Bora Kwon, Kathy Phillips, Nadine Baggott and Kate Shapland tell all that needs to be known about the question nobody seemed to answer properly: What is a BB Cream exactly and what makes it different..?
‘To BB or not to BB, and what is a BB cream? Now that is the question’ asks ‘Konglish’ beauty and fragrance editor of Tank/ becauselondon.com Bora Kwon
Every few years, the beauty industry reinvents foundation. Coming on the back of mineral powders, tinted moisturisers and primers, BB creams are the latest spin. What’s different this time? Not a hell of a lot. That’s me in the back screaming, “Look the emperor has tinted moisturiser on!”
BB originally stood for Blemish Balm. Legend has it that back in the late 60s, a German dermatologist developed a product for use on patients after cosmetic procedures when the skin can be left red, irritated and vulnerable to damage from the sun, whilst in the healing stages. To address these concerns the cream was designed to protect the skin from UV rays, contained anti-inflammatory ingredients to sooth irritation and tinted to tone down redness.
The story then goes that a Korean actress, using the BB cream after a treatment, liked the product so much, continued using it and started referring to it as the secret to her lovely complexion (never mind the cosmetic procedure she’d had). The news spread of the miracle BB which did everything: covers, protects, heals, and brightens. The hype monster did a dance and soon Korean brands everywhere started putting out their own versions.
I was living in Korea a few years ago at the height of BB cream mania so I indulged in trying out as many as I could… and there are many. But there is no standard definition of what is or isn’t a BB cream. I’ve seen BB creams with matte finishes, sheer finishes, dewy, with SPF, without SPF, brightening, tightening, lifting, covering, nourishing, caring, good sense of humour and enjoying long walks in the country. Anyone can call anything a BB cream and with no definition for what it is who’s to say that my tube of mascara isn’t a BB cream for eyelashes?
The word is out: there’s a bandwagon in town and everyone wants to party. You can now find BB creams everywhere from the high street to luxury department store brands as well as make-up artist developed lines who really should know better. I suspect that a marketing executive in the background is bleating “Everyone else is doing it so why can’t we?” until the product development department caves and renames the tinted moisturiser they were working on a BB cream.
Most BB creams come in woeful lack of shades, as little as one maybe two in a range. Given human beings come in a spectrum from Tilda Swinton to Alek Wek I don’t like the chances you’re going to fit one or two shades. I tried many different Asian brand BB creams and stared in dismay, as they looked chalky, greyish, or pinkish on my Korean skin. Give me a well-formulated yellow-toned foundation any day.
And yet as more and more of these creams launch, I’m clearly swimming against the tide. If you like the product and it makes your skin look better then go for a BB cream and feel good that by the standards of the beauty world, you’re bang on trend. But be aware that a foundation by any other name still does the same thing, and with a lot better selection of skin tone colours.
Worth the hype? Worth a try:
Dr Jart+ BB creams
A Korean brand that is now available in Boots, the shade selection is minimal but there is a range of different textures to suit different skin types and skincare concerns.
Estee Lauder DayWear BB Cream, this is a multi-tasking skincare range so an overachieving BB cream sits nicely within the products.
No they’re not BB creams but they’re still Bloody Brilliant
Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturiser
A worldwide best selling tinted moisturizer, with a range of skin shades (and two more launching in September) as well as four different finishes; this is a good starting point for a sheer base product.
NARS Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturiser
SPF 30, oil-free and shades for darker skin tones this is a great new entry into the sheer foundation range for NARS and getting rave reviews from the majority of testers.
Kathy Phillips, International Beauty Director Conde Nast Asia Pacific
“When I first went to Korea 6 years ago, as part of my role as International Beauty Director for Conde Nast Asia Pacific (in Korea that means Korean Vogue, Korean Allure, Korean W and Korean Vogue Girl)one of the first questions that I asked the Korean Beauty Editors that I work with was “what on earth is a BB cream?” because there were BB creams at every price range.
I don’t work on visual shoots for the Korean titles as they have a very sophisticated industry with models and photographers of their own but they often ask me to write for them. The reason they ask me to write for them is because I am unafraid of being critical of cosmetics and the industry in general. I make observations that they are too polite to make. Over the last 6 years I have felt that the average Korean beauty consumer is somewhat naïve and prepared to accept a lot of marketing that I would call ‘guff’. The industry is overflowing with marketing speak, promises of special ingredients etc. but nobody ever challenges anything- the percentages, the quality, the formulas, the over-packaging,they just take it all at face value.
The truth of the matter is that they like the sound of it:BB cream (pronounced “bi-bi”) sounds very ‘kawaii’ – like the Japanese “cute”. It’s a psychological thing; BB creams sounds sweet, dolly and girly and that’s what they like. None of the Beauty editors could ever explain to me exactly what a BB cream was apart from that it was a tinted moisturiser. Everything as far as I can see about BB creams is a marketing ploy. Some of them say that they are a tinted moisturiser with a concealer in it but if you think about ‘foundation’ as a generic term that’s exactly what a foundation is.
