Generational Beauty: A guide to Korean beauty brands by age group

When I first went to Korea to study makeup, I expected to be swamped by K-Beauty brands, idol endorsements, and their collectibles. And while that was certainly true, I honestly didn’t expect for luxury Western brands to have a place of respect among my friends and makeup instructors.

For Koreans, beauty brands follow a pretty tight market classification - a pecking order, if you will. They tend to look at consumers in terms of age, and will cater very specifically to each group. Koreans have a word (dae) which means “generation” and pertains to the age bracket that a person falls under: teens, twenties, and so on. The brands then align themselves with a particular segment, and will completely revolve all elements of their advertising for that audience. What makes this phenomenon even more interesting is that the stratification is not simply brand-dictated; consumers themselves are aware and classify themselves accordingly.

10대 brands: Etude House, Tony Moly, Skin Food

When I told my classmates in makeup school that Etude House was pretty popular in the Philippines, I got a lot of laughs. I was told that Etude House was ‘kiddie’ or ‘middle school’ makeup, and that it was hilarious that a 20-year-old like me was still using their products. And if you did, this was apparently not something you say in public! Anybody who looked past puberty would earn a couple of giggles if they took out an Etude compact in public transport.

The 10대 age range is when Koreans usually start getting into makeup, so it is important for brands to appeal to the whimsies of young people. Etude House does this through their princess-marketing; Tony Moly through their boyband or idol marketing; and Skin Food through their colorful, food-themed packaging. Pricing also matters greatly as middle schoolers have a limited budget, so brands generally have products in the KRW 10,000 (around PHP 400) and below range.

Image via

Image via

20대 brands: Innisfree, Nature Republic, Club Clio

20대 women are generally viewed as more “serious” so marketers tone down on the cutesy packaging, and highlight a more professional feel or focus on effective ingredients. Items from these brands generally sell in the KRW 20,000 (about PHP 900) range.

Innisfree and Nature Republic appeal to this market by highlighting their effective, Jeju-sourced raw materials while Club Clio helps to transition 10대 into 20대 consumers from the more whimsical Peripera line to their more sedate Clio Professional line. Also of note: 20대 brands will start to offer more and better skincare options than the color-focused 10대 brands.

Image via  Sweet Narra

Image via Sweet Narra

30대brands: Laneige, Iope

30대 women are seen as more mature and financially flexible. You feel a distinct change in the boutiques and branding images of these brands. They tend to be simpler and classier: from clean store layouts to elegant and soft music piped into the store. You will not hear KPop music nor see KPop idols in these boutiques, and they tend to favor using actors as endorsers. These brands are generally not available in collective shops like Olive and Young and Watsons, and their price ranges shoot up to the KRW 40,000 (roughly PHP 1,800) level.

40대 or ‘rich bitch’ brands: Sulwhasoo, Western luxury brands (like Chanel and Dior)

Funnily, my Korean peers have mentioned that 40대 brands are for 40대 women or ‘rich bitches.’ If you are under 40 and regularly use these things, you are assumed to belong to the upper crust and must thus be respected. Expensive local brands like Sulwhasoo make the list because of their price range, but luxury Western brands make it on virtue alone. Chanel and Dior seem to be particular favorites, while mid-level prestige brands such as MAC and NARs are not quite regarded with the same esteem.

It’s funny how even as we worship K-Beauty, Korean women ultimately aspire for high-end Western brands, still. I’ve always thought that Koreans are marketing geniuses, and it is interesting how completely they try to capture their chosen market, from relevant endorsers and strategic pricing, to packaging design and store layout. Even if their aspirational brands are foreign, I think our local brands have a lot to learn from them.

Have you ever noticed this marketing strategy in K-Beauty? What do you think of this approach to marketing?

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