Why is South Korea so cool? Much has been written about the Hallyu wave and the dynamic spread of the Korean pop culture beyond its borders. Its music and tech superstars have conquered the world and the march of BB creams and cushion foundations seems unstoppable. Behind all this beauty there’s some serious brainpower and cool technology.
Market-leading scientific research is the foundation of Korea’s top industries. Indeed, the country is world champion when it comes to R&D investment (4.4% of GDP in 2012). Much of this comes from the private sector with the government providing the rest via direct investment and tax incentives. This investment translates into tangible results: patent registration surged in 2013 and South Korea is now among the top five in the world for trademarks.
Chungbuk, in the centre of the peninsula, is one of eight new Free Economic Zones. As the government’s designated biomedical R&D cluster, it is home to the health and medical ministries. It also boasts four research facilities, the new National Stem Cell Regeneration Research Centre, bio-tech universities and 70 biomedical companies including LG Life Sciences.
When it comes to personal care and beauty, this hefty R&D spend yields cutting-edge advances in ingredients and formulation – from nanotechnology to stem-cell related actives and growth factors.
One of Korea’s intellectual property stars is NBM (Natural Bio-Materials), which produces a range of high-grade, animal-free and endotoxin-free growth factors made from rice cell culture. Some like, Nutrex and YCellBio Med, straddle cosmeceutical and pharmaceutical territory. The former has patented a protein synthesis technology and produces a dozen growth factors, including VEGF and KEGF for hair care applications. The latter specialises in platelet rich plasma for dermatology and ophthalmology. PnP Biopharm is active in oligopeptides and growth factors. Many of these high tech ingredients feed directly into cosmeceutical formulas.
Korea’s hospitals and clinics are top destinations for medical tourism, including cosmetic surgery and laser skin treatments. This drives innovation in high end beauty equipment for diagnosis and treatment of skin and hair concerns. These technologies, used in labs, clinics and retail outlets, also filter into products and beauty devices for home use. Advances in pharmaceutics and aesthetic research fuel the innovation pipeline at the nation’s beauty giants Amorepacific and LG Household & Healthcare.
Like the US, Korea has a wealth of cosmeceutical and doctor branded skincare. Popular favourites include Dr Jart+, IOPE, IsaKnox, Dr Pharm, Dr G and Dorissiderm. Many of these are backed by medical doctors or created by dermatologists.
Seoul’s notoriously sweltering summers mean hydrating mists and cooling masks are must-haves to beat the heat. Brands have taken the trend for cold-pressed ingredients a step further with refrigeration technology. LG’s Frostine, introduced three years ago, claims to be the first refrigerated 5℃ skincare line and Prangenidin uses refrigeration technology in its anti-ageing line.
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