We Tried This: BB and CC Creams

Just what do these popular alphabet creams do, anyway?

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Courtesy Smashbox, Maybelline, Olay

Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, you’ve noticed the array of BB and CC creams popping up at makeup counters and drugstores. The alphabet cream trend can be traced back to Asia, where it began several years ago before migrating to the U.S. Revisionist beauty historians point to anti-aging creams as the forebear (AA creams) to today’s hot alphabet creams.

These products combine many of the benefits of traditional skincare with some color coverage—such as the coverage of a foundation with the translucence of a tinted moisturizer. BB stands for “beauty balm” and CC for “complexion corrector” or “color and correct.” While a BB cream provides instant sheer coverage along with SPF, a CC cream helps address any problems with redness or a sallow complexion, while also providing anti-aging benefits.

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BB creams are targeted for a younger consumer who may not need the added coverage of a CC. For both products, though, the rationale is clear. Consumers want their products to multitask—to make skin look beautiful immediately and also improve over time. These hybrid products are a growing market segment in the beauty industry, reaching $36 million in 2012, according to the NPD Group. (In 2011, they were a comparatively paltry $2 million market).

Nearly all BB and CC creams offer some level of sun protection, which is significant, as many traditional moisturizers that women might apply in the morning do not. BB creams with SPF titanium dioxide don’t appear chalky or leave a whitish tint on your face, a problem familiar to anyone who tries to be diligent about sun protection.

Wearing a BB cream is like switching your face from an HD to an analog version, subtly and pleasantly blurring any flaws. It doesn’t feel heavy as foundation often does. The ease of having one product that provides a multitude of benefits, rather than layering on several serums and lotions, certainly resonates with this modern-day woman. I found most of the creams I tried to be very blendable; they quickly disappeared into your skin, leaving a slightly more radiant version of your face behind.

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Among BB creams both mass market and prestige, Maybelline’s Dream Fresh BB Cream proved a standout. My skin immediately looked brighter and smoother when wearing it, and the lightweight formula is easy to blend. For more coverage, Smashbox’s Camera Ready CC Cream delivered—it evened out my skin tone and diminished fine lines around the eyes. But Olay’s Total Effects Tone Correcting CC Cream is the product that I returned to repeatedly. The packaging is divine: ribbons of the product artfully on display in the clear container form a compelling visual of how the cream comes together to address your skincare needs. When you apply it, it has an airy, almost fluffy texture, enhancing the feeling that you’re nourishing your skin.

With all the benefits of my daily moisturizer, plus a bit of color coverage, using a BB or CC cream is a no-brainer. However, one significant flaw thus far in the concept is that each cream is designed to reach many consumers, meaning that if you don’t fall into one of several broad shade categories—typically three to five variations of light, medium, or dark—you might be out of luck. As the products’ popularity continues to grow, beauty brends will hopefully address this shortcoming.

This is far from the last you’ll hear of alphabet creams—haircare companies have begun to embrace them as well, such as Pantene and Alterna. And there is already a DD cream on the market: Julep’s Dynamic Do-All. Perhaps our BB and CC creams will one day look quaint when we’re on to XX and YY versions.

Maybelline’s Dream Fresh BB Cream is available here and retails for $8.99. Smashbox’s Camera Ready CC Cream is available here and retails for $42. Olay’s Total Effects Tone Correcting CC Cream is available here and retails for $21.50.

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