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Revolutionizing aesthetics: Ultra V's breakthrough in cosmetic evolution

Interview - March 31, 2024

Ultra V has pioneered a paradigm shift in cosmetic treatments with their innovative products, challenging traditional methods and expanding global reach.

KWON HAN JIN, CEO, ULTRA V CO., LTD.
KWON HAN JIN | CEO, ULTRA V CO., LTD.

What are the key factors necessary for Korean beauty products to achieve the same level of popularity in Europe and the United States as they currently enjoy in Asia, considering that the majority of their exports are directed towards China and the Asian market while their presence in Europe and the US is relatively smaller?

Korean cosmetic products are highly competitive in terms of quality and pricing, as evidenced by our successful sales of $120 million on Korean TV home shopping platforms over the past seven years. However, expanding into international markets, particularly in Europe and the US, has been challenging due to difficulties in finding suitable distributors or counterparts.

While we managed to penetrate the Chinese market in 2020 through a contract with Shenhua, one of the largest companies in China, many Korean companies, including ours, perceive the Chinese market as challenging and unpredictable. For instance, Lotte, a prominent Korean company with numerous supermarkets in China, experienced abrupt failures due to political issues. Additionally, Korean factories established in China initially achieved significant sales but faced challenges such as increasing wages for Chinese laborers and higher taxes, leading to diminished profits. Consequently, many Korean companies, and even foreign companies in general, felt squeezed and had no choice but to exit the Chinese market, despite substantial investments in infrastructure and capacity.

Given the experiences of Korean companies, we have made the decision not to pursue further business in China, as it is regarded as one of the worst markets in the world. While China initially presented an enticing future for foreign companies by highlighting the vast domestic market, the reality has been different. We encountered a recent incident where Chinese distributors claimed customers experienced skin troubles after using our product, resulting in a refusal to pay the remaining down payment and demanding product retrieval. Refusing to comply, we were threatened with lawsuits or forced to reduce our original price by half, from $15 to $6 or $6. This incident resulted in a loss of two million dollars for us two years ago, with the Chinese contractors disappearing without payment or product return. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case, as many Korean companies have faced similar issues. Furthermore, Chinese companies have been known to blatantly copy Korean brands' designs and sell them as their own, further complicating trade relations.

In light of these challenges and experiences, it is evident that trading with China poses significant difficulties. Therefore, we are actively seeking opportunities to expand our presence in other markets such as Europe and the US, where we believe Korean beauty products can thrive without encountering the same issues encountered in the Chinese market.

 

What is the significance of the European and US markets for Korean cosmetics?

Previously, China held great importance as a significant market for Korean cosmetics. However, due to the growing dissatisfaction with trading customs in China, the focus has shifted towards the United States, a single-country market. In contrast, Europe poses certain challenges as it is fragmented into multiple countries, and the prevalence of beauty clinics and dermatology practices is not as widespread as it is in Korea.

To illustrate, in the vicinity of this area alone, there are more than 100 beauty clinics, highlighting the intense competition and the strong interest among the younger generation in maintaining healthy skin. In Korea, it is common for individuals in their 20s, 30s, and 40s to visit beauty clinics for skincare treatments. However, in Europe, the familiarity and adoption of beauty clinics are not as prominent. The main customer base tends to be the older generation, while those in their 20s, 30s, and 40s are not yet major customers. Nevertheless, the European market is gradually evolving and growing, albeit at a slower pace. One of the challenges lies in the fact that Europe is divided into numerous countries, making it difficult to approach the market as a cohesive unit.

 

Could you provide insights into the journey of Ultra V's product evolution and the advantages that PCL has over its predecessors? Additionally, in what scenarios is PCL a better choice compared to traditional options?

The lift treatment is considered the most valuable and profitable treatment in cosmetic clinics due to the ability to charge higher prices for it. World-famous machines like Ultherapy are often expensive, costing at least $1,500 to $2,000 per treatment in Singapore and many European countries. However, in Korea, the prices are relatively lower.

