The Fascinating Rise of BB Cream, and Why We're Forever Hooked

How and When to Use the Skincare-Makeup Hybrid

Updated 05/29/19
Young woman with glowing skin
Urban Outfitters

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 they are 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 they do (read: a lot), just so we're all on the same beauty page.

Keep scrolling for our comprehensive guide to understanding BB creams, and shop our favorites below.

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 the "BB" Stands For

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.

Instead of using a separate moisturizer, sunscreen, and foundation, you can simplify that all to one step with a BB cream. 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.

BB Cream vs. Foundation

Similarly to a foundation, BB creams vary in coverage, color, and finish (matte 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.

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.

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. 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.

Smashbox bb cream
Smashbox Camera Ready BB Cream SPF 35 $42
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Kiehl's bb cream
Kiehl's Skin Tone Correcting & Beautifying BB Cream Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50 $38
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Bareminerals BB cream
Bareminerals Complexion Rescue Tinted Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30 $32
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Want more? We've got a definite edit of the best BB creams for you right here.

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