What Is BB Cream? (And Why Should You Care?)

The beauty obsessives over at Birchbox recently conducted a survey of their users, covering a wide variety of topics from favorite celebrity haircut to regional trends in foundation use (there’s an infograph here with some, but not all, of the data). When asked, “What beauty products baffle you?” 44% of users said “sheet masks” (fair; what the shit is that?) and right behind at 40% was… BB Cream. So, while BB Cream may be (very) old news to some of you, many are still confounded by this supposed “miracle product.” What’s more–although it’s so popular that Sephora now devotes large floor displays to different versions–no one seems able to fully explain what it is. Some cursory internet research revealed, quite helpfully, that BB Cream is 1) like foundation, but not; 2) like tinted moisturizer, but not, and 3) Korean… but actually German. Which, obviously, illuminates nothing.

Hoping to get a cogent answer, I ventured into the Sephora flagship on 34th Street. I found one of those bright BB floor displays–this one featuring Stila, Smashbox, Too Faced, Boscia, Clinique, Dior, Dr Jart–and started slathering product all over my hands and wrists. One of the employees’ noticed my fervor and cheerfully asked if I needed help.

I told her I wanted to know about BB Cream. She replied by telling me which ones were the most popular.

“Right,” I said, “But… what is it?”

“It’s a-may-zing!”

“Okay.” I reassessed my strategy. “How is it not just a foundation with lighter coverage?”

“It’s better!” she said brightly.

“Okay. But why?”

“Well, it’s lighter and less heavy than foundation.”

“So… it’s like a tinted moisturizer?”

“No, it has better coverage.”

“So, it’s a tinted moisturizer with better coverage…?”

Her smile kind of hardened on her face. “No. It’s better!”

Look, I am not going to disparage this nice lady because she couldn’t answer my weirdly specific questions (and also because fucking with people is frequently one’s sole source of entertainment in retail). But! I can still be extremely frustrated by the sudden omnipresence of BB Cream without ever once being offered a viable explanation as to why it’s so great, other than big smiles and promises it is. I supposed, then, BB Cream was either the latest invention of a beauty industry that thrives on convincing women they need stuff they probably don’t… or a total miracle product that required no explanation because it was just that good.

And so…

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    • Renee

      Question: If I ingest one tube/container of each brand of BB cream available, will I develop super powers?

      Ack, there is no time! I’m just going to do it anyways.

      • Ashley Cardiff

        I think it depends. For a supposed “ALL! IN! ONE! WONDER! CREAM!” the amount you have to ingest to develop cool powers is, unfortunately, disappointing.

      • Lemona

        Don’t ingest them –just put them all on your skin, all over. Then your super power will be that just looking at your WONDER RADIANCE will heal people. You will actually be a walking balm.

      • Jennifer Wright

        Since applying BB cream, everything I have touched has turned to platinum. I am living in a nightmare world and wearing opera length gloves. (Also, true story, I found some of them kind of drying, but I have sensitive skin.)

      • Amy

        Since applying BB cream, unicorns come to me in my dreams and rainbows speak to me in a language only I can understand. I have also started to levitate.

        But it did make my skin oily and a bit ‘grey’.

    • Kit

      Thank you for illuminating the fact there is not much to illuminate. I know that sounds backhanded but I’m being genuine: I too was upset by the whole “It’s different and better!” party line offered by every makeup store employee I asked about it. It’s nice to know that the answer is, “they’re all pretty different.”

    • Lindsey

      “but there are no hard and fats rules”


      • Ashley Cardiff


      • Ashley Cardiff

        That was really close to a “Typo… but I’m keeping it.”

      • Ashley Cardiff

        Also, this comment should be the textbook example of how to point out minor typographical errors without being a dick.

    • Jenniwren

      I’ve never found a really satisfactory BB cream. And I don’t know anyone else who has, either. It comes back to that “one product does it all!” thing- the formulas are generally too broad to cater for those of us (lots of us) who have specific skin needs. I have oily skin, and most BB creams just sit there and then kind of slide slowly downwards and the day wears on. My sister has dry/sensitive skin and BBs don’t give her the moisture she needs. Some people have reactions to the ingredients.
      I think you could probably get a really good product if you were willing to pay enough (and the Bobbi Brown product looks amazeballs,) but frankly I’d rather spend more on good skincare that meant I wouldn’t have to wear a BB cream at all (otherwise known as the smug Frenchwoman’s philosophy).

      • Ashley Cardiff

        Oh, I agree totally. If I had to choose, I’d pay for a dermatologist before creams and powders, any day.

        Still, I think BBs can be excellent resources to many women, as they do fix minor issues like slight unevenness in skintone, etc.

      • A

        Ah – you said just what I was thinking. ‘One size fits all’ doesn’t work when you mix in skin care. I read blog from a skin care pro where she called BB Cremes ‘the Snuggie of skin care’.

    • Ellen W.

      I go to Asian grocery stores for the snack aisle too! I like the Durian-flavored candies best.

    • Anna

      LOVE this article. I just went through the same inner turmoil when I stumbled upon BB cream everywhere. I did my own research, after the same experience trying to ask what BB cream was, and found the same thing. I am a ginger with sensitive skin and my biggest fear for my skin is sun damage and skin cancer. The BB creams with 30+ spf are actually of interest to me and trying to find something that protects but doesn’t make me break out is difficult.

      I recommend doing the free samples AND reading reviews online. I found a review for Smashbox BB cream that informed me it oxidized and turned orange during the day.

    • lucygoosey74

      The original BB cream seems interesting, anti-inflamitory properties, skin healing, etc. All the others sound like blown up hype for a product that’s probably rather mediocre. Thanks for the article, it was very informative.

    • Elizabeth

      I tried to like BB creams, but I’m too attached to my neurotic multi-step regimen: cleanser, toner, anti-aging thingy, eye cream, moisturizer, broad-spectrum sunblock. I found the BB cream didn’t give enough info on its SPF properties, so I didn’t really trust it. And I’m really neurotic about sunblock, so I was going around outside jumping from shady spot to shady spot, convinced that the sun’s rays were aging me through my suspicious SPF. I just decided I couldn’t deal and took it back to the store. If I want the BB cream effect, I’ll just put a tinted moisturizer over my crazy-person regimen.

    • Lilac

      Tossing it out there alot of BB creams found in American have parabens and sulfates in them and are not as nice as the stuff from Korea or Japan. I’m trying some BB cream but I am ordering it from South Korea from an Ebay shop who explained which one would be best for my because I am Eurpoean decent.

      • Ashley Cardiff

        I’m personally biased toward the brands that don’t use things like that–Hourglass, NARS, Stila, Tarte–because I have sensitive skin. Still, I’m a beauty editor (and not everyone cares about nasty chemicals or has the money to) so I try to cover a broad spectrum of products, ingredient-wise, price point-wise.


      I LOVE it. Thank you for approaching this with a keen eye! One size may “fit” all, but rarely is it flattering (aka Snuggie);-)

    • Dani

      Isn’t this the same as Maybelline’s Anti-Aging eraser products? It has collagen, SPF, coverage and goji berries (for who knows what), but I love it. It goes on super easy and has slight coverage.

    • Glo

      One line. JANE IREDALE. I have used this makeup for 8 years. Just tried her version the other day at the derm. LOVE IT

    • Guest

      “Before we knew it, luxury houses like Dior and Chanel–who called it CC Cream, preciously–were on it, too.”

      Ah, but apparently CC cream is its own separate category! According to the Sephora website, “CC stands for color correct or color care. CCs are generally lighter in texture than BBs and provide a more natural coverage.”