Lift surgery, although expensive, also comes with its own set of challenges. Scarring is a common issue, even when surgeons take precautions such as making incisions at the back of the ear. Additionally, the results of lift surgery typically last for a maximum of two years, leaving patients with scars. Another significant complication of lift surgery is the sagging of skin after two to three years, as the procedure involves cutting and suturing, which weakens the skin's natural support system. Therefore, even after undergoing lift surgery, the issue of sagging remains.

As a result, the trend in Korea has shifted from surgery to non-invasive treatments using machines like Ultherapy or Inmode RF. These treatments need to be repeated every six months and serve as complementary procedures without the permanent side effects associated with surgery.

More recently, thread lifting has gained popularity, providing a middle ground between surgery and non-invasive treatments. Absorbable thread lifting, pioneered by brands like Ultra V, emerged as an alternative solution. Initially, non-absorbable threads were used, but they only lasted for two to three years and posed complications that required surgical removal if problems occurred.

The shift towards absorbable threads, such as PDO (lasting 6 to 8 months) and PCL (lasting about two years), gained traction. People preferred PDO threads as they provided similar results to surgery while being absorbable. PCL threads, lasting two years, became a suitable option, striking a balance between longevity and non-permanence. Offering various options to patients, my clinic provides both PDO and PCL thread lifting products.

In summary, the cosmetic industry has seen a shift from surgery to non-invasive treatments and thread lifting, providing effective results with fewer long-term complications compared to surgery.


Ultracol 100mg / Ultracol 200mg


In Europe, the common options for nose corrections are either through acid-based treatments or surgery. However, the utilization of PCLs and PDOs for nose correction is not widely prevalent. Could you explain the specific situations or cases in which the use of PCL can serve as a substitute for acid-based treatments in nose correction procedures?

The use of hyaluronic filler for cosmetic enhancement can initially provide a visually pleasing result. However, a common issue that arises after three to four months is the spreading of the filler, leading to an unnatural appearance. To address this problem, I have developed a new machine called the RF cannula in Europe.

The RF cannula is designed with an RF (radiofrequency) component at its tip, which emits heat. This heat is utilized to melt the filler, as after a year, conventional methods such as hyaluronidase injections become ineffective. Currently, no other machine in the field offers this capability.

While hyaluronic acid fillers are expected to be absorbed within two years, we have discovered cases where they last four to five years, or even up to 10 years. Many patients struggle with the presence of residual filler. To address this issue, I have been using PCL (Poly Caprolactone) threads to remove the remaining filler when patients come to me seeking a solution. I have introduced this thread technique to various European distributors in countries like Sweden, France, and Spain, and they have shown great interest, particularly for nose correction procedures.

Threads offer precise control and can be adjusted to achieve the desired outcome, as they provide a uniform and high-quality result. In contrast, fillers can be inconsistent, resulting in an unnatural and irregular appearance, especially after two to three years.

With my 25 years of experience in the industry, I can confidently assert that using fillers is not ideal. Threads, on the other hand, offer better results due to their uniformity and quality control. Fillers, at times, can become irregular, hardened, and fail to be absorbed, leading to an unnatural and undesirable look. It is a misconception that hyaluronic acid will eventually dissolve within a year or two. For instance, I recently had a patient who had Ellanse filler injected seven years ago, and it had hardened over time, necessitating its removal just yesterday. This highlights the fact that hyaluronic acid fillers are not entirely safe and can produce unnatural outcomes.

In addition, I have successfully removed polyacrylamide fillers, which are semi-permanent, using the RF cannula without leaving any scars. The effectiveness and minimal scarring of this small-sized RF cannula have contributed to its growing popularity in the field.

 

I would like to discuss your transition from traditional PDOs in powder form to the creation of the Ultracol biostimulator, which I understand is an injectable product. Could you elaborate on the advantages or benefits of this filler compared to traditional options?

