BB creams were big news back in the day when we first started looking to Korea for niche beauty products. Way before sheet masks were the beauty product du jour, BB creams were all anyone talked about. Although the multitasking product is now a staple in drugstores and department stores, people still question what BB cream was originally designed for and what it is exactly. So we thought we'd give you a rundown of the unexpected history (hint—they're not actually from Korea), what BB cream really means (it's complicated), and what is BB cream used for, just so we're all on the same beauty page. We also turned to celebrity makeup artist Sir John for his expert advice on the benefits of BB cream, how to apply it, and how to find the best one for your skin type.
Keep reading for a complete guide to understanding BB cream and some of our favorite picks.
Meet the Expert
Sir John is a well-know celebrity makeup artist who is particularly well-known for being responsible for Beyoncé's stunning looks. He has worked with some of the most influential female icons, including Chrissy Teigen, Mary J. Blige, and Serena Williams.
The Little-Known History of BB Creams
Despite often being credited as a Korean beauty trend, BB creams were actually first developed in Germany by Christine Schrammek, MD. And while we've all hopped on the bandwagon in the last few years, Dr. Schrammek’s original has existed since 1967.
She originally developed it as a stopgap for her patients to use on their skin after harsher treatments like peels and microdermabrasion, which left the skin red and inflamed. Instead of applying heavy foundation, which might have made the skin even more irritated and uncomfortable, Schrammek wanted to offer them something that would blur the imperfections and give a bit of coverage, but most importantly, be kind to the skin. And so BB cream was born.
Years later, the formula was perfected in South Korea, where K-pop and K-drama stars made note of its ability to transform skin easily. After consumers became obsessed with BB creams, the trend made its way to Europe and the United States, where it has become a mainstay beauty and skin product.
What Is BB Cream?
BB is a foundation alternative that offers light coverage while being kind to the skin. BB can stand for a few different things, depending on who you ask: blemish balm, beauty balm, blemish base… In reality, while they're all correct, beauty balm is probably the most accurate description of what it does. Between smoothing, blurring, protecting, and tinting, it’s truly a beauty powerhouse.
What BB Cream Does for the Skin
The BB creams of today have evolved since they were first developed. Schrammek's version of BB cream was originally designed to help with post-treatment sensitivity, but what made BB creams pick up in popularity in recent years was their ability to streamline your routine.
So, what does BB cream do? Instead of using a separate moisturizer and foundation, you can just use a BB cream. (Many also include SPF, but do note that you'll still need to wear a separate sunscreen for full protection.) Some formulas don't stop there, though. If you have any additional skin concerns—like shine or breakouts—you can easily find a blemish balm formula with bonus ingredients to address those too. "The main benefit of BB Cream is that it offers a sheer source of hydration," says Sir John.
BB Cream vs. Foundation
Similarly to a foundation, BB creams vary in coverage, color, and finish (matte, natural, or dewy). But unlike a makeup foundation, which focuses solely on color and coverage, a BB cream goes a step further with added skincare benefits, such as hydration and sun protection. "The main benefit of BB Cream is that it offers a sheer source of hydration," says Sir John. "It also offers a tint to the skin with easy maneuverability, making it a quick option for Zoom calls, for example."
On days when you want a little coverage but don't have the time to apply a full face of foundation or just don't want to, a BB cream is a quick and easy way to even out your skin tone without caking on the makeup. It's also the perfect way to enhance your natural beauty while protecting your skin from the sun. "BB Cream is a great lightweight option that avoids that more cakey, drying look you sometimes see from full coverage foundation," Sir John explains.
BB Cream Application Tips
Because a BB cream is a combination of skincare and makeup, the application process can be a little confusing. Despite what you might think, beauty balms are fairly easy to apply. Use the warmth of your fingers or a damp beauty sponge to work the product in and melt it into the skin.
"The best way to apply BB cream would be with your hands. A brush isn't necessary as you don't have as much coverage that needs to be blended. When using your hands, the body heat changes the texture and makes it easier to manipulate," explains Sir John.
Because a BB cream isn't quite as thick as a traditional foundation and has the slip of a moisturizer, it's easy to blend for a seamless finish.
Finding the Right BB Cream
As with any product, sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error to find the perfect BB cream for your skin tone and skin type. But with all the great products available, you'll be sure to find a beauty balm you love–and can’t live without–in no time.
"If you have acne-prone or oily skin, opt for a matte formula that's oil-free," Sir John says. If your skin could benefit from more hydration, Sir John suggests going for a more moisturizing formula with a dewy finish. "Most BB creams are designed to offer a lightweight coverage that primes and corrects, but these formula differences are indicated so you can find the best product for your skin type."
One of Sir John's favorite BB creams, this is a great option for those with dry skin. The hydrating formula primes, perfects, and corrects for beautiful yet natural coverage. It also contains vitamin C and E for added skin benefits.
For those with oily skin, look no further than this BB cream from CoverGirl. The oil-free, matte formula won't clog your pores while helping to even your skin tone and hide blemishes. Plus, the price tag doesn't hurt, either! It's also a great pick for the summer season, since the matte formula will help combat shine and sweat due to the hot, humid temperatures.
Another pick from Sir John, this BB cream offers the best of both worlds, making it ideal for those with combination skin. The ultra-thin formula will leave your complexion with a dewy finish while minimizing the appearance of pores.
This BB cream from Smashbox is also great for combination skin. The formula hydrates while simultaneously banishing shine. It also contains SPF 35, so it can knock two steps out in one during your morning routine.
Kiehl's nailed this BB cream with its dual-action formula that's perfect for combination skin. It offers buildable coverage, all-day hydration, and is lightweight on the skin.
One last recommendation for you. This multi-tasking BB cream is ideal for those with dry skin. The hydrating formula provides sheer-to-medium coverage that will leave you with a naturally radiant complexion.