The prices of some top-end cosmetics have soared into the stratosphere in recent months. Shiseido has launched anti-ageing cream Clé de Peau Beauté in a 40 ml container for W1.6 million (US$1=W1,195). Earlier this year, Guerlain launched a pack of four 15 ml cream for W1.6 million, and La Prairie has been selling a 50 ml cream for W1.27 million since April.
◆ 'Special Ingredients'
The cosmetics companies claim the price increase is inevitable given the special ingredients used. Shiseido advertises a magical ingredient developed by its own research center and one developed at Harvard University after 12 years of research in the Clé de Peau Beauté line, which it claims prevents skin ageing by strengthening skin lymph. When asked if the price is exorbitant, a Shiseido spokesman said, "It's inevitable because we used special ingredients. Just for fragrance, we bred a new type of rose for 11 years." La Prairie, which sells a W1.27-million cream, advertises a "platinum" substance whose "negative ions" restore the "electronic balance" in skin.
The trend is not limited to imported luxury brands. A 60 ml-Hwanyugo cream in the Whoo line launched by LG Household & Health Care is priced at W680,000. A pack of two 45 ml creams of O Hui's V Selection line sells for W900,000. Hwanyugo cream, according to the advertising, is made with "over 60" Oriental medicine ingredients, and O Hui's V Selection line contains human growth hormones.
◆ Pricing Strategy
Yet experts say the pricing strategy is an end in itself. Make the product expensive enough, and people will buy it simply because they think it must be exclusive. After all, prices vary widely even among products that use similar ingredients. A simple comparison is difficult as there are no products that use 100 percent the same ingredients, but the extent of the variation cannot be explained by the level of technology or effects alone.
Many experts even question the effectiveness of high-tech cosmetics. A dermatology professor at a famous university hospital in Seoul who wished to remain anonymous said, "Cosmetic can only contain extremely small amounts of supposedly high functional substances because if the product contains more than certain level of functional substance, then it is classified as medical, not cosmetic."
Chung Jin-ho, a professor at Seoul National University, said, "You could say that the products approved for functionality probably do what they claim to be doing to a certain degree. But under the current regulations set out by the Korea Food and Drug Administration, it is impossible to compare functionality of different products, so there is no objective ground to say that more expensive products are better than cheaper ones."