I began using absorbable PDO threads back in 2010 and 2011, which marked the initial stages of my exploration with this technique. However, I soon realized that using threads required a high level of skill and expertise. Different doctors using the same thread would produce varying results due to the importance of proper design and placement within the layers of the skin. When placed correctly, the effects were remarkable, but when placed incorrectly, the outcomes were negligible.

In order to standardize and simplify this treatment, I came up with the idea of creating PDO threads in powder form. By making individual punctures, similar effects to those achieved with threads could be obtained. I patented this concept and invested over 5 million USD to establish a manufacturing factory. We obtained approvals from the Korean FDA, European CE, and we are currently in the process of seeking approval from the US FDA.

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a hiatus, and we resumed operations approximately a year ago. Despite the relatively short time in the market, the Ultracol has already created a significant sensation, as doctors recognize its unique benefits.

There is a similar product called Sculptra, but it has had its share of problems. Around eight to nine years ago in Korea, Sculptra was widely used but resulted in the development of nodules and granulomas due to the presence of irregular particles. Similarly, Ellanse also faced issues. Consequently, Korean doctors ceased using Sculptra and Ellanse about five to six years ago. Our enhancement lies in the particle shape of Ultracol, a fine round shape that achieved a Korean patent for its production technology. Thanks to this fine round shape, the side effect of this product is significantly lower than other fillers that have irregular shape of particles. Fortunately, Ultracol was approved by KFDA in 2016.

Given that PDO has been safely used with threads for over 12 to 13 years, doctors have begun using it and have provided me with positive feedback on its performance. The collagen created by the PDO microsphere of Ultracol remains unlike HA-based fillers, which are absorbed into the body. Instead of providing an instant plumping effect, these injections stimulate the body's own processes for longer-term smoothing and volumizing.

 

What advantages does Ultracol offer over threads?

PDO offers numerous advantages over threads as it eliminates the variability associated with the doctor's skill. The powder form allows for simple puncturing and spreading, resulting in consistently visible results. It is truly an amazing product. Moreover, PDO has been extensively studied and proven to be safe. When foreign material is placed under the skin, it stimulates the surrounding tissues to produce collagen, leading to a natural filling effect. This aligns with the global trend of desiring natural-looking results rather than artificial enhancements.

In addition, PDO can be effectively used to treat eyebags. Traditional fillers, such as hyaluronic acid, may produce a blue discoloration known as the Tindle effect when injected in this area. Furthermore, the delicate nature of the skin under the eyes makes it unsuitable for hyaluronic acid fillers, as they can cause various issues. Fortunately, PDO threads provide a solution for these challenges.

 

Why is thread usage not popular beyond lifting applications in Europe?

The reason why thread usage beyond lifting applications is not popular in Europe is primarily due to the market being in its infancy stage. While Korea has been utilizing thread lifting for various purposes such as collagen stimulation, body enhancements, and even hair follicle growth for over 20 years, Europe is still catching up. The European market has yet to fully embrace the versatility and potential of thread treatments.

However, the landscape is changing with the rise of bio stimulators and collagen stimulators in the market. Previously, hyaluronic acid fillers dominated the market, comprising approximately 90 percent of usage, while bio stimulators accounted for only around 10 percent. However, the trend has shifted significantly, with biostimulators experiencing exponential growth. Young Korean individuals, in particular, prefer thread treatments over fillers because fillers can create an unnatural appearance.

To illustrate, the Ultracol PDO powder is applied to the skin, stimulating collagen production and eventually dissipating, leaving behind only natural collagen in the body. This concept ensures that nothing remains in the body for an extended period, as long-term presence can potentially cause problems. Absorbable threads with a two-year duration are generally well-received by customers, as they do not pose any long-term harm. In contrast, semi-permanent solutions are not as welcomed by customers seeking natural and reversible treatments.

 

If someone intends to switch from conventional dermal fillers to biostimulators, is it required to remove the existing fillers before introducing the biostimulators?

That's a very insightful question that many doctors often ask. In the case of transitioning from traditional dermal fillers to biostimulators, it is possible to leave the previous fillers in place and introduce the biostimulators. However, it is important to consider the potential issues that may arise due to the previous treatment.

