Top 10 Hottest Korean Beauty Startups to Watch – Best of 2020

The hottest industry for the last few years has been the Korean beauty and skincare industry. South Korea has been the trendsetter in makeup and skincare in Asia. However, they have gotten a lot of attention from the west as well. Korean beauty startups have found great success in Korea and many have been able to go global. So what makes Korean beauty so special? Young girls and even boys in Korea learn the proper techniques in regard to skincare such as moisturizing, exfoliating, and using SPF. Since skincare shops are all around Seoul, Koreans approach skincare differently than most countries. Therefore Korean consumers are well educated and focus more on products that help with the root causes of skin problems.

Korean beauty startups are looking to bring a lot of innovation into their beauty products. Their focus is not just on affordability but effectiveness as well. Therefore they put a lot of time into research and development, as well as acquiring the best ingredients. Lastly, they focus on branding and making sure the packaging is attractive to buyers. Since Korean beauty startups have a lot of competition, they need to great the consumer’s attention right off the bat.

Korean Beauty Becoming Popular in the US

Korean beauty exports were at $60 million in 2012, however, in 2019 it was over $6 billion. There were many Korean beauty importers in the US like Peach & Lily and Soko Glam which showcased Korean beauty to the states. Many Korean beauty startups were able to show the 10-step skincare routine which involved serums and essences. Soon Amazon started to pick up the Korean beauty trend and has been the main driver of Korean beauty brand sales in the US.

Which Beauty Startup Will Become the Next AmorePacific?

The most successful Korean beauty startup so far has been Amorepacific which has over $5.5 billion in global sales and sells six brands in the United States. They were recently added on the FORBES’ annual list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies. The company was launched back in 1997 and now is the world’s 14th largest cosmetics company and has over 30 brands under its portfolio.

So which Korean beauty startup will become the next Amorepacific? We will leave Peach & Lily and Soko Glam off the list as they were technically launched in the US (New York). Here are the top 10 Hottest Korean Beauty Startups to watch in 2020.

The rankings were comprised by the Seoulz staff and are based on 4 factors:

  • Funding
  • Market Opportunity
  • The innovation of service or product
  • Growth Potential/Scalability

Beauty Startups in Korea – Best of 2020

1. MBX (MEMEBOX)

MBX Korean BeautyKorean beauty startup Memebox which is recently rebranded as MBX is one of the most successful Korean beauty startups to date. Their focus has now been on the United States and their e-commerce platform. They are alumni of Y-Combinator the top startup accelerator in the world. They are known for their short development cycle due to their massive database on skin types, trends, and preferences from their 5 million monthly active users. Memebox became a household name in Korea due to its focus on targeting beauty influencers. They are in collaboration with Hye-Min Park (Pony), she is Korea’s top beauty vlogger.

Memebox started out in 2012 as a subscription box service for Korean beauty products. A few years later they branched out into the United States and were one of the first stores that sold Korean beauty products to American consumers. Their focus has been on community building since then, as well as transitioning from a subscription-based service to an e-commerce business. The company has since transformed itself into a mobile e-commerce platform that sells around 170,000 cosmetics and beauty products. Now more than 50% of their revenue comes from outside of Korea. In addition, Memebox which is now referred to as MBX has partnered with Sephora and Johnson & Johnson. Some of their in-house product lines include Kaja, Nooni, Pony Effect, I’M MEME, I Dew Care, and Shine Easy Glam.

Innovative K-Beauty Brand Incubator

MBX has been able to get around $200 million in funding so far. Their focus for 2020 will be to build the next generation of personal care brands by leveraging Korean technology across beauty sectors. They will continue to focus on innovation and R&D as they look to expand globally. This will be done through their K-Beauty brand incubator which specializes in the latest trends and driving innovation in the K-beauty industry. They will continue to build unique brands that serve niche consumer bases.

“MBX today is the evolution of our company’s approach to personalization through data into the development of unique brands that target niche groups,” said CEO of Memebox, Hyungseok Dino Ha.

2.  L&P Cosmetic (MediHeal)

Korean Startup MedihealKorean Beauty Startup MediHeal has become a household name due to its partnership with global K-pop group BTS. Global K-pop superstar group BTS will provide the new faces behind the Mediheal line of moisturizing masks from L&P Cosmetic. They have been collaborating with BTS since 2017 on their face masks which feature BTS singers. Before they landed BTS, they have Korean movie star Hyun Bin as their spokesperson. Currently, MediHeal is one of South Korea’s leading sheet mask brands. They have sold over 1.7 billion sheet masks since late 2017.