Some of BB creams say they’ve got salicylic acid in them, which would be good for spots or greasy skin but I would worry that a product like that would be drying on the skin if you used it all over the face and on a daily basis.I understand the point of mattifying products in general but I don’t see the difference between a tinted moisturiser and a BB and actually I don’t believe there is one.
Now there is a double irony as all the western brands have recently looked to the East for new trends because the East is the ‘buzz’ market . When I first went there ( 6 years ago) there were only a few whitening collections from Western brands(Guerlain& Dior were already there.) Now everybody has a whitening range in Asia and the big brands have seenthe popularity of BB creams and brought them over to the West. It’s a sort of mad copying frenzy. As far as I’m concerned BB creams are tinted moisturisers. Re- packaged and marketed to you as something new.
Nadine Baggott, Beauty Editor of Hello! Magazine
If you don’t know your beauty acronyms then it’s time to read on because BB’s are about to be big news in 2012. BB stands for Blemish Balm that were originally formulated back in the 1970’s by Dr Christine Schrammekit to be used by dermatologists to help laser surgery patients protect, soothe and refine highly sensitive skin while providing light coverage for post-laser scars, acne and other blemishes.
So why are they suddenly so popular now? Because they have taken Asia by storm, where they are usually very white and help to lighten and brighten the skin of women who crave pale, porcelain white, flawless faces. Many beauty brands saw this huge demand for the whitening and brightening BB products in Asia, caught on to the incredible success and cult icon status of products like Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturiser, Dr Perricone SPF30 No Foundation Foundation and Chantecaille Real Skin, saw sales stagnate because women have less to spend on layering products, and thought we need to create a single product solution. And so they reworked white, opaque traditional BB creams, added pigments to suit western skin tones and are selling them as the new one size fits all skin miracle. In other words they are little more than a tinted moisturiser with a few added benefits.
But if they have so many ingredients and promise to do so much, how do you know which is the best one for you? The truth is that BB creams come in a variety of different formulations and with a range of active ingredients. Some are said to have skin whitening and brightening properties, some aim to be anti blemish, some are anti-wrinkle, some are anti age spot, some even claim to reduce scars.
What is certain is that all are formulated to be a one stop skin shop. In other words they replace your serum, primer, sun block and foundation. This is the real USP of BB creams. In a world laid low by recession, teetering on the verge of a double dip, these creams are really formulated to help save you money.
But before you buy it’s wise to choose carefully, as there is a lot of confusion about BB creams. They are not a one size fits all cream, because no two skins are alike. So choose one that suits your skin colour and concerns and try before you buy because some give really heavy coverage, others super light. And be warned they do not come in a wide variety of shades, so really only suit pale to light medium skin tones.
In the end BB creams will suit two extreme ends of the foundation fan spectrum; those that love a tinted moisturiser but want it to have skin care properties and those that love a heavy, long lasting anti oil cover up.
· Garnier Miracle Skin Perfector BB Cream £9.99.
· Une Intuitive Touch BB Cream £14.49.
· 17 BB All In One Magic Make-Up SPF 25 £5.99
· DiorSnow UV Shield BB Crème £36.50.
· MAC Prep + Prime BB Cream £21, is more of a super lightweight, softly tinted primer, but gives great radiance to the skin.
· Estee Lauder Cyber White Intensive BB SPF 35 £26.
· Clinique Age Defense BB Cream SPF 30 £19.
· Maybelline Pure BB Mineral Cream SPF50 £12.
· Lancôme Effet Miracle Bare Skin Perfection Primer £25.50.
· Germaine Du Capuccini BB Cream Perfectionist SPF 12 £49.25, tel: 0845 600 0203.
Kate Shapland, Beauty Editor of The Telegraph Magazine, Editorial Director, MyShowcase
Up until about a decade ago you would have been forgiven for giving foundation a miss. In some cases it would have been sensible, for while there claims that it was better few bases had improved much beyond cake grade, and still layered itself on your face like some kind of crusty armour despite the light reflective particles that were meant to make it melt into skin and magic away the signs of age. The very word foundation implied heaviness; and while we wanted young-looking skin – more so than ever – most of us realised that masking a face with a layer of immovable colour, which is what most foundations did, piled the years on.
To serve us better, and make our skin look convincingly good, some degree of realism was needed: the challenge was to give perfecting coverage without masking skin – more than tinted moisturiser but not as much as regular foundation. More than that, the dream base had to roll on like mercury, be comfortable to wear – moving with skin that still felt supple underneath and free, to protect skin despite no innate occlusivity, even to treat it. In order to survive in fact, foundation needed new reasons for being. And ideally a new name too.
