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Analytical Chemistry

Signal in the noise: The K-beauty boom

C&EN and CAS examine the intellectual property behind the cosmetics in South Korea

September 12, 2016 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 94, ISSUE 36

Credit: Shutterstock
Credit: Shutterstock

Long popular in South Korea, “BB creams”—trendy, all-in-one products meant to replace serum, moisturizer, primer, foundation, and sunblock—are now a fixture of drugstore shelves in Asia and the rest of the world. An analysis by CAS, a division of the American Chemical Society, reveals the intellectual property behind the explosion of this and other “K-beauty” products, which are a growing component of the more than $110 billion global skin care market. On a per capita basis during 2010–15, South Korea’s patenting in these areas was twice that of Japan, three times that of France, and five times that of the U.S.



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Herman Rutner (September 14, 2016 3:12 PM)
Numbers in patenting activity are deceiving and may not reflect significant advantages in cosmetology or any other science or technology. As a chemist with familiarity with IP submissions, most patents are incremental often ineffective improvements of existing art....with most winding up on the ash heap of expired patents when steep maintenance fees rise before patent expiration of useless patents. All it takes is willingness of a company to commit to some lab experimentation and a substantial investment in costly patent applications, especially international. Also needed is a huge and costly IP staff experienced in submitting and defending inevitable challenges fo patent examiners and fending off imitating competitors in costly litigations. S. Korean cosmetics company apparently are willing to spend a larger fraction of the revenue from their vastly overpriced products bought by desperate women and now even men seeking superficial rejuvenation.
HR retired industrial health care scientist, now Biotech Consultant
Ravi Kulkarni (September 15, 2016 12:23 AM)
Herman's comment is well taken. Not all patents are equal. However, even is one in 100 looks great, it would make a big difference and could chanhe the fortunes. We look for statistics. If out of 2722 patents, as stated above, few are gems, that all matters.
Donald Wanamaker (September 15, 2016 1:01 PM)
Congratulations South Korea as a world leader in the cosmetics industry. I am very much interested in your 'sustainability' efforts in recovering ingredients that still have value. In particular, if recovering a petroleum-based compound, would your choice of a technology be either activated carbon or a molecular sieve? Thank you for the opportunity to ask that question and receive your response.

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