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What is a BB Cream? And Why Most BB Creams Aren’t Good For Your Skin

By March 14, 201924 Comments

Almost everyone asks me, “What’s a BB Cream? Do I need a BB cream? Is a BB cream good for my skin?” So let’s dive in to answering those questions…

What is a BB Cream and why all the buzz?

In 2011 I had my first exposure to BB cream from a brand that brought their formula over from Korea where the trend started.  This brand, which I will call “Brand X”,  was one of the first – if not THE first – on the U.S. scene with this “revolutionary”, multi-purpose product.  Brand X dolled out heaps of money to a powerful New York PR firm that placed them in every major magazine and behind the runways at Fashion Week, where I was one of the makeup artists paid to apply this cream to all the models backstage.

The marketing machine took full effect calling BB Creams the newest must-have. Since magazines always needs a new hook to write about, beauty editors were all too willing to oblige.  Thus, a beauty trend was born.

The origins of BB cream started back in the 1960’s in Germany for patients of laser treatments. Then in the mid-1980’s the Korean market grabbed hold of this idea and tweaked it to cater to Asian (primarily Korean) women as an all-in one, multi-tasking skin cream.

BB actually stands for “Blemish Balm” and was made popular mainly by Korean actresses as a blemish fighting primer with SPF and tinted coverage to even out and lighten skin tone.  A “true” BB cream has very white cast to appeal to the desire of Asian women to achieve idyllic alabaster skin.

Once the first Korean company decided to launch its cream in the U.S. the BB acronym got switched to “Beauty Balm” and is now being marketed for just about any purpose under the sun.

Around one year after Brand X showed up on the scene, every major cosmetic company jumped on the bandwagon to capitalize on the newest craze in beauty.  So much time, energy and research must have been taken by each brand to ensure that their cream was truly the best…[are you catching my sarcasm here?].  I must raise an eyebrow about how quickly every company ran to formulate their own “revolutionary” BB cream and introduce it into their line and now I dare to speak my truth and say the thing no one else seems to be saying…

The vast majority of BB creams fall very short of their lofty claims. Women are being sold on more on hype than true product performance.

Why most BB Creams don’t live up to their hype

The short answer is most BB creams don’t deliver on their promises.

Westernized BB creams are touted as the ultimate, multi-function product to replace every other skin care item in the cabinet doing everything that a serum, moisturizer, primer, foundation, and sunblock would do if worn separately.

Mostly I think they are glorified tinted moisturizers that cost a lot more. Didn’t we already have tinted moisturizers that have SPF, antioxidants with anti-aging benefits and makeup coverage to even out skin?

Newcomers to the U.S. marketplace have created BB creams that offer texture and colors more suitable to a variety of skin tones and types to appease the tastes/needs of the American consumer – not a bad thing in theory.

However, in the spirit of American formulations, these new brands are adding in loads more chemicals and significantly deviating from what real BB creams were meant to be.

Why BB Creams Aren’t Worth the Money and Aren’t Good for your Skin

Prices for BB creams range from $18 to $90 a tube, but it’s not necessarily because the consumer is getting more for her money.  Most makeup companies are notorious for skimping on expensive ingredients in their formulas to save on cost, since they don’t have to disclose the amount they are using.

It’s impossible to tell how much of the active ingredients one is actually getting in a formula. Most likely the amount is so small of anything that would work to benefit the skin that the results would be negligible.

In a cosmetic formula the more ingredients which are added to have “active properties,” such as “skin repairing” functions, the more ingredients need to be added to stabilize all those chemicals which are mixing around together.

The more ingredients that have to be stuffed into a product, the higher the chance of reactivity with your skin.

Not to mention, many traditional beauty brands have BB creams filled with harsh chemicals I consider to be unsafe and/or toxic; including and especially the departure from using a safe SPF (such as titanium or zinc dioxide) in favor of harmful chemical sunblock which can damage skin.

I know we are a society of instant results and a “make it faster, quicker now!” mentality, but are we really in that much of a hurry that we can’t be bothered to use a couple of products separately for maximum results and efficacy?

BB Cream is not a one-size-fits-all solution

As a makeup artist, I pay close attention to how a product wears on a variety of faces before I make an assessment about it.  Whenever I’ve seen someone wearing a BB cream or when I have applied it on models, regular folks and myself, a few of the problems I’ve observed include:  an ashy/lavender or pink/white cast, which looks un-natural; a chalky looking effect on dry skin; separation after a few hours on oily skin. 

Depending on the day, your all-in-one product may not be all you need.

