BB Creams

BB creams have taken the beauty world by storm over the last two years.  Are the consumers demanding what they want from the industry? Or is this marketing people cunningly foisting a trend on an easily led public?  There is certainly a lot of interest in them as this graph from Google Trends shows.   Nobody was searching for BB creams until early in 2008.  Since then interest has steadily grown. In 2012 interest really started to pick up and shows no sign of having peaked yet.

BB CreamsBut despite all this excitement, I think that a lot of people still either haven’t heard of them or haven’t quite worked out what they are about.   So what are BB creams?  The BB cream started in Korea, where they have been around for a long time apparently – I am not sure how long.  They are a combination of a foundation with a moisturiser.  If that sounds to you like what we used to call a tinted moisturiser, well that is basically what they are.  There is nothing wrong with that of course.  Tinted moisturisers can, but usually don’t, also contain a sunscreen.  BB creams don’t have to, but usually do contain a sunscreen.  So basically the innovation is making a virtue of being multifunctional.  When I first started seeing BB creams the three functions were just that, foundation, moisturising and sun protection.

As they have grown in popularity the big brands have engaged in a typical arms race to add further functions.  Now most of them offer 5 or sometimes 6 benefits.  One even offers to make your skin look both satin and matte at the same time.  The world adjective shortage is beginning to bite. Reviewers tend to concentrate on the skin tones and the covering power.  Obviously there are a lot of skin colours and types out there so offering  a couple of shade variations makes sense.  The inclusion of some moisturising and a bit of SPF is a bonus, and potentially a money saver if cash is a bit tight.

So the BB cream seems like a sensible enough proposition that would fit into the portfolio of people who take their skin seriously.  But how do we explain the enormous level of interest?  It doesn’t seem that the products can possibly justify the hysteria.

I think the answer is simply that the beauty business has become a huge self referencing feedback loop.  Journalists, bloggers, retailers and product development teams in the big companies are all looking out for the next big thing.  They all go to the same shows and obsessively follow what each other is doing.  If a couple of players bring out a BB cream then everyone wants one.  The products then get reviewed and start appearing on shelves, with all the usual promotional activity.  Before long you can’t open a magazine or log onto Twitter without finding somebody talking about BB creams.

It gets out of hand of course.  My friends over at the Beauty Brains spotted a BB Creme for the hair.  No, I don’t understand how that works either.  And inevitably, some companies brought out CC creams.  These have heavier pigment loads and even longer lists of hard to put your finger on claimed benefits.  I have just looked at one that makes a point of being a 12 in 1 multi-tasker product.  I only counted 11 on the list below, and they were getting tenuous.  I am not sure I know what the difference is between giving an even skin tone and giving a balanced skin tone.

CC creams haven’t got anywhere near the interest of BB creams yet, but again looking at Google they seem to be on an upward trend.  I still haven’t worked out what a CC cream is yet, but I need to get a move on because DD creams are already on their way.  The only question is whether the next stage will be strictly alphabetical giving us EE creams, or if the trend is restricted to consonants and we have to go on to FF creams.


CC Creams

Where will it all end? Even if my guess is right and vowels are excluded we still have a lot of alphabet left.  Our bathroom cabinets will soon begin to look like exceptionally bad Scrabble hands.  I can also imagine panic buying of thesauruses as marketing departments try to fill ever longer lists of benefits.  Meanwhile, I am trying to imagine what the reaction will be when somebody comes up with something really innovative.  If this is what a new name for a tinted moisturiser can do I can’t imagine what effect something really new would have.

There is a Wikipedia entry on BB Creams.

21 thoughts on “BB Creams”

  1. I think the attraction of BB creams is multi-tasking. The cosmetics industry and its promoters, the magazines, persuade women with less than perfect skin that we need lots of products, then tells us that one product can do it all. So in this age of austerity, buying a BB cream feels worthy rather than naughty.
    There have always been complexion tints – the apricot, lilac and pale green series – and now they are being combined with moisturiser and called CC creams. But they don’t have to look scary in the tube anymore as the industry has developed products that change colour on the skin.
    And this is the other advantage to the consumer of both creams: there are very few shades to choose from so getting it wrong (and looking like you’re wearing a mask) will draw in even women who are put off by the idea of foundation.
    But here’s a conundrum. You wouldn’t wear both, so is the industry wanting to see one type replace the other, or looking for a new audience for CC creams, or cynically exploiting the desire of women to experiment towards perfection, ie they don’t mind if consumers buy the product only once before withdrawing it?