Mediheal now sold at Walgreens

Mediheal has taken off in America and it is now being sold on Amazon, Soko Glam, and Walgreens.

“As the K-Beauty phenomenon spread globally, many Korean beauty brands rushed to the US market. We waited until we understood the market enough to offer the right products and chose distribution partners who embraced our core value-making the most cutting edge, effective beauty products accessible to all,” said Sunjoo Lee, Mediheal U.S. CEO.

3.  B2LiNK

Korean Beauty Statup b2LinkKorean beauty startup B2LiNK works with over 85 cosmetics makers and provides beauty product retailing solutions by cooperating with over 60 different firms abroad. They work with any lesser-known Korean beauty startups and brands to provide them with the right retail platform. Furthermore, they help with marketing strategies for the global market.

They have been able to raise over $24 million to date. B2LiNK now operates branches in the United States, China, Japan, and Vietnam. The company will continue to play a bridging role for Korean skincare and makeup brands to make inroads abroad with its advanced technology and customized consulting services. In addition, they will also expand the scope of its partners beyond K-beauty manufacturers to other indie beauty brands.

“Our job is not just to provide the retail platform but to provide industrywide consulting to help firms market their products abroad,” said Lee So-hyung, CEO of B2LiNK.

4.  Glow Recipe

glow recipeKorean beauty startup Glow Recipe is a Korean beauty brand that focuses on sleeping masks. The masks are so popular that they are sold out constantly. Therefore they have gone to creating a waitlist that attracts more than 5,000 people. The most famous product is their watermelon mask which consists of AHAs, watermelon extract, antioxidants, hyaluronic acid, and peony root that hydrates your skin as you sleep. Glow Recipe focuses a lot on their ingredients. Most of their products have a fruit concept from Watermelon to Blueberry to even Pineapple.

“Korean products and technologies were always considered standouts at industry events where beauty execs and employees would compare hundreds of cosmetics formulas and packages from around the world,” said Christine Chang, Co-Founder of Glow Recipe.

5. TOUN28

TOUN28Toun28 is a Korean beauty and tech startup which has a customized monthly cosmetics subscription service. The company collects data about their customer’s facial conditions, along with the climate and environmental data. Customers pay a subscription fee of 50,000 won a month for access to customized organic products based on their personal data. These products are sent out to them on the 28th of every month. For those that do not wish to give up their personal data, TOUN28 offers ready-made organic cosmetics lines. They have gotten over $4 million in funding from Korean beauty company Amorepacfic. They were the first beauty startup brand that has gotten an investment from Amorepacific. Their focus for 2020 will be to enter the European market. They have already supplied their non-customized products to France.

“We understand that some young people do not prefer getting their skin checkups in person. So, we will soon provide a semi-customized subscription service, which is provided without meeting our customers, once we accumulate enough data. Once that service is out, we will aggressively stretch our business,” said the CEO of TOUN28, Jung Maria.

6.  LYCL Inc. (UNPA)

LYCL Inc. has gotten over $1.3 million in investments to date. They were able to partner with Olive Young and their most popular product Bubi Bubi Lip has sold over 200,000 units. Their focus for 2020 will be building up exports to countries like Singapore and the United States.

LYCL Inc. gets investment from Beiersdorf AG

German consumer goods firm Beiersdorf AG became the 2nd largest shareholder of LYCL Inc. Beiersdorf AG is known for its personal care brand Nivea. LYCL Inc. was one of 5 startups that were selected by Beiersdorf AG for its K-beauty accelerator program (NX). Therefore, they will continue to help LYCL Inc. by providing marketing, retail, and financial support.

“We’ll keep up efforts to create synergy by cooperating with Beiersdorf AG with various sales channels at home and abroad,” said Jeon Ji-hoon, CEO of LYCL Inc.

7.  Reziena

Korean Beauty Startup RezienaKorean beauty startup Reziena develops personal homecare beauty IoT devices that use intense focused ultrasound (IFU) technology. They showcased their product (Young & Be) at CES 2019 in Las Vegas. Most of their products are customizable and handheld, so consumers can use them at home. Currently, they are developing a smart sheet mask with LED and iontophoresis technology. After their test trial, they will look to enter the North American market.

