K-beauty comes to Turkey as Korean cosmetics exports boom

ISTANBUL/SEOUL — After K-pop and K-drama, the latest Korean export surging in popularity in Turkey and the Middle East is K-beauty.

According to data from Turkey’s largest e-commerce company, Trendyol, shared exclusively with Nikkei Asia, sales of South Korean cosmetics on its platform have been running five times higher than a year ago.

The figures suggest the South Korean beauty industry is opening up another new export market, as its sales rise across the globe.

Last year was “a milestone year” for the category, a representative of the e-commerce platform said, and sales have continued to soar in 2021. After selling 665,000 South Korean cosmetics items on the platform in 2020 — up from 135,000 in 2019 — that figure had already been surpassed by April this year. The number of items sold in the first half was five times higher than the same period last year, the representative said. Trendyol began selling K-beauty products only in 2018.

South Korean brands such as Cosrx, Missha, Klairs and Axis-Y have gained a foothold in Turkey thanks to the e-commerce boom and social media influencers, mostly selling via local distributors.

“I kept hearing, ‘I watched this Korean music band video and watched that Korean drama where everyone has skin as smooth as glass, where women do not age. How come?'” said Cisem Cakir, an influencer with nearly 200,000 YouTube subscribers and more than 16 million views on her account “Naturally Serein.”

Cakir works with brands such as Cosrx, Missha and Moremo. She argued that Korean brands have a value-for-money edge over U.S. and European brands.

South Korea’s cosmetics exports to the Middle East reached $7.8 million in June, up from $7.0 million in the same month last year and $4.3 million in June 2019, according to the country’s trade ministry. Foundation and other types of makeup accounted for the largest share, followed by face wash products, the ministry said.

South Korea exported $726 million of cosmetics globally in June, meaning the Middle East remains a relatively small market. China is the biggest destination for K-beauty exports, followed by the U.S. and Japan, and demand has been booming around the world.

Global K-beauty product sales are forecast to reach $13.9 billion by 2027, according to India-based Allied Market Research, up from $10.2 billion in 2019.

Trendyol, in which Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba owns a majority stake, accounts for about a third of Turkey’s e-commerce market. This month it became the country’s first “decacorn” — a startup worth over $10 billion — after a fundraising round by investors including SoftBank Group’s Vision Fund 2 and General Atlantic.

South Korean skin care products now have a market share of 8% on the platform, Trendyol said, up 3 percentage points in the past year, and some categories are growing even faster. South Korean makeup brands have jumped from a 3% market share last year to 8% so far this year.

The growth stems from higher demand, new product launches and wider distribution. The number of K-beauty brands available on Trendyol has reached 90, up from 66 two years ago, it said, while the number of merchants offering South Korean products has jumped to 150 from 22 over the same period.

And it is not only online where K-beauty is making inroads in Turkey. Watsons, the Hong Kong-based drugstore chain, has designated sections for 11 South Korean skin care brands at more than 300 of its almost 350 stores in Turkey, the company’s local trade and marketing director told Nikkei. Beauty product chain Sephora is also promoting K-beauty in Turkey.

Apart from Turkey, Watsons announced in October of last year that it opened its first store in the Middle East in the United Arab Emirates and has plans to open 100 more in the region, including in Saudi Arabia, by the end of 2025. That is likely to provide a further boost for the spread of K-beauty products.


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