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What the heck is a BB cream?

Beauty fanatics now have easier access to BB creams

Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images

Beauty fanatics now have easier access to BB creams.

In the cosmetics world, all the buzz is about the rise of so-called BB creams for luxury and mass market retailers. The truth is, they’re not new: beauty fanatics have been chasing these multi-use creams for years, ordering them off Asian e-commerce websites while attempting to decipher what exactly the labels said. But in recent months, BB creams have arrived in the United States with gusto.

The list of benefits tends to be impressive for most of these creams, with the life-improving effects stopping just short of walking on water. OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but for women who apply a moisturizer, a primer, a foundation, a setting powder, and an SPF sunscreen every morning, BB creams seem like a small miracle. These are one-step products that can protect, conceal, and correct skin texture and tone.

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We chatted with New York magazine “Best Doctor” award winning dermatologist Dr. Neal Schultz about what a BB cream is and what we should be looking for when we buy one.

Dr. Jart, Garnier, and Maybelline.

Where did BB creams originate? The original BB cream stands for blemish balm, a product in the ’60s in Germany. It wasn’t very popular until about a couple of years ago. A few Korean actresses started using these BB creams that had brighteners, and they loved them. They talked them up, and since they were trendsetters the popularity spread through Asia and now here.

How have BB creams in stores now changed from the originals? The original products were just used to treat blemishes but now they’re for beauty or facial rejuvenation. Today the BB creams are much more sophisticated than they were when they started and much more complex in a good way. I love combination products because not only are they easier to use, but they don’t require women to layer products. And there’s the cost savings.

What’s the biggest benefit of using a BB cream over a traditional foundation or moisturizer? I refer to BB creams as combination products on steroids. By having a product that has a moisturizer and all the other actives mixed with your sunscreen, you don’t have to worry about which order you put them on. One of the most common mistakes women make is that they put on their sunscreen last, thinking it should be closest to the sun, but it should really be put on first [before makeup] or you don’t get the full SPF protection.

What types of results should a consumer expect when using a BB cream? Not all BB creams are the same. BB cream is a little bit like saying you want an omelet, but you have to know what you want in your omelet to order it. Read the packaging but not necessarily the ingredients, see what the particular brand says it does.

Any particular skin conditions or types that should avoid a BB cream? Again, you have to see what’s in that BB cream. Clinique’s Age Defense BB Cream is SPF 30 broad spectrum with vitamin E that doesn’t do anything for pigmentation, but it has oil control so it’s good for people with acne. Garnier’s Miracle Skin Perfector BB Cream has vitamin C, my favorite antioxidant, which is good for fighting free radicals and brown spots as well as a combination of glycerin and hyaluronic acid. These are very high level moisturizers and would work for someone with dry skin.

Rachel Raczka can be reached at rraczka@boston.com.
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