  2. Made me chuckle
    When I was in Korea last year, BB creams were still everywhere but the most publicity was given over to snail cream made with the stuff that the snail secretes. I have seen this before in the UK some years ago.
    Mind you, on looking at the ingredients listed on the products sold in Korea, they wouldn’t be allowed here, which I think is why BB creams have been slower coming to the UK market and do not perform in the same way.

  3. BB in Korea means blemish balm and the creams, which are more the consistency of a balm, also whiten the appearance of the skin. It’s a cultural thing that the lighter and more mono colour the skin, ie no blusher, the prettier the person is.
    My granddaughter, who is light skinned, was frequently stopped and adored.
    So the conclusion that I reached is that why call it a BB cream at all. Just the latest buzz word. CC cream doesn’t have the same ring to it but ZZ cream pronounced the American way does!
    Better than Snail Cream or Slug Cream or Slurg( my niece has a Northampton accent)

  4. Colin, love your site. I’m currently a phd student in a polymers lab, aspiring to be a formulation scientist some day.

    I recently bought a cc cream by juice beauty. They use a non nano size zinc oxide as their SPF. I found the cream to be very non absorbent and caused a lot of clogged pores and white heads. Is this an effect characteristic of non nano size SPF?


  5. It’s important to note that Asian BB creams and western (read: UK and North American) BB creams are very different. Most western ones are nothing more than overglorified and overpriced tinted moisturizers. They don’t have all the skincare benefits that Asian ones possess. (That said, it seems to me that Japanese BB creams are different from Korean ones.)

    BB creams are actually a *German* invention. A dermatologist invented them in the 1950s or 60s (depending on your source) for her surgery patients to use, and she still sells it to this day. They came to Korea in the 1980s. A Korean actress touted its benefits, and the popularity there took off.

    CC stands for “colour correction/correcting”.

  6. I think it was popularized by the Koreans, but I read several articles saying it was created in Germany.

    Anyhow, I think this is all marketing. The bb cream sales pitch is: this is the one cream that can do everything — cure acne, prevent aging, protect you from the sun, moisturize, and act as makeup. I received several bb creams samples and I’m not happy to say that it’s mediocre on any and all of its ‘promises’.

    Sorry bb cream, I prefer sticking with my tretinoin, sunblock, and actual makeup products.

  7. In Asia, there is a completely different attitude to skin – and we’re always fascinated by beauty from other cultures. The first mainstream UK BB was Garnier and I still think it is one of the best in fulfilling the criterea although it is made for western tones. The entire ‘evening out skin tone’ is a follow through from Asian beauty where the ultimate complexion is flawless and unblemished by sun. If you think back there was a huge craze for anti-redness creams not so long ago.. nobody even realised that ‘redness’ was an issue or that they should get rid of it until brands starting making those creams with allusions to ‘rosacea’ etc. The Clinique CC is excellent at doing what it says it will.. complexion correcting.. but personally I don’t feel I need to be ‘corrected’ – I don’t mind pigmentation! I’m using it and can see a difference with and without and can see it works differently to a foundation or a tinted moisturiser.

    I am so utterly not interested in DD creams. 🙂

  8. When you get older you realise you have more pigmentation than you used to, so covering up or fading pigmentation is about correcting the appearance of age rather than creating a uniform pale complexion in western cultures. In other words, there will always be a demand for it. Not sure about redness, I can imagine it becoming fashionable…

  9. @Annie nano sized zinc oxide certainly shouldn’t block pores in theory. But nano sized zinc particles might well agglomerate when incorporated into a medium. There is quite a lot of interesting science to do with suspending particles reliably. Polymers are one big component of this so you may well know more than I do about it. I suggest you get your pHD finished as quickly as you can and get a job with Juice Beauty and see if you can sort it out for them.

  10. @Shelly and Rae. I have heard the story about the German dermatologist – in fact it is mentioned in the Wikipedia article I referenced. But I haven’t been able to track down any hard facts to substantiate it. I am not saying it isn’t true – it sounds plausible enough. But this is the beauty business and people do make stories like this up fairly often. I even remember one occasion when a sales person asked when he was going to meet the celebrity New York hair stylist mentioned on the pack of the product he was selling. He was crestfallen to learn that he was imaginary.

  11. I don’t know if it’s true, but I’ve read is that the first BB cream was created by Christine Schrammek and the original BB cream can still be found to sale here: It’s interesting that those bb creams have an old fashioned design when compared to the others products, maybe the company want it to be remembered as the first bb cream.

    And I agree with Shelly, the new western BB creams are very different from asian ones. Most of people who said that it’s only a tinted moisturizer never tried a asian one to compare.
    Considering my experience with both, the western BB creams look like only as tinted moisturizers with some sunscreen protection and a huge marketing to find lots of benefits to put in the label. I feel that using an asian BB cream every day makes my skin better (even with less promises than western bb creams), they have more anti-oxidants and treatment ingredients (acne, whitening or antiaging) while most of western bb creams only uniformizes the skin color with some protection and give me the same benefits of a common moisturizer.

