to contain unsafe levels of antimony, a toxic heavy metal. And, an analysis of K-beauty products in Skin Deep showed 7 percent and 4 percent of products received red ratings in 2018 and 2023 respectively. Despite these ratings, it is very encouraging to see that K-beauty products have become healthier over the last 5 years.
How to find K-beauty productsConsumers looking for K-beauty products can search EWG’s Skin Deep database and the Healthy Living app. You can also look for the EWG VERIFIED mark on personal care products to know they meet our highest standards for health and transparency. As we celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the spotlight on K-beauty products serves as a reminder of the profound significance of the clean beauty movement. EWG is committed to prioritizing well-being and healthy living. A healthier today means a better tomorrow.