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The best makeup looks all have one thing in common: a flawless base. But when it comes to achieving a smooth, perfected complexion, you've got a sea of options, which can make things, well, slightly confusing. There's foundation (which can range in coverage from light to heavy), tinted moisturizer (which wears more like a skincare product), and then there's BB creams and CC creams (more on those later). On top of that, knowing your correct shade and skin-flattering finish matters, too. Sounds like a near-impossible feat, right? Thankfully, we're here to lay it all out on the line with the guidance of celebrity makeup artist Brittany Spyksma. She maintains that "Foundation coverage can be such a personal preference, but knowing what look you're going for will help you in choosing the right product, as will knowing your skin type in choosing its finish."
Meet the Expert
Brittany Spyksma is a Los Angeles-based celebrity makeup artist who's worked with Jessica Alba, Olivia Culpo, and Cara Santana.
What is BB Cream?
Beauty balm, blemish balm, BB cream—whatever you choose to call it, this base product is lauded for its ability to even out skin tone and correct blemishes. BB cream is inherently lighter in coverage than standard foundations yet thicker than a tinted moisturizer—it's really the best of both worlds if you're looking for a slight evening of the skin tone without feeling the heaviness of a foundation. What's more, Spyksma highlights the fact that BB creams can offer skincare benefits, too. While they often contain sunscreen, their key ingredients are antioxidants, which help protect skin against free radicals and damage-causing pollution.
On the flip side, BB creams have room to grow in the way of shade range. Whereas with foundations you'll likely find 40 or more shades from a single brand (we're looking at you, Fenty Beauty), BB creams are typically only available in a handful of hues.
To apply BB cream, dab a small amount on your forehead, cheeks, nose, and chin, and blend in with your fingers, a wet sponge, or a foundation brush. Spyksma's favorite BB cream is this one by Coola. "It perfects the skin with a nice light to medium coverage—plus, it gives a really beautiful, glowy finish."
When to Use BB Cream: If you want a light, minimal makeup look but a little more coverage than a tinted moisturizer.
What Is CC Cream?
CC cream is also known as "color corrective" or "color control. The difference between CC cream and BB cream lies in the texture: whereas CC creams are lighter in texture than BB creams, they still allow for a foundation-like coverage. The concept behind a good CC cream is to even out blotchiness, redness, or hyperpigmentation of the skin while adding ingredients to calm redness and promote radiance. "If you like the idea of a BB cream but have some skin issues like discoloration or redness, try a CC cream," Spyksma suggests. "It has color correcting qualities that can make it a better fit for people who need a little more color balance." Like BB cream, you'll likely only find a few shades to choose from with CC creams.
CC cream can be applied the same way as a BB cream, but it also works well as a color-correcting primer underneath foundation (if you're craving more coverage). Using it as a first step to foundation will allow you to completely even out the skin tone and add anti-aging and hydrating benefits. Just a small amount of foundation blended on top will give you a flawless, airbrushed finish. This technique gets bonus points for the fact that it'll last longer throughout the day. For smoothing results, Spykma recommends this color-correcting cream from Supergoop!.
When to Use CC Cream: If you want a base product that feels lightweight but can conceal discoloration or redness.
BB and CC Cream vs. Foundation
Craving coverage? Opt for foundation, which works to improve skin tone while also camouflaging blemishes. Foundations of the past were known for being thick and cakey on the skin, but the application, comfort, and finish of today's formulas bear a striking difference. It's true that foundation is thicker in consistency than tinted moisturizers, BB creams, and CC creams, but the beauty of this base product is that it's available in a wide range of thickness, from light to medium to heavy. Plus, they're more likely to come in a slew of shades for all different skin tones, and can be used for both everyday wear or special occasions that call for heavier coverage.
When applying foundation, first start at the problem areas that require the most coverage. Then, blend it into the other areas of your face to even it out.
With foundation, you have several levels of coverage, from sheer to full, but even the lightest still has more coverage than tinted creams. And, you can also find a finish—matte, satin, and dewy—that'll complement your skin type (whether your skin is oily, normal, or dry). "I have dry skin, so I don't ever wear a matte foundation because it makes my skin look dull," Spyksma says. "I prefer light-to-medium coverage with more of a dewy finish." Those with dry skin should look for foundations with keywords like 'medium coverage,' 'natural,' 'dewy finish,' or 'buildable.'" Spyksma's top pick for medium coverage and a glowy finish is this one from Giorgio Armani. "It has really nice, light-to-medium coverage with a beautiful finish. It's on the list of favorites for most makeup artists I know."
If you have combination or normal skin that skews neither oily nor dry, a foundation with a satin finish—like the Make Up For Ever Ultra HD Invisible Cover Foundation ($43)—is a good in-between option. For those with very oily skin, a matte, fuller-coverage foundation can help control oil production and allow for longer wear. If this sounds like you, Spyksma says to look for keywords on product labels that promise extended wear (they'll be labeled as "18-hour wear" or longer)—these are less likely to break up throughout the day and oils won't stand a chance. Spyksma's top pick for a matte foundation is the YSL All Hours Longwear Natural Matte Foundation ($54) because of its longevity and flawless finish.
Depending on the coverage of the foundation, it can be blended in with either your fingers (better for lighter coverage foundations), a foundation brush (great for heavier coverage foundations), or a beauty sponge (best for medium to full-coverage foundations).
When to Use Foundation: If you want to choose between several levels of coverage, from sheer to full, or find a finish that fits your skin's specific need.
BB and CC Cream vs. Tinted Moisturizer
Having a good skin day? Tinted moisturizers are your best bet for more natural looks than even the sheerest foundation can provide. "A tinted moisturizer is going to give you minimal coverage," Spyksma says. "I recommend using tinted moisturizer in addition to your regular, everyday moisturizer, or finding a formula that gives your skin enough moisture on its own." Unlike BB creams and CC creams (which typically has SPF and anti-aging properties), tinted moisturizers do just that: moisturize while giving a slight tint.
Because it's a blend of face cream and foundation, using your fingers is the easiest way to apply and blend the product. Spyksma loves this tinted moisturizer from Laura Mercier—it offers a healthy finish and added SPF protection.
When to Use Tinted Moisturizer: If you prefer a skincare-makeup hybrid with a little color.
The Final Takeaway
While BB creams offer light coverage and skincare benefits, CC creams can be worn underneath foundation for an extra layer of redness-coverage. Both are different from tinted moisturizer (which is more of a face cream with a hint of color) and foundation (which can vary in coverage and finish).