The price of South Korean cosmetics in North Korea has skyrocketed 10-fold since the start of the new year. Purchasing South Korean cosmetics, a popular New Year’s present in North Korea in years past, is apparently growing more difficult due to the border closure to combat COVID-19.

A Daily NK source in North Korea said Monday that the price of the South Korean cosmetic products has recently shot up more than 10-fold in Pyongyang’s markets, despite economic troubles in the wake of COVID-19. 

The source added that with imports shut off for nearly two years due to the border closure, supplies have hit nearly bottom and prices are climbing.

Sulwhasoo gift sets with skin cream and lotion used to cost USD 50 to 100 prior to COVID-19, but they have recently been selling for USD 500 to 1,000. That represents a 10-fold climb over two years.

Sulwhasoo is a cosmetic brand made by South Korean company Amorepacific. This means that a South Korean cosmetic brand popular with North Korean women has significantly climbed in price.

When North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited a cosmetic shop in the Haedanghwa Service Complex near the Taedong River prior to its opening, you could see a place selling famous brands Laneige, L’Oréal and Lancôme. Laneige is also an Amorepacific brand.

Demand for South Korean products in North Korea has been climbing as South Korean pop culture has grown in popularity. You cannot buy South Korean products in markets because North Korean authorities ban their sale, but customers have been able to get them through private black market deals with traders.

Popular South Korean cosmetics on offer in North Korean markets
Popular South Korean cosmetics on offer in North Korean markets. / Image: Daily NK

In particular, North Koreans find it trendy to use South Korean products in their weddings, so having family in South Korea has been advantageous in the marriage market. Couples who wear South Korean-made wedding attire and exchange many South Korean-made wedding gifts are viewed with envy.

However, the source said with both trade and smuggling stopped, the supply has dried up and prices gradually climbed.

Moreover, the prices also reflect a sort of “risk premium” as North Korean authorities conduct a dragnet against “anti-socialist and non-socialist behavior” after enacting a law to eradicate “reactionary culture and thought” in late 2020. 

The law is an attempt to prevent South Korean “cultural content” from entering the country.

Given that South Korean cosmetics are not only imported from outside the country, but also carry a political risk considering their country of origin, sellers can name their price.

The source said with foreign-made home appliances and even South Korean cosmetics growing hard to come by, North Korean users of such products are complaining. He added that the wives of rich donju and cadres were asking around for such merchandise, prepared to pay any price.

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