What's the philosophy behind Sulwhasoo's best-selling products?

Hallyu star Song Hye-Kyo (Encounter, Descendants of the Sun) may be the face of Sulwhasoo, but the luxury beauty brand isn't simply just riding on the K-wave. 

In fact, with a history that traces all the way back to 1966, Sulwhasoo, under the umbrella of Amorepacific, has been through the ups and downs of Korean pop culture, and they are still trooping on. 

"Regardless of these external factors, we’ve just been focusing a lot on developing really good ingredients for our customers and I think that’s what they love about our brand," Mina Kim, senior vice president of Sulwhasoo shared as we sat in the hall of The Capitol Kempinski Singapore.

Dressed in a pink tweed suit and exuding a gentle demeanour, this soft-spoken lady has been one of the driving forces behind the international popularity of Laneige and Sulwhasoo, positioning the latter as Korea's leading luxury beauty brand. Visiting Singapore for the Asean launch of the brand's latest Bloomstay Vitalizing range, Mina shares with us the intricacies of beauty product development, Sulwahsoo's theory of the "seven year cycle", and why skincare has no geographical boundaries.

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Above Song Hye-Kyo is the first ever brand muse for Sulwhasoo

What's the unique selling point of Sulwhasoo?
Mina Kim (MK) Sulwhasoo is an anti-ageing skincare expert, based on eastern philosophy. As a brand, we strongly believe that our body, our skin, and our spirit are all interconnected, and we apply this holistic approach to providing solutions to our customers.

When we look for different prescriptions or ingredients, we don’t just look at what is becoming popular at the moment—we are inspired by our research on Korean medicinal herbs, documented in centuries-old medicinal archives from our ancestors, and this source is really what sets Sulwhasoo apart from all the other brands.

How does Sulwhasoo select the key ingredients for its products?
MK Sourcing from traditional medicine compendiums and journals, we actually use state-of-the-art-technologies and data mining to find out how often certain ingredients were mentioned to have a medical impact. Then, we would try to validate the efficacy of these ingredients to see if we can formulate them into a product that is effective on our customer’s skins.

We've developed many products through this methodology—the First Care Activating Serum, for example, features our signature Jaum balancing complex which is a blend of peony, sacred lotus, Solomon’s seal, white lily, and rehmannia—and now, after decades of research, we have launched the Bloomstay Vitalizing line using plum blossoms.

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Above The Bloomstay Vitalizing line is a three-step anti-aging range infused with the essence of green plum blossoms

Tell us more about the star ingredient of the new Bloomstay Revitalizing line.
MK As you know, “Sulwha” in our brand name Sulwhasoo means "snow flower". It is inspired by the imagery of plum blossoms blooming in the midst of the harsh winter cold, which signifies vitality and strong spirit. It has been more than 30 years since we started using “Sulwha” in our name, and we’ve been constantly thinking about how to deliver products using plum blossoms. 

However, we didn't have the technology to develop them back then, so we started our research on the fragrance of plum blossoms. It was only two years ago that we developed the technology to extract ingredients from the plum blossoms that were actually effective on the skin, and that was how the Bloomstay Revitalizing line was created.

(Related: How One Company Changed Beauty Around The World)

Why is the line specifically targeted at an age group of 28 to 42?
MK Our product development is based on the theory of the seven-year cycle—which is to say that you go through a major physical change every seven years. At 21, 28, 35 years old, and so forth, the seven-year mark is when the ageing process really accelerates. In our studies, we also noticed that a lot of people in their 20s and early 30s who were not typically interested in anti-ageing are now more vulnerable and exposed to environmental pollutants and other external factors in their lifestyles, and that is why we decided to launch the new Bloomstay Vitalizing line for these younger consumers, harnessing the antioxidant properties of green plum blossoms.

What is luxury to you?
MK To call something a luxury beauty product, I think you actually need to deliver a comprehensive experience to the consumers, so that they actually fully enjoy the efficacy and the overall experience of it. If you have a very expensive and high performing product, but don't have the time to fully enjoy it, I'm not sure if you can actually call that a luxury beauty product.

At Sulwhasoo, we want our customers to fully enjoy the texture, consistency, the fragrance and the effects on their skin when they use our products. That is why we introduced the beauty rituals, so that users can relish the full experience. With the Bloomstay Vitalizing line, you will find that the product feels like honey that's a bit sticky at first, but once you apply the product on your skin, it's going to have a very light and refreshing finish.

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Above The launch of the Bloomstay Vitalizing line in Singapore

How does the skincare concerns of women in Korea differ from other countries?
MK I think that across the world, all women want to age beautifully and healthily, and national boundaries are becoming very unclear due to similar lifestyles around the globe. We have conducted studies on women in different cultures and countries, and it's not so much that they have different skin care concerns—rather, when faced with the same skin concerns, Korean women are more proactive and adventurous in trying various beauty products. But with the popularity of social media and YouTube, I see that more women in different countries are now paying attention to skincare as well as K-beauty.

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Above First Care Activating Serum EX; Image: Courtesy of Sulwhasoo
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Above Sheer Lasting Gel Cushion; Image: Courtesy of Sulwhasoo

Which line of Sulwhasoo products is most suitable for the tropical climate in Singapore?
MK I heard that even in a tropical country like Singapore, most people work inside buildings that are heavily air-conditioned, so it can be quite drying for the skin. So rather than sticking to a specific country, I would say that our anti-ageing solutions target different age groups. So if you go to our stores, you'll be able to find a product that is optimised to your age and skin concern.

I do realise that women in tropical countries need slightly more mattifying makeup products, which is why we launched a new makeup product line in January called the Sheer Lasting collection. From the very beginning of the development phase, we were actually thinking of women in Asean countries who need light and mattifying makeup products in this humid weather.

Your favourite Sulwhasoo product?
MK Can I pick ten? [laughs] Well, I would definitely choose the First Care Activating Serum EX—I've actually cleared out many bottles of it. Sometimes I would forget to apply it when I get really busy with work, but I can really see the dramatic change when I use it, so I would strongly recommend the product.

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