If your skin is drier in the winter, then you’ll need to add more moisture to a BB cream that may have performed great during more humid months of the year.  If you don’t make proper adjustments, you could end up with very flaky looking skin that looks less luminous, and renders you looking dull and possibly older than you are, rather than glowing and youthful.

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In my opinion, it is a much better plan to control the dose of each high-quality skin care product that works for the specific thing you need it to do, and use the right shade of foundation to match your skin tone, rather than mush everything all together into one premium-priced bottle with mediocre results.

The Evolution of BB Cream

Allure Magazine and I both covered this topic simultaneously back in November, 2012. I was pleasantly surprised to see that various dermatologists, experts and the writer of the Allure article confessed BB creams aren’t the wonder product they claim to be.

Of course their conclusions about each point always ends on an upbeat note, but I was thrilled to see honest statements that you’d probably still need a moisturizer, you won’t be super impressed by the results since the ingredients are “having a battle with each other”, most BB creams aren’t good for acne-prone skin, and you still need to add sunscreen to ensure proper daily protection.

Have things changed since 2012? Absolutely. Companies have had to significantly pivot their ingredient profiles to accommodate more skin tones and types. But while they’re still calling these products “BB and CC creams” they’re nothing like what those were originally intended to be.

A matter of preference

From consumers to makeup artists there will be differing opinions about BB creams. Over the past years I’ve found a few that I’ve come to like, but for the most part wouldn’t suggest using them daily.

My honest -albeit controversial- conclusion is that I’m not sold on the “wonders” of BB creams.

For me, BB cream is much like a tinted moisturizer with SPF to quickly slap on before going out in the sun to run errands.

When I use a BB cream it’s without expectation that it’s going to cover or look as good as a foundation, and I don’t expect it to perform like my skin care products do.

That said, it’s ultimately a matter of preference. If you want to try out a BB cream, then go for it!

So have you found a BB cream that works for your skin? Leave a comment below with your favorite brands below!

Feature photo by Kristiina Wilson with makeup by Kristen Arnett.

Kristen Arnett

Author Kristen Arnett

A makeup artist and green beauty educator helping you find the very best safe cosmetics. Teaching pro secrets for enhancing your natural beauty at every age, so you can be empowered to make healthier choices, and radiate confidence every day.

More posts by Kristen Arnett

Join the discussion 24 Comments

  • Ketty says:

    Good piece of information shared. can we use BB cream for full coverage and is it a good idea to use it for wedding parties?

  • You’re totally right, BB creams are glorified tinted moisturizers that cost a lot more but there are some that are worth the price. For someone like who prefers not to wear foundation but also wants something to cover breakouts a bit, BB creams can be awesome. I also apply a moisturizer because I have dry skin so it depends from person to person if a BB cream is enough to moisturize the skin. For me, it’s not but I know the needs of my skin quite well. In the winter, for the day, I prefer using a moisturizer with SPF or a BB cream with SPF and thus I don’t also have to apply a sunscreen. In the summer, I apply a sunscreen because the UV rays are a lot more powerful. So, I guess it’s about what works for each of us. For me, BB creams are better for my skin to cover my breakouts and make them less visible. There are also BB creams that don’t clog the pores, it’s all about checking out the ingredients to see if they are noncomedogenic. They don’t have the power of a good foundation but I only need the redness on my face to be toned down. All in all, I would say that BB creams totally work for me but it takes a while until you find the perfect one.

  • Chloe says:

    Hello Kristen Arnett,

    Can you wear BB cream under foundation?

  • Elizabeth says:

    I have been using Tarte BB cream, light/ medium, since the covid-19 pandemic instead of foundation. It goes on pretty good the coverage is light, I use a setting powder. I like the look. I might be sticking with it after we no longer will b wearing mask.

  • Anastasija says:

    Hello :)

    Is BB cream going to give me a full coverage? :)

  • Riya Somani says:

    What are few good brands for BB Cream? thanks

  • Renee says:

    While not called a BB cream by label, the W3LL People Tint Moisturizer is basically a BB cream and is the BEST clean option on the market right now. Great coverage, high SPF, and looks incredible.

  • Alexandra says:

    wow, interesting. I’ve *occasionally* used a tinted sunscreen, but mostly I just use either sunscreen or moisturizer alone. I’ve heard of these and it’s cool to finally learn the meaning behind the initials!

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  • wrinkless cream and luxoderm skin says:

    Therte is certainly a lot to learn about this issue. I like all the
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  • julie reynolds says:

    Hi can someone tell me the best green BB cream?

