Skip to main content

BB Creams Are the Next Big Thing in Beauty

But are they right for you? Here's how to decide.

One of the problems (as in, #beautyeditorproblems) with writing for magazines AND maintaining a beauty blog is that I write magazine articles so far in advance that by the time I'll allowed to cover certain trends here, my attention has drifted elsewhere. SORRY GUYS. This is what's happened with BB Creams—a brand new beauty category that has recently arrived in Canada, and which I wrote about all the way back in the summer for fall issues of ELLE Canada and FLARE.

But today I realized, gosh, I haven't even talked about them with you guys! Not very kind of me, I know. And unless you're an early adopter (yay you!), you're probably wondering what the heck this stuff even IS. Is it for blemishes? Is it a balm? What's the difference between this and a tinted moisturizer? Can I ditch my foundation and concealer now?

So.Many.Questions. And I'm here to answer them. Here's your BB Cream primer (ha! get it?), and how to decide if you need to embrace this trend.

Okay, so what the heck is a BB Cream, anyway?

They're only the biggest deal ever in Asia. And now even I am surprised at just how very many beauty brands are coming out with their own versions for the North American market.

The best way to think of them is like makeup "multi-taskers"—although individual brands may vary, most offer a combination of primer, lightweight foundation, illuminator, moisturizer, anti-aging benefits and sunscreen in a single tube. Sounds good, right? The shade range is usually limited to one or two options, since these are meant to sort of melt into and adjust to your skin tone (but more on that later!).

The "BB" stands for "Beauty Balm" or "Blemish Balm," but don't get too hung up on the latter. The brands available in Canada so far are not really going to do all that much for blemishes, so I wouldn't think of them as some miracle saviour for that specific concern. The whole concept originated in the 1960s, when Polish dermatologist Christine Schrammek-Druiso created the original Blemish Balm to target not acne but post-peel skin. (It soothed and concealed the redness.) Later, BBs completely took off in South Korea, when brands there came out with more sophisticated versions that actresses used to camouflage skin issues after having cosmetic procedures. (You do know that South Korea is the plastic surgery capital of the world, yes? People there are beauty OBSESSED.)

Anyway, fans of these actresses naturally wanted to use what they used, and so a cult craze was born. Then, it spread to the U.K. and Europe... and now, it's arrived in Canada...

BB Creams available in Canada

The first to market was M.A.C's Prep + Prime Beauty Balm SPF 35:

This was the first one I tried and still my favourite. While it's not appropriate for darker skin tones (which M.A.C readily admits), I found the coverage and finish impressive. Its priming capabilities helped it last a long time without making me shiny.

Smashbox Camera Ready 5-in-1 Beauty Balm came out the day after Christmas:

Haven't tried this one yet, but it sounds similar to M.A.C's. I like that it has oil-controlling properties too. UPDATE: The best part about this one is that it comes in four shades.

Launching this month is Boscia BB Cream, which is a bit more on the natural side:

Unlike the other BB formulas, this one has a mineral (titanium dioxide) sunscreen. I found the coverage lighter than the M.A.C version, though... and the formula is a bit dark for my complexion. (Janine says another shade is in the works.)

Estée Lauder DayWear BB Multi-Perfecting Beauty Benefit Creme SPF 35 (maybe the longest product name ever) is coming out this month too:

I haven't tried this one yet, but I like that it comes in two shades. The formula sounds a bit less oil-control focused and more hydrating/nourishing (it contains antioxidants and lipids).

At the mass market, yet another January launch is Garnier's BB Cream:

For me, this one just wasn't high-coverage enough—it looked and felt like a tinted moisturizer—however, your mileage may vary. It comes in two shades, but no SPF yet.

Scroll to Continue

From The Skincare Edit Archives

And finally, props to Canadian brand Marcelle for getting in on the trend too. Theirs is in stores next month:

No word yet on this one since I don't have a sample... it doesn't have SPF either.

