Beauty market targeting pre-schoolers grows in South Korea amid criticism

Shushu & Sassy is one of many beauty brands that target very young customers, offering cosmetics products and beauty spa facilities for kids.
Shushu & Sassy is one of many beauty brands that target very young customers, offering cosmetics products and beauty spa facilities for kids.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/SHUSHUANDSASSY

SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - On a Friday afternoon, a customer enters a beauty spa that looks like the whole place has been dipped in pink.

The difference from ordinary spas is that everything here at Shushu & Sassy is miniature-sized, from the gowns to the chairs.

Clad in a pink bathrobe and a hair band shaped like rabbit ears, the customer lets go of her mother's hand and soaks her feet in a bubbly basin.

A spa specialist then carefully covers the child's tiny face with a sheet mask and massages her hands and arms with lotion.

The 10-minute beauty ritual ends with a touch of sunscreen and lipstick.

"I've seen this (cushion type of sunscreen) on my mum's dressing table," the five-year-old customer shouts, then pouts her lips for the pink lipstick to be applied. "Now I look pretty like mum!"

Shushu & Sassy is one of many beauty brands that target very young customers.

The company started with cosmetic products for kids, but it has now expanded its business to beauty spa facilities, in response to growing demand from consumers.

"Customers' ages vary from 36 months to 13 years, but most are between four and seven," the store's vice-manager Han Ah-reum said.

Just like beauty spas for adults, kids' spas offer a full range of treatments for their young customers, including foot spas, massages, skincare, manicures, pedicures, hair-styling and make-up.

Shushu & Sassy said all products used in its treatments are made with toxic-free ingredients, such as herbs or natural pigments.

Prices for the treatments range between 25,000 won (S$30) and 40,000 won, depending on the time taken and treatment routines.

"This place is often introduced on YouTube channels, and my daughter kept asking me to bring her here someday," said the five-year-old customer's mother, Ms Kim Mi-hyun.

"I was a little surprised when I first heard of the concept of a kids' beauty spa, as such places didn't exist in my generation's time. But I think it's certainly a big trend among kids right now."

Ms Han advises making reservations for weekends at least a week in advance, as the place gets booked up quickly. As the spa has become popular among kids and their parents, its number of branches has increased to 10 in two years.

Besides beauty spas run by cosmetic brands, kids' cafes and hotels have also rushed to enter the beauty business for kids.

Popular Korean kids' cafe franchise Carrie Kids Cafe, for instance, features the Beauty and Spa Salon, which provides skincare and make-up services.

Make-up rooms can easily be spotted at other kids' cafes as well, where young customers can try make-up products prepared at dressing tables.

Meanwhile, Grand Hyatt Seoul has been offering annual family friendly packages that feature beauty programmes for kids. In collaboration with beauty brands, the hotel provides young customers with the opportunity to experience make-up and spa treatments.

Unlike the past, when kids played with plastic cosmetic sets, toys these days have evolved to include real make-up tools that children can use.

"Become pretty like Secret Jouju!" the TV advertisement for the Secret Jouju make-up Bag says, encouraging kids to put on make-up. The 56,000 won toy kit includes a vitamin sunscreen cushion, colour lip balm, cream blusher, eyeshadow and nail polish.

A search for "children cosmetics" on online shopping site 11 Street found more than 8,000 products, ranging from skincare products, such as face masks, to make-up products.

"Sales of cosmetics for young kids have increased drastically since April 2018, when companies rolled out new products for the upcoming Children's Day," 11 Street manager Lee Kyo-taek told The Korea Herald.

According to Lee, sales of such products in 2018 increased about 340 per cent compared to 2017, amid the soaring popularity of kids' beauty products.

Some experts are concerned about the make-up fad among young kids.

"Many people call the fad 'kids' beauty', but the cosmetic products and YouTube content mainly target little girls (rather than boys)," said Yunkim Ji-yeong, an assistant professor of the Institute of Body and Culture at Konkuk University.

As a major media platform for children, including toddlers, YouTube features many videos on kids' make-up tutorials and reviews of cosmetic toys.

A video by YouTuber Hey Jini illustrates how four-year-old YouTubers Sua and Suji transform into pretty Secret Jouju characters by applying make-up. It garnered 3.4 million views.

During the 10-minute clip, Hey Jini explains to kids how to apply make-up step by step. At the end of the video, Sua and Suji smile upon turning into "beautiful princesses".

"By watching their favourite YouTubers use make-up products to enhance their appearance, or constantly being exposed to such culture, children can become greatly convinced that make-up is a must, particularly for women," said Prof Yunkim.