updated 18 Apr 2014, 17:23
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Tue, Apr 15, 2014
The Korea Herald/Asia News Network
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Teen makeup: No longer taboo in Korea
by Suk Gee-hyun

Just a decade ago, it was socially unacceptable for adolescent and teenage girls in school uniforms to wear makeup in Korea. But nowadays, seeing teen girls as young as 11 wearing some form of makeup is commonplace.

The number of girls putting on makeup has significantly increased in Korea, leading to a boom in the beauty market targeting young students and debate on how parents should deal with the change.

If the industry is any indication, teenagers are becoming the most important customers for cosmetic companies, especially budget brands like Missha and Etude.

According to cosmetics brand Faceshop, its customers aged 13-19 almost doubled from 230,000 people in 2010 to 490,000 last year, more than 10 per cent of total sales.

"All my classmates put on at least BB cream every morning. We bring our eyeliners, lip glosses and light-coloured eyeshadows to school and try them on each other's faces," Lee Jin, a 17-year-old high school student in Seoul, said.

Lee explained that she feels more confident when wearing makeup, as it can camouflage her blemishes and dark circles.

Lee's parents told The Korea Herald that they would rather suggest healthier, safer makeup for kids to their daughter, than stop her from wearing foundation and lip gloss.

"We don't want our daughter to develop an unhealthy obsession with makeup and her looks. I try to introduce her to brands that use safe ingredients and let her know that makeup should not be a factor influencing her self-esteem," Kim Yoon-jung, Lee's mother, said.

Parents of young girls also discuss the issue at school meetings, Kim says.

"While it's difficult for Korean parents to understand why these girls have to wear makeup, we think stopping them would have an adverse reaction like causing them to secretly put on heavy makeup or developing bad habits for their skin and body," Kim said.

Trying to emulate K-pop stars or actresses on TV, and peer pressure at school and on social media are key drivers for the trend, says Park Chung-shig, a youth counselor in Seoul.

"We can't just blame kids since we all have a responsibility for making that trend. Teenagers nowadays are more exposed to media showing celebrities with makeup and fancy outfits. It's natural for them to care so much about their looks from a young age," Park said.

To lure young customers, more and more beauty brands are creating separate makeup lines that are healthier than chemical-ridden sets or ones made for adults.

And apparently it is already a pretty large market. So large that major cosmetic brands have been seeing their businesses flourish, using K-pop stars like Suzy from girl group miss A and Girls' Generation.

Among the large firms are LG Household & Care, which launched its teen-friendly brand nanas' B in 2008 and AmorePacific, one of Korea's top beauty companies, which introduced Teen: Clear in 2010.

Of the popular brands among teenagers is Too Cool for School, launched in 2009 targeting ages 16 to 25. The products are known for their unique packaging designs that lure young customers, such as cream blush that looks like a paint tube and lip gloss that resembles a crayon.

"The market is growing by almost 20 per cent every year. Cosmetic companies are taking the trend more seriously than in the past and discussing marketing strategies for the younger generation," an official from a local budget makeup brand said.

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