UPDATE: This just in! Vichy is launching Neovadiol Lumière, "the first anti-aging BB Cream," in Feb. It's specifically for mature skin and is supposed to boost radiance and improve texture. The packaging will look like this:

This won't suit my skin type, but I think it's a great idea that they've come out with a more targeted formula.

How to use a BB Cream

The most important thing to know about BB Creams is that you're NOT using them to try and cover. That's still concealer's job!

No, BBs are more like skin enhancers. You know, for glowy, Photoshoppy, radiant-looking skin. I got these instructions via M.A.C's senior VP of makeup artistry, Gordon Espinet:

1. Start with clean skin that is slightly damp (either from washing your face or just spritz lightly with a facial mist).

2. Skip your moisturizer and primer.

3. Squeeze out about a quarter-sized amount (you want to be generous here) of your BB Cream and while your skin is still damp, massage it into your face with your fingers. Put it all over—not just where you think you need coverage, because remember that we're not trying to specifically "cover."

4. As you massage it in, the balm-like cream will dry down and make your skin look smoother and more evenly toned.

5. Still have imperfections? Go in now and correct them with concealer, foundation and/or powder.

It all sounds pretty easy peasy, but here's how to decide if you're a BB candidate or if you should sit this one out.

You might like a BB Cream if...

You don't need a lot of coverage. Although the M.A.C product is definitely the highest I've tried, it still offers (along with all of these other brands) a coverage level that is akin to what you'd get from a tinted moisturizer. If that doesn't float your boat, you might be better off with a regular foundation. Here are some beauty-editor approved options!

You hate layering products and/or you always forget to apply sunscreen. Who wants to apply moisturizer, sunscreen, primer and THEN foundation? Ugh, not me. The fact that you can skip at least three of these steps is mega appealing. Note: like I said, not all of these formulas have built-in SPF, but for the ones that do, it's a major bonus.

You have fair- or medium-toned skin. This one's totes unfair, but so far there just aren't a lot of options for medium-to-dark skin tones. (UPDATE: To my knowledge, it's just Smashbox that offers a "dark" BB Cream.) Boo. However, it's still early days and we'll probably see more shade options as the category grows.

You should probably skip the BB Cream trend if...

You have large areas of redness or discolouration.Remember how I had that epiphany not too long ago that we shouldn't be using concealer to cover large areas when a foundation would probably do a better job? Well, I stand by that. My skin can get pretty blotchy sometimes and on those days a BB won't cut it. Just sayin'.

You have acne. As I mentioned above, the fact that the word "blemish" is in the product name is kinda misleading. While these may not do any harm, I'm not convinced they are the best thing for active acne—you're probably not going to get enough coverage, and I'd personally feel better wearing a mineral formula to lessen the chance of irritation. (Living Nature make a great liquid mineral foundation, BTW.)

You have a darker complexion. Sorry, ladies. (UPDATE: Smashbox has a "dark" shade—if anyone has tried this and likes it, please let us know in the comments.)

My verdict

I know I'm approaching levels of beauty obsession that are close to the South Koreans, and yes, the all-in-one aspect of BBs IS amazing.... but I'll be honest: I don't think this trend is going to find a permanent home in my routine. I'm too dedicated to my moisturizer (Miracle 10) to give up those amazing lactic acid benefits, and the same thing goes for my mineral sunscreen (SkinCeuticals), which I won't trade in for a chemical version. And while my skin is fair enough to carry off most of these formulas, I'm cursed with Scottish genes that make my skin go red in an instant. So for now (although I reserve the right to change my mind at a later date!) I'll be sticking with my higher-coverage, but still very natural, Make Up For Ever foundation and concealer combo. The only BB that I'll occasionally dabble with on casual (and good skin) days is M.A.C's.

What do YOU think?

Have you heard of BB Creams?

Tried any of these formulas yet?

Are they a miracle product or just another beauty fad?