From donkey milk to snail mucus, the secret behind the rising popularity of K-Beauty

ABC News' "Nightline" traveled to the source of the exotic ingredients in South Korea that helped make K-Beauty a $7.1 billion market in 2016.
6:47 | 05/02/18

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Transcript for From donkey milk to snail mucus, the secret behind the rising popularity of K-Beauty
I love applying face masks on days where my face is feeling especially dry. Reporter: It's a multi-billion dollar beauty industry. Sweeping the world. And taking over the internet. Oh, I feel it! Yeah, I hear it. I feel like a bubble goddess. Oh, that looks so weird. Reporter: That's actress Lucy hale behind the bubble mask. And drew barrymore. Emma stone puckering up. Celebrities and everyday folks turning to k-beauty or Korean beauty products in the endless quest for ageless skin. Touting exotic ingredients like snail mucous and donkey milk they claim restore damaged skin. The industry doubled in four years to over $4 billion in 2016 alone. K-beauty is the latest international craze from the land that brought you k-pop. ?????? we traveled halfway around the world. Turns out the fountain of youth might just be at this donkey farm 30 miles outside Seoul, South Korea. I'm going to try my hand at being a milk maid. Donkey's milk, unlikely key ingredient in many k-beauty elixirs. I don't know who's more nervous, her or me. One, two -- one, two -- one, two -- oh, I think I got a little. I'm doing it, I'm doing it, look at me! Oh, wow, do you see the milk coming out? That's amazing. Thank you, Chaco. Farmer Kim almost lost his family farm more than a decade ago when the economy here tanked. That's when they switched from dairy cows to donkeys. Look at all their friends. Hello! And because k-beauty is now big business, it's helped put his farm back on the map. How much of his business goes to k-beauty products? Wow, 100%. Is it profitable for him? It's good business? But it's not just donkey milk. Traditionally used for medicine and food, snails are making a comeback in Korea thank fots beauty products. How many do you have total? That's a lot. Snail mucous in the world of k-beauty is liquid gold. How do they extract the mucin? Two or three days? Ah. They wouldn't let us film the extraction due to trade secrets. But I did get a much more hands-on experience. No snails were hurt in the production of this story. It feels -- oh -- fabulous! After these ingredients are delicately gathered, they're scientifically formulated in a lab. Donkey milk is rumored to have age-defying benefits. But there's little science to back that up. Though legend has it Cleopatra, immortalized by Elizabeth Taylor, bathed in it. I am the queen of Egypt and I choose to remain on Egyptian soil. And so when it comes to the active ingredients, what makes donkey milk chemically good for women's skin? And snail mucin does have some science that suggests it can help repair damaged skin. While the k-beauty craze may only seem skin-deep, critics argue it's part of a concerted effort by the Korean government to export cool. Korean cool is above everything else a fabrication. Reporter: Yuni Hong wrote "The birth of Korean cool." Korea is basically the only country in the world that decided as a national agenda to make itself into a cool country. The Korean cool concept started on a lark but it became a government necessity after the Asian financial crisis. Reporter: South Korea realized their economy was too dependant on a few mega-conglomerates like Samsung and Hyundai. One of the ideas floated was, why don't we focus on popular culture because you don't need an infrastructure to enter this business, you don't need to build factories, you need time and talent. The Korean government decides to invest in pop culture? Yes. Reporter: And surprise, surprise -- it worked. They invested in Korean soap operas, exporting what became a cultural juggernaut. Then came the k-pop explosion. ?????? singing and precision dancing its way across Asia and beyond. Sowing the seeds for the k-beauty phenomenon, using red-hot k-pop stars like boy band members to sell beauty products. What's unique about this phenomenon is that Korea just created this ecosystem where all the parts feed each other and they're not in competition. Are the k-pop singers brand ambassadors for k-beauty? If you're a pop star you get farmed out by a record label to the beauty label. In Korea the record label owns everything that the person does. They kind of can force you to represent the face of the products. Reporter: Companies like this package and ship millions of beauty products to the united States from factories like these. So here they're all the completed masks. When they're all built, sealed, they get put into this machine and get sent to the other room where the ladies pack them. In this one production facility they make 200,000 to 500,000 masks a day. Over the course of months we're talking about 10 million face masks shipped all over the world. Eventually ending up in big box retail stores like Walmart. In a country obsessed with appearances, it's not surprising that the beauty industry has risen to the top. After all, one in five south Korean women have had cosmetic surgery. Something like 20% of Korean women between the ages of 30 and 50 have had Botox. Reporter: All of which seems to contribute to the allure of Korean beauty, now on sale for the world to buy.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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