All About BB Creams, CC Creams, & Blemish Balms


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Curious about the BB creams and CC creams you've heard about? You've probably heard these products can do everything, from creating a flawless complexion to reducing pore size, healing breakouts, controlling oil, correcting uneven skin tone, and lightening dark spots. That's quite the to-do list! So are these claims fact or fiction? The Paula's Choice Research Team has been following this trend for some time and reveals whether or not BB and CC creams are worth your money.
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Recommended Foundations & Tinted Moisturizer

An International Skin Sensation?

Originally developed in Germany and named Blemish Balm, BB creams rapidly became extremely popular, must-have products in Asia. As they became a hot commodity throughout Asia (where they went from being labeled Blemish Balms to  Beauty Balms), it wasn't long before U.S.-based cosmetics companies picked up on the trend, but the name of the product—blemish balm—was a sticking point for U.S. companies.

The problem was that in east Asian cultures, a blemish refers to almost any skin discoloration, from brown spots to red marks left over from blemishes. But in Western countries throughout North America, the term blemish means an acne-like breakout (pimple or blackhead), a condition that these the creams cannot help in the least. As it turned out, these products came to be labeled Beauty Balms throughout Asia, and eventually this was shorted to what's seen in the U.S. market: BB Cream.

What Are BB Creams, and Do I Need One?

Despite the hoopla fueled by the cosmetics industry and many beauty bloggers, BB creams are not must-have products. Essentially, the BB creams (Beauty Balms) sold in Western countries are little more than tinted moisturizers with sunscreen.  In contrast, many of the BB creams sold in Asia have thicker textures and higher levels of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide for sun protection, and are intended to leave a white cast on the skin. They also are often formulated with antioxidants and skin-lightening ingredients because the marketing for these products in Asia is mostly about lightening the skin.

Overall, whether you use a BB cream or a tinted moisturizer, these products are all about convenience: sun protection, moisture, and sheer skin tone–correcting color from one product. The formulas differ widely from company to company,but sun protection and light coverage color are the norms.

Some BB creams have a thicker, creamier texture; some offer a bit more coverage than standard tinted moisturizers. As a personal preference, you may or may not care for the thicker texture—especially if you have oily, combination, or breakout-prone skin. As mentioned above, BB creams hailing from Asia tend to have markedly thicker textures than those designed for the U.S. market. The BB creams from U.S. brands—such as Garnier, Estee Lauder, and Smashbox—tend to have thinner, more lotion-like textures; they are nearly indistinguishable from tinted moisturizers with sunscreen, save for providing a touch more coverage.

Don't BB Creams Provide Extra Skin-Care Benefits?

Part of the reason Blemish Balms (now called BB Creams) took off in east Asian countries is because, in addition to sun protection and moisture, they are supposed to provide extra skin-care benefits, such as whitening, preventing breakouts, and supplying skin with anti-aging ingredients such as antioxidants. In short, whether labeled Blemish Balm, Beauty Balm, or BB Cream they're sold as going beyond the benefits of a comparable tinted moisturizer—but do they?

Whether or not a BB Cream goes beyond the norm of sun protection, light coverage, and moisture varies from product to product; some do an excellent job, while others disappoint. Some BB creams contain beneficial ingredients beyond sunscreen, and sometimes these ingredients are the ones that can improve dark spots, brighten an uneven skin tone, or help further reduce signs of aging. However, the thick, creamy texture of these balms makes them generally problematic for fighting blemishes.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that just because a product is labeled "BB Cream" does not guarantee you're getting a superior "does-everything" product destined to speed up your morning routine. A product's value for your skin is always about the formula, and skin-care formulas are rarely created equal; variations abound, for both the good and the bad.

So, what should you do? If you're keen on trying a BB cream, check out our reviews on Beautypedia and compare the BB cream you're considering to tinted moisturizers with sunscreen that we've rated highly—such as Paula's Choice Barely There Sheer Matte Tint SPF 30. Just like BB creams, many tinted moisturizers not only provide broad-spectrum sun protection but also treat your skin to the beneficial ingredients it needs to look and act younger. In addition to Paula's Choice, brands such as Aveda, Bobbi Brown, and Neutrogena offer excellent tinted moisturizers whose benefits rival those of the best BB creams.

What About CC Creams?

Some companies sell a variation on BB creams they're labeling as CC creams. The "CC" typically stands for "color" and "correct" but those words apply equally to any good liquid or cream foundation, too, and that's what most CC creams are. Just like BB creams, most CC creams provide sun protection and they may or may not contain a mix of beneficial ingredients, which is also true for many liquid foundations. Neither BB nor CC creams are as revolutionary as they’re made out to be—it’s just a new twist on tinted moisturizers and foundations.

The take-away message here is this: BB and CC creams aren't anything special and most claims of their extra abilities are marketing fluff, not reality. There are some great BB and CC creams available, but even they are not must-have products. Really, the best reason to consider a BB cream is if you want more coverage than a tinted moisturizer, but not as much coverage as a standard foundation. If you want as much coverage as a standard liquid foundation, CC creams are worth checking out. Otherwise, this is a trend you can feel comfortable ignoring, especially if you have a foundation or tinted moisturizer you already love. If you find this trend too hard to ignore, make sure you use the best ones, and don't get seduced by the does-it-all claims.

The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of in-depth research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice Skincare products. You’ll find products for all skin types and a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, and sun damage. With Paula’s Choice Skincare, you can get (and keep) the best skin of your life! See Paula's Choice Makeup.

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.

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