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What Are BB Creams?

The buzz behind beauty balms.

By Shelley Levitt

Reviewed by Victoria Barbosa, MD

WebMD Feature

Want to streamline your beauty routine while saving counter space and money? Who doesn't? That's why a new type of product called BB cream has become one of the hottest trends in the beauty industry.

This versatile skin care/makeup hybrid promises to do the job of five or six other jars and tubes: moisturizer, primer, sunscreen, skin treatment, concealer, and foundation.

"The idea of a well-formulated BB cream is that it's the only product you'll need after you wash your face," says Ni'Kita Wilson, a cosmetic chemist at Englewood Lab in New Jersey.

How BB Creams Began

BB creams are short for beauty balms or blemish balms. They were first developed in Germany by a dermatologist who wanted a single cream that would protect skin and provide coverage after laser treatments.

The all-in-one formulation became a sensation in South Korea and then spread throughout Asia. 

"The average woman in Asia goes through seven different steps taking care of her skin," says Jessica Wu, MD, a Santa Monica, Calif., dermatologist and author of Feed Your Face: Younger, Smoother Skin and a Beautiful Body in 28 Delicious Days. "When I was in Hong Kong, every woman I spoke to was using a BB cream to shorten that regimen."

The BB Boom

BB creams started hitting U.S. store shelves in the spring of 2011. Today, almost every major beauty company has a BB cream, from drugstore brands that cost under $10 to high-end department-store lines that may be as costly as $100 or more, as well as lines that are only sold at spas or in doctors' offices. More are on their way.

The NPD Group, a market research group, found that although only 2% of beauty shoppers have purchased a BB cream, nearly 4 in 5 of those who have say they'll buy the product again.

What BB Creams Do

Can one beauty product really do it all? Maybe.

Many BB creams offer effective sun protection, with broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher, the American Academy of Dermatology's recommendation for daily use. What's more, BB creams generally contain zinc oxide or titanium oxide, physical sunblocks that have some built-in water-resistant properties, Wu says.

When it comes to skin treatment, you can find BB creams that contain:

  • Anti-aging components, including peptides and antioxidants such as vitamins A, E, and C
  • Moisturizing workhorses like hyaluronic acid and glycerin
  • Ingredients such as licorice and arbutin that help even out skin tone
  • Light-reflecting mica to give skin a luminous finish
  • Silicone-based ingredients, such as dimethicone, that help smooth the skin, acting much like a foundation primer does

 

The Limitations of BB Creams

For all its benefits, if you expect a BB cream to be a miracle in a tube, you might be disappointed.

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