The rise of voluminous lips in Japan and Korea, and what this means for beauty brands

Analysis by Linnah Tan, Amy Lim

Words by Michelle Lee

Design and illustrations by Eeza Sheren

In Japan and Korea, there’s a gradual revolution taking place when it comes to beauty ideals. Where thin lips used to be sought after, consumer data shows that plump lips are the new ideal.

It’s easy to draw parallels with the US, where full, voluminous lips are in vogue thanks to celebrities like Kylie Jenner. But there are subtle nuances behind Japanese and Korean consumers’ desire for plump lips. Not only are the reasons different, the makeup techniques used to achieve plump lips are different too.

While we first spotted this trend in 2018, conversation continues to grow, suggesting that this is a trend that persisted despite COVID-19 and remains relevant to consumers in 2021. We used our category and culture expertise to examine how the conversation is taking shape on platforms like Naver (KR) and @cosme on Instagram (JP).

Let’s take a look at the manifestations of the plump lip craze in Japan and Korea, and the opportunity it presents for beauty brands today.


In Korea, the continuing ‘lip fillers’ trend strongly reflects this shifting desire towards voluminous, smiley lips. On Naver, 68,335 posts mention ‘lip fillers’(입술필러), with a 19.1% growth in volume of conversations over the past year.

Korean women today seek lips that are more voluminous (통통 볼륨), have balanced symmetry (균형잡힌 입매) and have lifted corners (웃는 입꼬리)

Lips are talked about as an image booster, described as lighting up or energizing someone’s face.  In particular, people want lips with upturned corners because they produce the effect of smiling, even when closed - ‘mouth corner filler’ is growing on Naver, with 5.1% growth over the past year.

While lip fillers are a leading way to achieve this ideal, consumer behaviours around makeup application are also changing. Behaviours are changing primarily at the start and end of lip makeup routines.

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At the start of the routine, base layers are key. Priming lips with a base helps to ‘color correct’ natural lip color, achieving a subtle gradation despite the enlarged outer lines.

At the end of the routine, makeup lovers focus on contouring. This involves shaping the upper lip lines around cupid’s bow to create the illusion of a pouty upper lip.  Non-lip products like concealer or eyeliners may be used to create depth and contouring effects. Accents and shadows may be added to make lips look fuller and more dimensionalized.

Words consumers use to describe the ideal lips...

Cupid lips (큐피드 입술)

Seagull lips (갈매기 입술)

C cup lips (씨컵입술)

Lip shape that gives attractive impression (호감형 인상을 주는 입매)

Lips that lit up the face (얼굴에 형광등을 켜는 입술)

Lips that inject liveliness to your face (생기를 불어넣는 입술)

Beauty icons cited as having the ideal lips: Celebrity make-up artist Pony


Since 2014, ideal lips have been gradually shifting away from thin and inconspicuous to healthy and plump. Keywords surrounding “moist lips” have grown 11.4% in the past year, with ‘3D lips’ growing 28.3% and ‘mouth corner’ growing 19.2%.

The end goal? Plumper lips with more volume and an even surface. This trend echoes shifts in lip ideals in the USA and Korea, but the Japanese version is toned down and subtler. While Japanese women used to seek thin, inconspicuous lips to be more feminine, plump lips are now desired as the best of both worlds between youthfulness and maturity, subtly sexy without being over-the-top.

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The balance between sexiness and innocence is reflected in the techniques used to achieve the look. Pinkish, natural and ‘innocent’ colors are chosen to balance out voluminous lips and keep them from looking too bold or brazen. Glosses and oily or semi-matte lipsticks add a sense of volume and 3D shine without having to exaggerate the lip line.  Heavy matte lipsticks are considered too severe, especially in bolder colours.

The techniques used to achieve the look focus on giving lips volume and a more 3D effect (as opposed to sitting flat on the face). Pink, natural tones are used to simulate one’s own lip colour without looking too bold or dramatic - often complementing an overall subtle, refined makeup look. Semi-matte lipsticks and glosses add an additional layer of shine and volume to help lips look moist, supple and youthful.

Words consumers use to describe the ideal lips….

Plump ぷっくり・ ぽってり

Moist, bursting うるおい・弾けるような

Supple ハリ

Glossy ツヤ

Youthful 若々しい

3D look 立体感

Have a natural flushed look 血色感

Fluffy lips ふっくら唇

Beauty icons cited as having the ideal lips: Actress Satomi Ishihara

Conclusion and provocations

The ideal of full lips has been trending in the US for a while. But the look feels very different in Japan and Korea. While American consumers prefer a look that is exaggerated, dramatic, and sexy, Asian consumers go after lips that are full, yet natural.

This changing ideal offers several opportunities when it comes to product innovation and communications. In both markets, there’s an opportunity to push new products that are creamy and glossy, providing a smooth, blurred base topped off by high-shine volume.

When it comes to communications, brands can amplify messaging around the moisturizing and plumping benefits of existing products, and also increase awareness of how they can be used to achieve the new lip ideal, for example by partnering with content creators to produce tutorials.

Despite the rise of mask-wearing during COVID-19, the data shows that this trend is still going strong. Beauty brands, take note - it looks like full lips are here to stay.

Want to achieve the voluminous lip look yourself? Check out these tutorials.

About Synthesis

Synthesis unlocks the power of open data. We build original datasets that can detect shifts in consumer preferences and identify growth audiences for our partners.

We specialize in Human Centred Data Science - a way of understanding data better by understanding the people and context shaping it. Over the years, we’ve built up expertise in categories ranging from beauty, entertainment, and F&B, to sustainability and sports.

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