In the 2020 Korean drama, The King: Eternal Monarch, Kim Go-eun’s disgruntled character Tae-ul, pulls out a pink stick that she applies all over her face during a police stakeout. She even dutifully explains to her star-struck colleague, the moisturising benefits of the balm. It was the Kahi Wrinkle Bounce Multi Balm and it didn’t stick to just making a one-time appearance on the show - in fact, Kim Go-eun used it several times throughout the series.
Un-subtle product placement isn’t a novel element in Korean dramas. Avid consumers of the Hallyu wave would know that such advertising is an integral part of the show. Nevertheless, there seemed to be something different about Kim Go-eun’s balm, and netizens have often tweeted about seeing the ads for the balms, just about everywhere. The balm even got an upgrade on her next show, Yumi’s Cells, which released in 2021.
In reality, Kim Go-eun reaches for the balm stick in real life just as much she does in her reel life, to the extent that she became the brand ambassador for the product. As a result, it acquired the title of being the ‘Kim Go-eun balm’.
It’s 2022, and most Korean shows insert the balm into a scene, from Business Proposal to the latest hyped show Extraordinary Attorney Woo, where Ha Yoon-Kyung’s Choi Soo-yeon and Joo Hyun Young’s Dong Geurami utilise the product. The rigorous advertising campaign enabled the balm’s success overseas and Lil Nas X held the balm during his appearance on The Montero show. Those pink balms also sneaked their way into music videos with Doja Cat and Ava Max.
The ‘Kim Go-eun balm’ ignited the Multi Balm trend during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020, when South Korea was quickly emerging with novel social distancing or rather ‘un-tact’ initiatives that soon trickled down to cosmetics. There was a strong emphasis on enhancing, maintaining beauty without transferring germs to the skin. Therefore, multi balms seemed particularly beneficial during this period, where people were looking to reduce skin contact as much as possible. Multi balms, which are essentially oversized lip balms, became so popular that Glowpick, a Korean beauty app dubbed it as one of the biggest trends of 2021.
One of the most essential benefits of the balm was that a person could apply it to their face, neck, cuticles, without using their fingers. By 2021, web stats can verify that the searches for the Kahi balm escalated from 100,000 to just 12 million in a year. It also made sales of 10,000,000 balms in 2021.
Other Korean brands such as AHC, Acwell, Banila Co, Mediheal, Iaso and Centellian 24 joined the trend and as a result, there are now numerous such balms in South Korea with upgraded variants.
So why is the Multi Balm trend such a win?
Some of these balms are made with salmon collagen and fermented oil from Jeju, as well as a variety of plant extracts and antioxidants. The balm is meant to reduce fine lines and wrinkles and stimulate collagen production to restore elasticity in the skin. Apart from this, it also creates a moisture barrier for long-term hydration.
Myriam Keramane, UAE-based CEO and Founder of Myriam K Paris, a global beauty brand, calls it a ‘work-horse’ and says that it retires several other products and is an ‘immediate win’ for the environment. “It is a product that combines practicality with sustainability, and I think that, along with the outstanding results it delivers, is what gives it staying power,” she says. She adds that it improves the appearance of fine lines, minimises pores, softens cuticles, hydrates the lips and plumps up the skin. Bonus? Your lipstick gets a glossy touch. The balm can be applied before or after makeup.
Lynda Chapman, Co-Founder of The KIND Collective, a vegan and cruelty-free Australian beauty brand, explains that the stick format of the balm gives a precise application for a ‘controlled glow’. “I also love the convenience of this, it is perfect for travelling plus does the job of multiple products, so I don’t need to take as much in my makeup bag,” she says.
I also love the convenience of this [Korean multi balm sticks], it is perfect for travelling plus does the job of multiple products, so I don’t need to take as much in my makeup bag
Owing to the presence of natural products, the multi balms are far more beneficial than chemical cleansers. In fact, there are several variants that provide other skincare and make-up benefits, including acting as a facial illuminator, as well soothing the eye area and reducing dullness.
Senior Indian make-up artist Anu Kaushik, who uses the balms quite often, explains that the balms are far gentler to the skin. “It doesn’t rip off the natural layers and it keeps your skin hydrated.” Kaushik adds that the balm is a ‘multi-tasking’ one. “It can give you glossy eye-lids and can even be used on your cheeks for highlights.” She notes that such balms have been around for quite a well, and cites the example of Elizabeth Arden’s products and Cocokind.
In fact, Cocokind had launched a product in 2017 - long before the pandemic - that found a mess-free, multi-functional way to treat dry skin. It grew in demand five years later, owing to the un-tact beauty trend, viral TikTok videos and the exponential power of social media.
What is the downside?
However, it’s also crucial to do your homework and check the ingredients carefully for the balms, as they might not work best for certain hair and skin types. Beauty educator Tara Rose, founder of Abu Dhabi-based Tara Rose salons, explains that while multi balms have several positives, they could also be the reason for several allergies, and one must be mindful of what they are, while applying to their hair and face. “The multi balm has eight ingredients alone that are devoted to its fragrance; one that’s even also a microbial agent as well. With so many ingredients perfuming a product, you have to ask yourself how necessary this is,” she explains.
Whether the [multi balm stick] trend is worth the hype is ultimately your decision. It definitely has some huge positives about it, for the right audience when used in the right way. But, as with any trend, always be mindful of what you’re putting on your skin and in your hair - is it using ingredients designed to do the job you’re intending for the product to do.
She adds, “Whether the trend is worth the hype is ultimately your decision. It definitely has some huge positives about it, for the right audience when used in the right way. But, as with any trend, always be mindful of what you’re putting on your skin and in your hair - is it using ingredients designed to do the job you’re intending for the product to do.”
Lavanya Vikram, founder and owner of Dubai-based Blush N Curls salon praises the ingredients, but echoes a similar sentiment and says that she cannot use it. She cites the use of shea butter in the balm that have polyphenol, as it can lead to breakouts. “Keeping this in mind, it could be used as a glow and a refresh after our cleansing and moisturising.” She adds that it can be a good product for those who have dry skin.
Multi balms are just another example of how Korean cosmetics revolutionised the way people look at haircare and skincare.
... it [Korean multi balms] could be used as a glow and a refresh after our cleansing and moisturising.
In the past two decades, there has been a growing fascination and need to emulate the K-make-up looks and seemingly flawless skin, which in itself, leads to a surge in the Korean beauty market from all around the world. As a result, K-beauty treatments are a major export in the Hallyu wave, as consumers from different countries struggle to find the right product that will bring them the flawless looks as they see in K-dramas and commercials.
Most of these products sell even better if connected to popular Korean idols, and now even big companies such as L’Oreal and Avon launch products with Korean concepts.