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

Although I was intrigued by the idea of a German chemist inventing the product in a lab somewhere, I next sought out a dermatologist. I prefer talking to derms about makeup because they tend to be a little more dour and unimpressed by new crazes in beauty but Debra Jaliman, author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist, also gave our mythic wonder cream a solid endorsement. She likes BB because it puts an SPF on women who might not ordinarily prioritize sun protection. She said:

They are multipurpose products. You find a moisturizer, foundation, sunblock, and primer all in one product. Some have an anti-aging ingredients (Clinique includes antioxidants) or brighteners (Garnier). The reason many people like them is that in this fast paced world, when people are so busy, instead of layering multiple products they can use just one. They generally give good coverage. I like a specific sunscreen with the best sun protective ingredients, so for me I prefer separate products. But for others it’s a good way to get people who wouldn’t always wear a sunscreen to actually wear one and have their skin look good in the process.

Okay, so BB is a multi-tasker; liked by makeup artists because you don’t have to layer on moisturizer/primer/foundation, and liked by derms who just want women to wear an SPF. We’re almost somewhere!

I was actually having a hard time finding anyone who’d say anything bad about BB, until I found Sebastien Tardif, a power-makeup artist who’s worked with some of the best models in the business: Naomi Campbell, Jessica Stam, Helen Christensen, Carmen Kass. He told me that he’s been working in Korea (and around Asia) since 2001, so BB is old news to him. Although he understands why women are curious about it given all the hype, his concern is that many BB Creams come in only one shade yet purport to adapt to any skintone: ”The limited color range ‘one shade fits all’ approach is misleading, [it leaves] skin ashy and made up looking; in my opinion, BB Creams fail to meet customers’ personalized needs.” Tardif is launching Veil Cosmetics this month, which he says was inspired by the Asian emphasis on beautiful skin, but his equivalent product comes in 12 shades.

Similarly unsatisfied with the one shade approach was Bobbi Brown, a brand that has always specialized in faces (foundation, bronzer, blush, etc). They’d been tinkering away on a formula for some time before releasing their version. I spoke with Gabrielle Nevin, Executive Director of Product Development at Bobbi Brown and Alicia Sontag, SVP, Global Marketing about their BB Cream: ”Skin has to look like skin–texture and color–[so it's] imperative to have multiple shade offerings,” said Nevin, however it’s “sometimes difficult to obtain darker shades in higher SPF formulas.” Bobbi Brown now offers BBs in five shades (and a higher-than-average SPF 35).

Sontag chimes in to further praise the cream’s versatility, “It can be used as a combination product to save on steps of SPF, coverage, anti-aging and brightening and bring all into one. Different women can use it in many different ways to fit their needs. For a minimalist – it can be “all in one”. For a makeup junkie, it is the perfect step after their skin care routine and before their foundation/makeup routine.”

I was beginning to better understand the differences between your garden variety foundation or tinted moisturizer and BB Cream, although my natural skepticism hadn’t quite been abated–BB still sounded like a spruced up version of either, albiet with some good benefits.

So I went to the source.

Share This Post:
    • 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.”