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

Updated 04/19/19
What is bb cream: model with glowy skin
Urban Outfitters

BB creams were big news back in 2011 when we Brits first started looking to Korea for niche beauty products. They were incredibly popular way before sheet masks became the beauty product du jour, but despite BB creams now being a staple in drugstores and department stores across the land, people still frequently google "What is BB cream?" 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 handy three-minute guide to what BB creams really are, plus shop our favourites below.

The Little-Known History of BB Creams

You probably don't know the name Christine Schrammek, MD, but you should: After all, this is the woman who gave us BB cream. Despite often being credited as a Korean beauty trend (that's how us Brit beauty editors first discovered the BB cream concept back in 2011), BB creams were actually first developed and used in Germany. 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 sore 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.

What does the "BB" stand 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 (kind of like how you could call a Jaffa cake a cake or a biscuit—either way it's still delicious), beauty balm is probably the most accurate description of what it does. Between smoothing, blurring and tinting, it’s truly a skincare powerhouse.

What does BB cream do?

Of course, the BB creams we all use today have come a long way from Schrammek's original. Her version included skin-calming zinc and moisturising panthenol to help with post-treatment sensitivity. But what made BB creams pick up in popularity in the UK back in 2011 was their ability to streamline your routine.

For example, instead of using moisturiser, an SPF and foundation, you can simplify that all to one step with a BB cream. Lots of them offer sun protection, hydration and coverage, and if you have any extra skin concerns—like shine or breakouts—you can even find one that'll mattify the skin and help control acne-causing bacteria.

Burberry Beauty Fresh Glow BB Cream $30
Erborian BB Creme Nude $36
Kiehl's BB Cream $25

Want more? We've got a definite edit of the best BB creams for you right here.

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