Who Really Makes K-Beauty Products?

cosmetics kbeauty manufacturing skincare

Have you heard of Kolmar Korea, Cosmax, or Cosmecca Korea? Did you know that the K-beauty brands such as COSRX, Klairs, or even Missha actually do not produce any cosmetics?

In this article, we will outline the regulations behind Korean cosmetics as this may give us quite a different point of view on how we select "reliable" Korean beauty products

Who's a "Seller" and Who's a "Manufacturer"

Kolmar - One of Korea's largest cosmetics manufacturerIn Korea, beauty products are regulated under the law of 'Cosmetics Act', and in Chapter II - Article 3, you can find the definitions of 'manufacturer' and 'manufacturer-seller'

  • manufacturer (제조업자): who intends to manufacture all or part of cosmetics (excluding the process of secondary packaging or labeling only)
  • manufacturer-seller (제조판매업자): who intends to distribute or sell, or supply or award for the purpose of import agency business, the manufactured cosmetics (including manufactured cosmetics by consignment) and imported cosmetics

In short, a manufacturer is the one who actually produces beauty products while a manufacturer-seller is more of a brand retailer who purchases beauty products from manufacturers and sells it to customers. According to the Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (formerly the KFDA), there were 1,952 manufacturers and 8,192 manufacturer-sellers in 2016.

There should be more consumer attention towards cosmetics manufacturers as they are the ones who actually control production and make high-performance beauty items. Even many Korean consumers are confused by the term 'manufacturer-seller' as it sounds like they are the ones who produce the products, but in reality, they don't.

However, the upside to the Korean Cosmetics Act is that manufacturer-sellers have to clearly display the actual manufacturer of each product through labeling on the package, and on their websites. So when you purchase K-beauty products, you easily can check who are the actual manufacturers as well.

How Manufacturers & Manufacturer-Sellers Work With Each Other

Seed beauty's best known brand - ColourpopSome brands initially formulate and develop their own products before engaging manufacturers to produce them to their specification. This process is called OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturing).

However, most manufacturers self-manage new product development including ingredient selection and formulation, scents, shades, texture, etc. In this case, manufacturer-sellers would simply need to label their brands on the products, market, and distribute them. This process is called ODM (Original Development Manufacturing).

In the ODM process, manufacturer-sellers can also participate in the development process in order to modify shades/texture/etc. to meet their own concepts and goals.

One prime example of this is Kylie Cosmetics and Seed Beauty. Seed Beauty is an American manufacturer based in California better known for their own brand - Colourpop. Seed Beauty formulates and produces products for Kylie, which it then markets and sells under its own brand Kylie Cosmetics. The ODM business model is not specific to Korea, but broadly accepted by western beauty brands as well!

You can find many large-sized cosmetics manufacturers in Korea by simply googling 'Cosmetics ODM in Korea'. The Top 3 manufacturers are Kolmar Korea, Cosmax, and Cosmecca. Besides the larger manufacturers, there are many other smaller, yet good, ODMs as well in Korea.

Stay tuned for an introduction and rundown of these ODMs! 

Article first posted on Signature Duo blog. Reproduced with permission.

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