Few could have guessed that the answer would come from Germany, via Korea, in the guise of a topical called blemish balm (abbreviated to ‘BB’) that had been created 40 years ago as a post-peel treatment. Or that, once discovered, it would be so popular that many beauty houses would have imitated the original formula with their own versions within a year.
In 1968, beauty therapist Christine Schrammek developed the original blemish balm for her patients to use after she had treated them with a skin-smoothing Green Peel. The balm is a hybrid – part ointment, part makeup; it delivered a veil of colour to even-up the skin – which could appear red and patchy – after the peel. Moreover, Schrammek’s balm doesn’t irritate like standard cosmetics could after soft surgery treatments; it actually calms the skin and claims to enhance its repair process, while protecting it from further sensitivity when exposed to sunlight. It’s a workhorse which conceals as it heals; yet it’s as light as egg white.
Schrammek prescribed her balm privately for some years before formally launching it in Korea and Japan in 1985 as a standalone commercial treatment. Today, blemish balms account for 13% of all cosmetic sales in Korea, and although the formula wasn’t originally developed with this market solely in mind, its resonance with Asian women is thought to be down to the way it lightens and retexturises darker skins, which can be prone to patchiness.
Christine Schrammek’s balm is the prototype on which the new generation of treatment foundations is based. Their shared qualities are to conceal and heal – those are the balms’ heritage benefits. Yet while BB’s are billed as the answer to all your skincare woes in one, there are variations on the theme. Some boast the sort of anti-ageing properties more commonly found in high-tech serums; others contain powerful hydrating qualities, sunblock benefits and/or optical diffusers which allow them to illuminate skin as if from within, smooth and equalise its tone like a primer, and ease away redness while treating it on a deeper level with anti-inflammatory and/or whitening properties at the same time.
Blemish balms are a welcome addition to beauty’s base repertoire and many work well (see my curation): they are the do-it-all bases you can’t be without (especially at the weekend) and beauty badly needed them, but they are not the only bases to offer treatment benefits.
Regular foundation is fighting back with an armoury of new treatment benefits to go with further enhanced shade, texture and finish benefits. The main thing to remember about blemish balms is that their coverage is sheer (although some claim to conceal skin issues like rosacea and acne, I have yet to try one which achieves this really effectively); so if you are after similar treatment qualities but more coverage touch base with the new treatment foundations in my shortlist. I think you will be impressed by how far skin dressing has come.
THE BUILDING BLOCKS FOR BEAUTIFUL SKIN
- Clinique Age Defence BB Cream – buy this if you want to see less of your pores: refined optics blur time-telling signs like lines and age spots, but this is really good at softening the look of open pores. Choose from two shades. £25, clinique.co.uk.
- Bobbi Brown Extra Repair Foundation – try this if your skin is dry: Bobbi’s BB is a very nurturing cream base with shea butter and evening primrose oil; it has an SPF of 25. Choose from 20 skin-tone-correcting colours. £36, bobbibrown.co.uk.
- Germaine de Capuccini BB Cream Perfectionist – also offers extra moisturising help (it contains moisture-trapping hyaluronic acid and milk proteins), and good redness coverage for reactive skin, but has a fairly low SPF of 12. £49.25, 0845 600 0203.
- Garnier Miracle Skin Perfector Daily All-In-One BB Cream – check this out if you like to feel like you’re wearing base: it’s slightly thicker than other blemish balms but spreads onto skin, absorbs and unifies its tone really well. £7.49, boots.com.
- Dior Snow White Reveal UV Protection BB Cream – the BB you want if you have oily skin: this has excellent sebum-control benefits (so would work well as a primer under ordinary foundation and/or powder) and a high SPF of 55. £36.50, harrods.com.
- Chanel Lift Lumiere Firming & Smoothing Makeup – buy this if you are after high definition perfection: it contains silicone microbeads which allow it to roll on to skin like a dream and perfect the surface tone and tightness. £34, 020 7493 3836.
- MAC Prep + Prime BB Cream – go for this if your skin needs extra lift: it has the best skin-priming qualities of any BB, giving skin a non-shiny luminosity, and works well under foundation if you want more perfecting support. £21, maccosmetics.co.uk.
- Estee Lauder Cyber White Brilliant Cells Extra Intensive BB – one to try if you like super-sheer: this has the lightest coverage of all, and can look a little grey when first applied, but that disappears to leave an even dewy finish. £35, esteelauder.co.uk.
- Givenchy Eclat Matissime – the only one to buy with a matt finish: Givenchy have cracked the challenge to create a matt base which moves with skin, so doesn’t look overloaded or dry after a few hours wear, just flawless. £32.50, houseoffraser.co.uk.
- Olay Total Effects Touch of Foundation – a good call for a tinted moisturiser with treatment qualities and staying power: this antioxidant-rich base brightens, refines pores and lines, nourishes skin and gives it a healthy glow. £13.99, boots.com.
My favourite? Whatever ‘it’ is that makes it ‘BB‘ I don’t know but this tinted moisturiser with spf is fabulous.