Tested on animals:Yes
Clinique’s Acne Solutions BB Cream SPF 40 isn’t a cream, but rather a very fluid and lightweight formula. It’s almost a good one, too, but a few qualities hold it back—the most pressing is its high amount of alcohol and its less-than-natural-looking finish. The alcohol is undoubtedly one of the qualities responsible for Acne Solutions BB Cream's sheer texture and pleasing matte dry down. While that feature seems to make this an ideal choice for oily to combination skin, it is also a potentially irritating one. See More Info for the facts on high amounts of alcohol in cosmetics.
For its impressive broad-spectrum SPF rating, Clinique used a mix of mineral and non-mineral actives. It’s no surprise Clinique avoided using a total mineral sunscreen formula, as these can feel thicker on skin—clearly they were striving for ultra-light here. We should note that the mix of non-mineral actives combined with the iffy amount of alcohol makes this a potentially sensitizing foundation for the eye area, too.
Let’s take a closer look at the packaging. Housed in a plastic bottle, Acne Solutions BB Cream has a needle-spout tip, which allows more control over its fluid texture. Its mix of water, silicone, alcohol and pigment tends to separate, but the ball bearing contained in the bottle keeps it well distributed with a little shaking before each use.
You can easily obtain medium coverage (in-line with Clinique’s marketing), which is enough to even out areas of redness and blur post-breakout marks. While you can layer over areas for more coverage, the fact that this dries so quickly makes that problematic, and tends to result in an overdone look. You’re better off using a concealer to touch up the spots that need it instead.
We should note that the tiny amount needed to cover the entire face would not get you the amount of sun protection stated on the label. To obtain the stated SPF, liberal application is key; a sheer application of products like this isn't enough, so if you want to apply in this manner, be sure to layer over your (liberally applied) daytime moisturizer with SPF.
The formula holds up well over the course of the day, but despite its initially light texture, it feels surprisingly heavy on skin. The matte finish, while pleasing to those with oily skin, emphasizes any areas of even slight dryness or flaking. The whole effect was disappointing—we were hoping for something more natural looking and innovative from a brand like Clinique.
The shades range is small—five at the time of this review—with something for those with light to deep skin tones. (Those with fair skin will likely not find an option here that suits them.) The colors offered are on the neutral side, though a few of the deeper shades tended to lean pink.
In the end, Clinique’s Acne Solutions BB Cream SPF 40 seemed like it had excellent what it takes to please those with oily skin, but it has a potentially irritating amount of alcohol in it and fails to rise to the level of today’s more modern BB creams and foundations (in both feel or finish). For the cost, there are far better alternatives that offer high coverage and a matte finish. Consider those on our list of Best Foundations without Sunscreen or with Sunscreen instead.
Note: We referred to this as a foundation in this review a few times, despite the "BB" name, as at this point in the cosmetic industry the products attributed to the category of "BB creams" are as different as snowflakes. We give up, we're just calling it a foundation, but regardless of what you want to call this, it's an unsatisfactory formula.
Long-wearing, matte finish.
Lightweight, fluid texture.
Offers medium coverage.
Broad-spectrum SPF 40.
Contains a high, potentially irritating amount of alcohol.
Finish tends to look unnatural.
Feels heavy on skin.
Alcohol-Based Skincare Products: Alcohol helps ingredients like retinol and vitamin C penetrate into the skin more effectively, but it does that by breaking down the skin's barrier—destroying the very substances that keep your skin healthy over the long term (Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, 2012 and Journal of Hospital Infection, 2003).
A significant amount of research shows alcohol causes free-radical damage in skin even at low levels (Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, 2012). Small amounts of alcohol on skin cells in lab settings (about 3%, but keep in mind skin-care products contain amounts ranging from 5% to 60% or greater) over the course of two days increased cell death by 26%. It also destroyed the substances in cells that reduce inflammation and defend against free radicals—this process actually causes more free-radical damage. If this weren't bad enough, exposure to alcohol actually causes skin cells to self-destruct (Alcohol, 2002).
Research also shows that these destructive, aging effects on skin cells increased the longer skin was exposed to alcohol; for example, two days of exposure was dramatically more harmful than one day, and that's at only a 3% concentration (Alcohol, 2002). In fact, the effect of inflammation in the skin is cumulative, and repeated exposure to irritants contributes to a weakened skin barrier, slower healing (including of red marks from breakouts), and a dull, uneven complexion (Aging, 2012 & Chemical Immunology and Allergy, 2012).
For more on alcohol's (as in, ethanol, denatured alcohol, and ethyl alcohol) effects on skin, see the Paula’s Choice Research Team’s Expert Advice article on the topic, Alcohol in Skin Care: The Facts.
Irritation’s Connection to Oily Skin & Breakouts: Inflammation in skin is usually related to external factors such as irritation that damages the skin’s barrier in numerous ways, whether you can see the reaction or not. When irritation on the surface of skin happens it activates specific chemicals called neuropeptides in the brain (Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 2007). Those substances are specifically the kind that regulates the hormonal system of the body.
When this happens, it leads to the formation of inflammatory chemicals directly in the oil gland. These inflammatory chemicals trigger an increase in oil production, which can increase the size of the pore, and the likelihood of acne—the more inflammation that occurs, the worse the risk (European Journal of Dermatology, 2002 & Dermatology, 2003).
Bottom line: Inflammation and its resulting irritation, whether internal or external (for this discussion externally it would be due to the use of irritating ingredients, hot water, overusing scrubs, etc.), is practically a guarantee you will see excess production of oil, larger pores and more acne breakouts (Experimental Dermatology, 2009 & Dermato-Endocrinology, 2011).
That’s reason enough to avoid products with irritating ingredients, which often come in the form of fragrance including the misnamed “essential” oils.