What are BB CC and DD creams? We asked makeup professionals for a rundown!

I don’t know much about film. I don’t understand sports besides soccer. I can’t cook more than three different meals total. One of the only things I am actually pretty knowledgeable about: makeup. And yet, upon being faced with all these new base products that sound more like slightly enlarged bra sizes rather than pieces of makeup, I was admittedly very lost.

So, I did what any person does (or should do) when confused: asked for help. I contacted several professionals. I asked various makeup artists to help me find out what the deal is with BB, CC and DD creams, because while I thought I at least knew what’s up with BB creams, I was clueless when it came to the latter two. In fact, I just sort of assumed they were approximately all the same. Now, let’s get down to some fourth grade investigative science experiment level, shall we?

What I wanted to know:

  • What do ‘BB,’ ‘CC’ and ‘DD’ each stand for?
  • What are the primary differences between the three?
  • Which is better for what type of skin?
  • Are they different than tinted moisturizers?

To find out, I asked Ramy Gafni (makeup artist and founder of RAMY Beauty Therapy), Blair Berndes (brow architect and makeup artist at Angles and Arches Beauty Bar), Julia Papworth (celebrity hair and makeup artist), and Simone Siegl (celebrity makeup artist). All are highly qualified experts on the art of beauty and had plenty of vital information on these mysterious double-lettered bases.

So, let’s get down to it.

What do the letters stand for?

The acronyms stand for simple, descriptive product names. According to Gafni, these are:

  • BB: Beauty Balm
  • CC: Color & Correct
  • DD: Daily Defense/Dynamic Do-All

What do they do?

“‘Alphabet Creams’ are like tinted moisturizer with super powers!” said Ramy, whose term “alphabet creams” is simultaneously excellent and bringing to mind alphabet soup applied as foundation.

“BB creams, originally from Asia have become increasingly popular in the US over the last few years,” says Papworth. BB cream is intended to be swapped in for foundation so you can moisturize, protect and prime using one product.

CC creams are “meant to address issues like redness or sallowness,” says Berndes. While you might use a BB cream to assist in fixing minor unevenness, the CC one is supposed to help you get a little more correction and coverage where you need it. Additionally, Papworth notes, they are “often lighter than BB cream and may contain more nutrients.”

“These Dynamic Do-All creams are supposed to combine the qualities of BB and CC creams and focus on anti-aging,” says Papwroth. “The main promise of DD creams is to diminish wrinkles and give your skin a more youthful appearance.”

Are they actually different from one another?

Yes and no. Gafni calls them “cousins,” as they are all “essentially the same with minor differences.” Rather than being extremely different between forms–such as powder foundation versus liquid–BB, CC and DD creams are all fairly similar.

“In my opinion there is not much differences between the three products at all,” says Siegl. “I feel each company added either one more or less ingredient to the product, but that’s about it.” When it comes to trying out BB creams versus CC cream, the latter’s formula felt more lightweight and there “may be some skin lightening ingredients added to even out skin tone over time,” but other than that, there wasn’t a huge shift.

And are they any different from a regular tinted moisturizer?

Yes, in some ways, though this answer varied between pros.

Siegl considers BB cream to be a “high end tinted moisturizer,” but in order to achieve the same effect, she simply uses “a drop of foundation to my tinted moisturizer” and gets an increased amount of coverage.

Ramy told us that “a tinted moisturizer may contain an SPF but offers no other active ingredients. It’s basically a moisturizer with a hint of color.” The BB, CC and DD creams typically contain “more active ingredients to diminish lines and wrinkles, brighten the skin, prime the skin and give slightly more coverage than your average tinted moisturizer.”

Which situations are each product appropriate for?

That depends more on your skin and preferences than on where you’re going. If you are prefer a matte look, plenty of brands have mattifying BB creams, while others may want a dewy look from a moisturizing BB cream (Gafni cites Garnier‘s line as an example of one that contains several types).

If you have acne- or redness-prone skin, you might want to try CC cream, as Berndes notes it’s “more lightweight and will most likely not have as much coverage as the BB cream.” Somebody like myself, for example, who tends to get really random blotches on her cheeks at sporadic times, may find that a CC cream is more ideal.

Does the time of year matter?

Berndes says that in the winter, “people sometimes wear a more hydrating” BB, CC or DD cream. Right now, I am planning on going out and getting myself a moisturizing one because my apartment’s heat blast-freeze-heat blast-freeze heating system has all but destroyed my skin.

When it comes to summer, you may instead opt for a lighter formula that doesn’t make you look more oily than you already are. Given that I am a sweat monster between May and September, I will likely be avoiding anything that offers to make me look dewy.

But what about when photos are being taken?

Berndes says that CC cream would be best for this, as correcting “the skin is most important.” Personally, I’ve tried using BB creams for photos in order to get that “naturally flawless” thing going on, but wound up just feeling like my face looked tired and uneven.

What are some pro favorites?

Berndes says she loves Dr. Jart BB cream in its sensitive and uneven skin tone formulas. As for CC cream, she’s down with Clinique‘s and Smashbox‘s, and for the last type, she likes DERMAdoctor DD cream.

For Siegl, the best brands for these products are Dior, Lancome, L’Oreal and Stila, but she notes that “they are all very similar and I can work with most.”

Gafni: “Of course, I’m partial to RAMY Sleep in Beauty, which preceded BB & CC Creams but is technically a CC Cream. My favorite from the drugstore is Garnier’s BB Cream in Mattifying – I use it when I want more coverage than the Sleep in Beauty, which offers a lighter coverage.” (For the record, I have tried RAMY products before and they’re great, especially the lipstick, so if you’re looking for a new brand, check it out.)

Will we soon see more products like these multipurpose ones?

Gafni thinks so: “I’m seeing BB & CC creams for the eyes and BB Cream for hair (Pantene). I think the next step in evolution might be A-Z Creams or ‘Alpha’ Creams that will offer every active ingredient from A-Z.” Personally, I would love to see more hair products that require fewer steps and more results; in the morning, I barely have time to wash my face and moisturize properly, let alone do my hair. One step and then done? Oh, oh yes. Yes please.

So, what did I take away from all the helpful info these pros told me? Well, it seems that while there are some differences between BB, CC and DD creams, they are not major enough that you should invest in all three. Plus, being on a budget makes me want to pick one product and stick with it rather than getting a couple products that can’t be used regularly only to have them go bad after 6 or more months (as a lot of base makeup does). Think about your skin type, think about what effect you want to achieve, read reviews, try out a few samples and then make an informed decision that way.