BB Creams: What are they? Do they work? Do you need one?

by Kristen Arnett | Posted in Answers & Advice, Makeup, Skin Care

Two years ago had you ever heard of BB creams?  I hadn’t, but now they seem to be everywhere, and almost everyone has been asking, “Do I need a BB cream?”

Last year I had my first exposure to BB creams 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.

You might be asking what exactly is a BB Cream and why all the buzz?

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 south 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, anti-oxidents 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.

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 chemical formula the more ingredients which are added to have “active properties”, like 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, the majority of companies who have created BB creams are definitely using chemicals Green Beauty Team considers to be unsafe and/or toxic; including and especially the departure from using a safe SPF such as titanium or zinc dioxides in favor of chemical sunblocks which can harm 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?

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 older rather than younger.

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 a good chance of mediocre results.

A matter of preference

From consumers to makeup artists there will be differing opinions about BB creams. I don’t think Green Beauty Team would be nearly as great of a publication if we didn’t offer varying perspectives to our readers.  Recently GBT Expert Rebecca Casciano wrote a glowing recommendation for a BB Cream in her Fall 2012 Trends article.  Her work as a makeup artist is fantastic and I truly respect her opinion about the products she tests.

In this moment my honest -albeit controversial- conclusion is that I’m not sold on the “wonders” of BB creams.   That said, it’s ultimately a matter of preference. If you want to try out a BB cream, then go for it! Experiment! After all, it’s just makeup.

Additional note: Just as I hit publish on this article I received my copy of Allure Magazine for November ’12 in the mail.  One of their big stories was on just this topic. I was pleasantly surprised to see that various dermatologists, experts and the writer herself 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 like, 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.  

Feature photo by Kristiina Wilson with makeup by Kristen Arnett.

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Kristen ArnettAbout GBT Expert Kristen Arnett (99 Posts)

Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Green Beauty Team, Kristen Arnett has been immersed in the world of beauty for over 15 years, with roles ranging from product development to a career as an international makeup artist. She uses only the best in natural, organic, green makeup and skincare for her high-profile fashion and celebrity clientele.


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