"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.
"I like to say that BB creams are like any jack-of-all-trades -- they're master of none," Wilson says. "They do SPF very well and they can often [provide] good color coverage, but they're not as effective at moisturizing. Also, it's very difficult to load all that functionality into a single product and end up with a light texture. Women will find that BB creams tend to be a bit thicker than their tinted moisturizers."
Finding a BB cream that matches the color of your skin perfectly can also be a challenge. BB creams tend to come in a small range of shades -- usually three to five fair to medium-dark hues -- or in a single shade that blends with all skin tones.
Some women may find these shades too light. "The darkest shades in a BB cream are like the medium shades in most of our foundation lines," Wilson says.
Another limitation is that you won't find a BB cream -- or, for that matter, a tinted sunscreen -- that has acne-fighting ingredients. "FDA regulations don't allow acne ingredients and SPF to be combined in a single product," Wilson says. "If you have skin care issues that you're addressing with a targeted treatment product, you can't expect to get the same results by replacing that with a BB cream."
The best candidates for BB creams, Wilson says, are people with normal to oily skin and light to medium skin tone, and who don't need heavy moisturizers or anti-acne products.
BB Creams and Your Beauty Regimen
If BB creams won't replace every product in your skin care regimen, they can help those products work more effectively.
"I love BB creams," says Wu, who uses one herself under her lightweight foundation to help conceal acne scars.
"I'm devoted to my foundation," she says, "and there are a lot of women out there like me who wouldn't think of giving up the foundation that works perfectly for their skin. A BB cream can help you achieve fuller coverage without having to move up to a heavier foundation that feels like a mask."
By itself, a pea-sized dab of BB cream (that's all you need) can provide just the right amount of coverage for a casual day. "We're all in a hurry and BB creams are fantastic time-savers," says aesthetician Veronica Barton-Schwartz, owner of a Malibu, Calif., skin care studio, who counts locals Olivia Newton-John, Suzanne Somers, and Cher among her clients. "The formulations keep getting better and better."
If you're after a low-key look, that BB cream might indeed be all you need to tote for your skin care and beauty needs. It's also a good solution, Wu says, "for someone who's very natural and doesn't like the idea of wearing makeup, but wants to protect her or his skin and cover up some imperfections." Men can now buy BB creams that are made specifically for them.
After these do-it-all BB creams, what's next? Get ready for CC creams. These "color-control" creams are said to havea lighter texture, more coverage, and better hydration than their BB brethren.