  12. What really maker me cringe and laugh is qvc were recently selling a bb cream yet the presenter and brand promoter was stating to still use your serum and moisturiser underneath it, and if you dont get enough coverage apply some concealer, i wanted to smash the t.v and scream well whats the point in using it then. Its the same with the brands that offer creams and serums that supposably give radiance, firming, lifting, line erasing, yet have 59 different o her products in the line that all offer a different concern. If the new ones best, get rid of the old one. For expamle recently perricone has brought out a vitamin c serum vial, yet the overnight treatment cream was meant to offer the benefits the vit c serum thats new offers,which is it to be.

  13. You make a good point there Andy. The number of companies wanting to launch new products vastly exceeds the number of good ideas for new products to launch. The BB cream craze was a godsend for harassed marketers. They could simply repackage their existing stuff and tell new stories about it. Everyone’s a winner. (Except the consumer.)

  14. I use Missha M PerfectCover BB cream and have been really impressed with it (I’m on my second tube now). It gives me sunscreen, colour and moisture without caking or looking like a mask. It’s definately a product I reach for every morning when I know I’m going out for a few hours and want to protect my skin. From what I’ve read, the western brands aren’t a patch on the asian creams. The UK has had some hot sunny weather recently and we have an open-top car. My husband’s face was bright red after a long drive, whilst mine was pale and unchanged, so I would say they do work as their advertising promises.

  15. Hi Colin,

    Is there one brand you would recommend above another? I use garnier because it as at a price I can afford.

    Many thanks,

  16. For those seeking darker shade BB cream: Rojukiss by BRTC Korea has the one and only darker shade. It is my favourite brand, and I have tried 8 brands. I think the Korean ones are somehow better, compared to French and Japanese. But most of them are deadly pale. BRTC available on Ebay and Qoo10.
    I really don’t find any difference between a CC & BB cream, so I stick to BB.

    Thanks Colin for all your scientific info about ingredients and such. Saves me a lot of time just by reading on your site. Very funny about FF cream! I was LOL!. I think I will call any under performing BB cream a FF cream.

  17. I’m from Europe and moved to Korea a year ago. I’ve always had some acne so back home I used foundation on a daily basis but I wasn’t really skilled at applying it and it took me ages to get ready in the morning and it didn’t really look good. However, I was given a tester of BB cream in Korea, tried it and it was perfect! It’s so easy to apply and I don’t need any skills. Even if I don’t apply it well, it still looks good and not like a mask. Many people commented that my skin has improved a lot and were really surprised that I was wearing make up – they couldn’t tell. This was never the case even with expensive foundation. Now I have improved my skin but the point is that it looked naturally good when it most definitely wasn’t. I haven’t tried other brands of BB cream but as far as I know almost all Korean brands are good and they looked good on my friends. However, BB cream did wonders for my appearance, maybe for people without acne and acne scars the difference isn’t so big. I don’t think I will ever use foundation again.
    BTW, I couldn’t care less about other cosmetics marketed and sold in Korea and I really hate that everything here is whitening but BB creams are great.

  18. Thanks for that Flower. Have you had a chance to compare what are sold as BB creams in Europe with those from Korea? The only Korean sample I have seen had a distinctly more spreadable consistency than what at the time were being sold as BB creams. I don’t know how representative my sample was though.

  19. Well, I have no idea, I haven’t been to Europe since I came here and I’m not willing to experiment now that I’ve found something that makes me look good (and guys ask me out more, lol). But I’ve heard from friends that the BB cream by Maybelline sucks. I’ve no idea if that is the case, I think it is even sold here in Korea but I’m not willing to try. I’m using that one (gosh, so expensive, in Korea it’s only 20 dollars), it might be different from the one sold in Korea though (and in Korea they only offer two colours – white and very white, haha). My friends in Korea like different BB creams but we all agree BB creams are easier to use. I thought East Asian skin is different and I was afraid the products in Korea will not be suitable for me but it turned out they are much better than the ones at home.

  20. In the Western market BB Creams usually are just tinted moisturizers with low SPF and a greasy feel.

    In South Korean BB Creams usually have higher SPF and a lot of whitening ingredients, like arbutin, vitamin C derivatives, licorice extract etc. They are more “functional”.

    In South Korea you also can find BB Creams with more innovative and sophisticated packages than in the Western market. Here there are some examples – (but there are much more):

    But my favorite are the Japenese BB Creams – because they usually are extremely matte and resistant to oil, water, perspiration…

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