We’re all searching for that one wonder product that will solve our skin woes instantly. And if you’ve wandered the makeup aisles at the drugstore or Sephora lately, you might think it’s finally arrived. Suddenly, everywhere you look, cosmetics brands are touting their latest miracle product: “BB cream,” otherwise known as “blemish balm” or “beauty balm” cream.
“BB cream is a fancy word for a thick-ish balm, ideally using natural botanicals and ingredients to slow down aging and cover up imperfections,” says Melissa Picoli, an esthetician and owner of Bija Body, a health and beauty company based in Missoula, Mt. “In short, it’s a tinted moisturizer with a healthy dose of ingredients, including a sunblock.”
The original BB cream was developed more than 50 years ago by Dr. Christine Schrammek, a German dermatologist, as a healing and concealing balm for her patients following invasive skincare treatments. In the 1980s, Asian cosmetics companies began to market similar products as a foundation substitute, but they didn’t truly catch on until several high-profile Korean actresses began crediting BB creams for their perfect-looking skin.
But it’s more than just the idea of a flawless finish that appeals to many women. “They are multipurpose products,” says Dr. Debra Jaliman, author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets From a Top New York Dermatologist. “You find a moisturizer, foundation, sunblock and primer all in one. 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.”
Like most tinted moisturizers, BB creams come in a more limited range of shades than regular foundation—sometimes just two or three. The coverage is also more sheer than traditional liquid or cream foundation. For that reason, BB creams are often marketed as a primer or illuminator rather than a foundation or tinted moisturizer. If you’re looking for the skincare benefits of BB creams but more makeup coverage, you can pair it with powder or another light foundation.
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So are BB creams truly a wonder product? By nature, they have a lot to offer, but they’re not all created equal—and that’s a good thing. Ingredients vary by brand, so you can shop around and find one that has what you’re looking for but leaves out additives you don’t need. For example, many of the Korean brands available in the U.S., such as Dr. Jart, contain arbutin, a plant extract that whitens skin. Other brands, like Estee Lauder, add a variety of antioxidants to beef up anti-aging properties.
But unless you’re diligent about applying sunscreen under your makeup, no matter what your skin type, you should look for a BB cream with SPF. “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,” Jaliman says.Here are a few of our top BB cream picks:
Best Sun-Protecting BB Cream: Smashbox Camera Ready BB Cream ($39, sephora.com), boasts an impressive SPF 35 as well as anti-aging peptides, and is available in five shades. The coverage is sheer, but the lightweight formula means you can pair it easily with another product and not feel like you’re spackling your skin.
Best Moisturizing BB Cream: L’Oreal Youth Code BB Cream Illuminator($16.99, drugstore.com) may seem pricey for a drugstore purchase, but it truly delivers as a multipurpose product. It’s a top-notch moisturizer with SPF 15 and gives skin an even tone and pleasantly dewy glow.
Best Foundation Stand-In BB Cream: Jane Iredale Glow Time Full Coverage Mineral BB Cream($48, janeiredale.com) is one of the only BB creams available in the U.S. that offers full coverage as well as sunscreen and antioxidants, and it comes in a relatively wide range of six shades.
Best BB Cream Not Called a BB Cream: Juice Beauty’s Tinted Mineral Moisturizer. ($29, juicebeauty.com) “Natural beauty companies have been making tinted moisturizers full of active ingredients and rich plant oils for a very long time,” says Picoli. Juice Beauty’s contains SPF 30 and antioxidants like grape juice and green tea leaf extract.
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