Reziena has gotten funding from Future Play and TIPS. Their focus in 2020 will be to continue to develop their Big Data platform based on the user’s personal data so they can have a personalized beauty care service at home.

“We thrive to deliver customized skincare treatment of professional efficacy through at-home dermatological care,” said CEO of Rezinea, Conner Shin.

8.  Limese

Korean Beauty Startup LimeseKorean beauty startup Limese is the No.1 K-beauty platform that sells Korean beauty products to the Indian market. They continue to partner with cosmetic brands in South Korea and are setting themselves up as the main middleman for helping Korean brands enter the Indian market. Limese handpicks its Korean products to suit Indian beauty requirements. Furthermore, their site offers real reviews from people in India so Indian consumers can make the right decision. They even have their own blog and podcast to showcase the latest Korean beauty trends.

Limese got an investment of $900,000 from Kakao Ventures, closing their seed round.

“Through the latest investment, we would like the number of brands to increase to 50 by next year and strengthen influence of the platform,” said Dale Deungcheon Han, CEO of Limese.

For 2019 Limese will focus on its own skincare brand called “Limese” and continue to develop its existing products. They will continue to bridge the beauty-gap between India and Korea. In addition to bringing the latest, and high-quality products Korean beauty brands and startups.

9.  Zakdang (Zamface)

Korean Beauty Startup ZamfaceKorean Beauty Startup Zakdang is the creators of Zamface, a mobile app that helps viewers choose a streamer who offers the best beauty tips for the user’s skin type, tone, and contours. It is hard to find the right Korean YouTuber or streamer and not many people have the time to watch their videos which could be up to an hour-long. Zamface recommends streamers via their face-matching function. In addition, the app uses AI and facial recognition to find the user the correct match. Once they do the app cuts the streamer’s video into sections for easy step by step viewing. The app also shows a list of the exact products the streamer is using.

“People start learning how to apply makeup at a young age and Zamface is out to help tailor the choices for these newbies,” said Yun Jung-ha, Founder of Zakdang.

10. LOVBOD

Lovbod Korean beautyKorean Beauty startup LOVBOD creates beauty products for women of every form. Their products are not just for the face but the body (including the butt). They offer moisturizing masks for your elbows, knees, and butt. However, their top seller is their moisturizing stick which can be applied to all parts of the body. Their “Love Your Body” stick has a great scent and is easy to carry. It is great for those that have dry skin. It also utilizes a whitening functional ingredient. In addition, it has sunflower seed oil, shea butter, and sweet almond oil.

HONORABLE MENTION

Virtualive (Hairfit)

Korean Beauty Startup HairfitKorean startup Virtualive is the creator of the AR fair and fashion app Hairfit. Hairfit is an AR-enabled virtual hairstylist that can take selfies and apply different types of hairstyles to it. Now users can see how different types of hairstyles will look at them. Hairfit allows users to try out many different looks through their smartphones. The app takes into account the user’s head shape to provide a realistic look. There are looks for both men and women. In addition, they also provide articles and advice on the latest hairstyle and fashion trends.

HAIRFIT recently launched the global version. Just type HAIRFIT on the Google Play Store and users will have access to a unique experience about Hallyu hairstyles such as K-pop and K-Drama.

“(HAIRFIT) will secure the most satisfactory hairstyle and the relationship between a customer and a hair designer to let the customer check hair designer’s style books, choose one style and complete his or her hair,” said Lee Jae-yeol, CEO at Virtualive.

SOAK

Korean Beauty Startup SoakKorean Beauty Media Startup Soak, is a Korean beauty & Lifestyle media site/marketing company. They have a great network of bloggers, YouTubers, and content creators in Korea. They hold brunches to connect foreigners in Korea that have the same likes and interests. Their articles go behind the scenes of the latest Korean beauty trends as well as the latest Korean brand launches. They offer deep insight into Korean clinics, stores, and celebrities. Furthermore, they also do product reviews and comprehensive guides for Korean brands. Furthermore, Soak’s goal is to make K-beauty mainstream. The site is new but could become a major player in the Korean beauty content space for years to come.