For instance, if hyaluronic filler remains under the skin for longer than two to three years and collagens are then stimulated with the introduction of biostimulators, an irregular protrusion may occur in the area with the previous filler. To achieve a more even and aesthetically pleasing shape, many highly skilled doctors opt to remove the previous filler using techniques such as my RF cannula before applying the new collagen stimulator. This approach ensures a more harmonious and balanced result.

While adding a biostimulator on top of previous filler poses no significant problem, for optimal outcomes and a truly beautiful shape, reducing the previous filler or considering fat grafting can be beneficial. By carefully managing the combination of treatments, including the removal of previous fillers and the strategic placement of biostimulators, doctors can achieve excellent results for their patients.

 

What is the market share comparison between traditional fillers and the new biostimulators in Korea?

Previously, hyaluronic fillers accounted for approximately 90 percent of the market share in Korea, while biostimulators constituted around 10 percent. However, there has been a notable shift in recent years. The market share of biostimulators has been growing steadily, and it is estimated to be around 15 to 20 percent currently. Hyaluronic fillers still hold a majority share, approximately 80 percent, but the percentage of biostimulators has doubled within a span of three to four years. This trend signifies an increasing acceptance and demand for biostimulators in the Korean market.

 

Could you please outline your strategy for the overseas market, considering the success of your products in Korea?

Our strategy for the overseas market involves several key initiatives. In China, we have plans to establish factories, particularly in Shanghai, to expand our presence in the market. In the US, we have already started selling our products on Amazon, but we are actively seeking partnerships with reliable and capable distributors to further penetrate the market. Budget, including a substantial marketing budget, plays a crucial role in these expansion efforts.

In Europe, our goal is to find strong partners who can benefit from our full support and leverage the popularity of renowned models like the Korean boy band group, BTS. We were actually in talks with BTS to become our brand ambassadors during the Covid-19 pandemic, but due to budget constraints, the deal did not materialize. However, we recognize the increasing value of BTS and understand their significant influence in the market.

We anticipate that both PCL and PDO threads will continue to gain traction globally, as they are already widely used in clinics around the world. Mastery of thread techniques is essential for those aiming to excel in the beauty industry. PDO threads are considered fundamental in Korea, while PCL threads are slightly more expensive but offer additional benefits. We expect these threads to be continually utilized in clinics worldwide.

As for PDO powder, its popularity has surged due to the issues experienced with Sculptra, which faced complications such as nodule and granuloma formation. The trend has shifted away from these complications, and PDO powder has emerged as a favored alternative. We have hosted training sessions and workshops for international doctors, with participants from Spain, Uzbekistan, Russia, Canada, the US, India, Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Jamaica, New Zealand, and more. These events allow us to showcase specialized techniques for challenging wrinkle treatments, emphasizing that technique is just as vital as the products themselves in the field of cosmetics. We have also participated in conferences and congresses worldwide, including the World AMWC Congress in Taiwan.

Through these endeavors, we aim to expand our global footprint and share our expertise with doctors and clinics around the world, fostering mutually beneficial partnerships and delivering exceptional results in the field of beauty and aesthetics.

 

In terms of expanding the utilization of your products in Europe, besides directly training surgeons who come to your clinic, do you also collaborate with distributors in each country to promote and distribute your products?

Certainly, we work closely with distributors in each European country to facilitate the promotion and distribution of our products. When I visit these countries, the distributors gather local doctors, and I provide them with training and lectures to familiarize them with our techniques and products. These doctors often become our key opinion leaders, playing a crucial role in endorsing and advocating for our brand. For instance, the recent visit of the six Spanish doctors to my clinic was arranged through our distributor in Spain, IT Pharma. In summary, we adopt a comprehensive approach by collaborating with distributors and directly training doctors to expand the use of our products in Europe.


For more details, explore their website at http://www.ultrav.co.kr/en/index.php
 

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