    • Green Beauty Team says:

      The jury is still out on which is the best of all the bunch. There’s a mention in this article for one GBT expert Laurisa really liked.

    • Deb says:

      I will have to say last year I started using the BB cream from 100% pure I was not sure I liked it but my sister told me my skin looked so much better from using that product than from the powder makeup I was used to wearing. So I stuck with it and Made some adjustments like setting it lightly with a finishing powder or setting powder and it last a good while on my face. I have combo skin and I do wear 100% purse mattifying primer in the T-zone are pa and this seems to help me from becoming to oily. I do think my makeup looks more natural now than when I was using the powders for sure. I’m a warm skin tone and I use the Aglow BB cream.

  • Mia says:

    Actually, I think the whole concept of bb creams is great. I have really dry and sensitive skin, so you might be thinking that I don’t have any problem on layering product after product, but actually, I do. I have to give myself all the time of the world to perform my skincare routine, to let each product absorb properly, so my face won’t be left with a heavy greasy layer that eventually makes my skin react, and I don’t mean pimples, my skin gets inflammed, irritated, red and breaks out in tiny red bumps all over my cheeks, all that happens if I layer too many things and my skin gets oily. But in the mornings, I’m always in a rush, so I can’t give myself the two hours I have at night, it would be great if I could simplify my routine with a moisturizer, sunscreen and foundation all in one, because layering all those products is definitely not an option for me. Not to mention that would save me, and most women, sooo much time in the mornings, and would make to most women way easier to wear sunscreen. I’m one of those women, I would completely refuse to wear sunscreen because obviously I hated the white layer and chalky feel it leaves, until my dermatogist told me that my sensitive skin was begging for sun protection, and he gave me the tip of mixing foundation with sunscreen, I still don’t like the look and feel, but it’s much better.
    Maybe the bb creams still need to be improved, but you cannot deny the concept is fantastic. To me a good bb cream should be one that contains sufficient moisturizing ingredients and antioxidants, all natural, of course, a good, broad spectrum mineral sunscreen and a wide color choice, it’s just that it still does not exists, so I’ll have to keep mixing my sunscreen with my unnatural foundation, but I repeat, the concept of bb creams is genius, I’ll keep waiting for one that that suits me…

  • Lisa Lee says:

    I do agree that the Americanized BB is bull to get more people to buy a tinted moisturizr for more than its worth. However, I have used the South Korean brands Skin79 BB creams and those are really great. I started to break out less, my skin evened out and looked a lot more glowy and even. It does go on a little paler than usual, but it eventually evens out to your skin tone and matches with each individual… so not every BB cream is a waste of money…

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  • Kristine says:

    It’s my first time to hear about these BB creams. After, I’ve read your post I want to try this product. I’ll update you is it was effective to me.

    Permanent Makeup NYC

  • Catherine says:

    Great post! Marie put together a BB/CC Cream guide that has some great info on why they may not be all they’re cracked up to be.

  • Diana says:

    I think one of the problems is that most of these BB creams from Korea and Japan, they state their ingredients in their language, and since I am learning to read the ingredients, that makes it scary for me to even try. heard that BB cream was originally used medically for people with burned skins(newly grown skins afterwards) to protect skins. Having heard that it makes BB cream even more untouchable for me. Knowing that any liquid things will be more easily absorbed through skin, i guess powders are a better choice for me.

    • Green Beauty Team says:

      Hi Diana and Liane, thank you for both for also entering in this conversation. You both make really good points. The Asian BB creams are totally different than the new US versions and are superior for Asian skin in particular. And if you are super concerned about the natural aspect of ingredients, Diana, you will be disappointed that most aren’t “clean”. They are supposed to be safe and healing and were developed for post-surgical procedures, but doctors regularly tell people to use products which many of us more green folks wouldn’t touch now. It’s all about finding what we most wish to have and then what works for us within that! Wishing each of you health and beauty!

  • Liane says:

    I’d agree with you that most of the BB Creams that have been released for the Western market have been lame. However, I’ve been using BB Creams from South Korea, Japan, and China for years and they are far superior. I order them online. I get amazing coverage, hydration and sun protection from them. Yes, to use a multitasking product, you do have to compromise on ingredients sometimes, and it took me a while to find one that didn’t break me out since I’m super sensitive to yucky things, but if you’re willing to do the research and get the real deal from Asia, it’s worth it.

    • Jamie says:

      Hi Liane,

      I know it’s been a few years since your comment, but I just discovered this article. Would you mind sharing which brands of the BB Creams you use? Thank you!

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