BB Cream stands for Blemish Balm, or Blemish Base, and in Western markets, Beauty Balm. It is a cosmetic item sold mainly in East and Southeast Asia, although larger beauty brands are increasingly introducing BB creams to Western markets.
BB cream is promoted as an all-in-one facial cosmetic product to replace serum, moisturizer, primer, foundation, and sunblock. It can be worn alone as a tinted moisturizer, over serum and moisturizer as a regular foundation, and under powder, depending on the desired amount of coverage.
What was to become BB Cream was originally formulated in the 1960s in Germany by dermatologist Dr. Christine Schrammek to protect her patients’ skin after surgery. Introduced to South Korea and Japan in 1985 – where healthy-looking, porcelain skin is heavily prized – the cream was hailed as “the secret of Korean actresses,” and was heavily endorsed by Korean celebrities.
BB creams come in a variety of different formulations. Because Korean companies focused initially on the Korean and East Asian markets, they are offered in a limited number of hues. Instead of offering multiple shades for different skin tones, most formulas are designed to oxidize to match the user’s skin tone. The skin-whitening properties of the cream, as sold in the Asian market, are an important element in its popularity.
The cream is promoted as a multi-tasker, an all-in-one treatment, but Korean women mostly use it as an alternative to foundation, especially Western foundations that tend to be too heavy for their taste. The coverage is often mineral-based, and is intended to both cover and treat blemishes such as acne, sun spots and age spots. It also has anti-wrinkle, anti-inflammatory and soothing effects. Several contain hyaluronic acid and Vitamin C. The Huffington Post reports that some companies say BB creams have skin-regenerating properties, though one dermatologist – Dr. Jason Rivers of the University of British Columbia’s Department of Dermatology and Skin Science – expressed skepticism that a product that is not retinoid based could do this.
BB creams make up 13 percent of the cosmetics market in South Korea. Some Korean brands also offer BB creams for men. Leading Korean brands include BRTC,Dr. Jart, Etude House, Lioele, Missha, Nature Republic, Rachel K, Skin79, Skin Food, Sulhwasoo, and The Face Shop. Western cosmetics companies began to launch BB creams in the Western market in 2012, though some of these creams have been criticized for lacking the skin-caring functions that BB creams normally have, and for being no more than tinted moisturizer. Early arrivals included Boscia, Clinique, Dior, Dr. Brandt, Estée Lauder, Garnier, Marcelle, Maybelline, Omorovicz, Revlon andSmashbox. Lab Series makes a BB cream for men. Certain BB creams have been tailored for Western markets: Estée Lauder, for example, has not included the whitening properties in their formulation for North America.
The 8 Best Multitasking BB Creams
BB creams (short for beauty or blemish creams) are like tinted moisturizers on steroids. In addition to hydrating and evening out skin tones, BB creams also treat the skin with antioxidants or other anti-aging ingredients, plus offer broad-spectrum SPF. Already super-popular in Asia, dozens of these handy hybrids are popping up in the U.S. Here’s how to find the best one for you.
FOR OILY SKIN
If you have shine issues, you usually look for oil-free foundation. But Estée Lauder Daywear Anti-Oxidant Beauty Benefit Creme SPF 35 will do you one better: The oil-free cream tempers shine, but it also moisturizes with hyaluronic acid (because even acne-prone skin needs moisture). And it avoids a pitfall of some shine reducers: Instead of mattifying, which can look aging, this sheer formula actually adds a subtle (read: not reflective or slick-looking) glow. And since it’s a BB cream, it’s also got an anti-aging component—it contains antioxidants including vitamins E and C.
FOR DRY SKIN
Just ask any dermatologist—hyaluronic acid and glycerin are moisturizing powerhouses. Garnier Skin Renew Miracle Skin Perfector BB Cream SPF 15 contains both of them, so it’s kind of like Gatorade for dehydrated skin. The light formula covers minor imperfections, is easy to blend over dry areas, and generally feels really nice. It’s also an overachiever: Vitamin C in the formula brightens skin.
FOR SENSITIVE SKIN
Sensitive skin can tolerate the mineral pigments in most BB creams. But fragrance-free Dr. Jart+ Water Fuse BB Beauty Balm with SPF 25 also makes easily irritated skin feel (and look) better. The delicate lotion helps neutralize redness, though it won’t replace your foundation. A high water content makes it feel cooling, and aloe treats redness and soothes complexions.
FOR DULL SKIN
All BB creams moisturize, so they’re going to help you look more radiant over time. But the light-reflecting pearl powder in Dr. Brandt Signature Flexitone BB Cream makes skin more luminous on the spot. The namesake ingredient may sound a little jargon-y, but it means that the tint blends with most skin tones—and since a lot of BB creams come in just light, medium, and dark, that’s a real plus. Still, it’s only available in one color.
FOR UNEVEN SKIN
Most BB creams cover like a tinted moisturizer, but Clinique Age Defense BB Cream Broad Spectrum SPF 30 behaves more like a lightweight foundation (which, as any good makeup artist will tell you, makes skin look more youthful than really pigmented formulas). It contains caffeine to soften lines, and vitamin E and seaweed extract to control oil production, which will help your makeup stay on longer. The mineral pigments will cover fine lines and minor blemishes, but they’re not enough for serious discoloration. Supplement with a solid concealer.
FOR A NATURAL FINISH
Too Faced Tinted Beauty Balm is a quick pick-me-up for younger skin. The subtle glow is healthy looking—not full-on dewy—and the light-coverage formula makes skin feel and look smoother. Vitamin A helps even skin tone and reduce wrinkles over time, while chamomile soothes on the spot.
FOR MATURE SKIN
Typically, BB creams don’t boast serious coverage, but Stila Stay All Day 10-in-1 HD Beauty Balm contains teeny microspheres that are supposed to reduce the appearance of wrinkle depth by 84 percent. We’re not 100 percent sure of that, but the lotion did make our fine lines less noticeable without creasing or looking spackled on, and it contains peptides to treat fine lines and wrinkles.
FOR UNEVEN SKIN TONE
Soy, licorice, vitamin C, and arbutin have been shown to fade discoloration on the skin’s surface. You can find arbutin (a botanical extract that helps stop melanin production) in Dr. Jart Premium Blemish Base with SPF 45. Bonus: The formula also makes skin look smoother with adenosine, a sugar molecule that speeds up cell renewal.
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Related blog posts in Tommy Beauty Pro:
- BB Cream vs. CC Cream
- Skin Report: The A to Z of BBs
- The Best BB Creams For Your Skin
- BB Cream & Men’s Grooming Make-up
- Allure Magazine 2013 Best of Beauty in Base Makeup