When the pandemic first struck, South Korea quickly adapted to the necessary social distancing with what’s called “untact” initiatives. The Korean-English portmanteau of “un” and “contact” basically applies to anything that usually involved physical closeness to another person being replaced with a contactless digital alternative, like remote doctor appointments and food-ordering apps. K-pop stars also stopped having in-person concerts and meet-and-greets in favor of untact events. Fans now can watch their favorite idols perform songs on digitally augmented stages or chat with them over video calls.
This concept trickled down to beauty products, too with the rise of multi balms. For those unfamiliar, they are basically oversized lip balms for your whole face. You can glide them onto your face, neck, cuticles, or whatever feels dry for hydration and glow without using your germy fingers. They even have benefits beyond that, which I’ll get into soon enough.
Multi-use sticks have become so popular in Korea that Glowpick, a Korean beauty product review app, dubbed “untact beauty (언택트뷰티)” as one of the biggest trends of 2021. The nucleus of it was — and continues to be — the Kahi Wrinkle Bounce Multi Balm. Charlotte Cho, the cofounder of Soko Glam, agrees, noting the stick truly ignited the trend, and the sales numbers and SEO stats can verify this.
In 2021, searches for the Wrinkle Bounce Multi Balm went from about 100,000 to 12 million in just a year, and more than 10 million sticks have been sold as of February 2022, Jake Yi, the brand’s marketing director, shares with Allure. As of press time, Kahi remains the top-searched skin-care brand on Naver, Korea’s preeminent search engine.
Other Korean beauty brands, like AHC, Acwell, Banila Co., Mediheal, and Centellian 24 — to name a few — “wanted to jump on the trend and provide their own offering,” Cho says. Now, dozens of multi balms are available in Korea, proving sticks are no longer just house makeup and sunscreen as we have long seen this delivery system in America.
K-beauty has shown they can now be serums, essences, and moisturizers combined into one hygienic tube. Cho owes the overall success of multi balms to today’s beauty consumers looking for convenience and simplicity in their routine, especially since many people are wearing less makeup lately due to masks. They can reapply without much (or really any) mess.
Inside the Hub of Beauty Innovation
Because Seoul is so densely populated and has lightning-fast internet, Koreans are incredibly information savvy about everything, especially skin care, says Sophia Hong, a licensed Korean aesthetician and the founder of maskmoments.com, a biodegradable sheet mask subscription service. In turn, they always want the latest and greatest products. “This environment forces the Korean beauty industry to be more competitive and, in many ways, forces innovation,” she adds.