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BB Creams: Beauty Balms, Blemish Base or Just Brilliant Beauty?

By: Sam Dhatt
Posted: February 27, 2013, from the April 2013 issue of GCI Magazine.

Editor's note: This is an edited version of an article that originally ran in the January 2013 issue of Skin Inc. magazine. All rights reserved.

They brighten skin like a lightener, even tone like a lightweight foundation, treat blemishes like a spot treatment, hydrate like a moisturizer and protect against UV like a sunscreen. BB creams—short for blemish base, beblesh balm (in Korea) or now known most commonly as beauty balm—are the hottest rage to hit beauty in years. Generating approximately $9 million in U.S. department stores and Sephora for the past year, according to the Wall Street Journal, this trend has been building momentum in the U.S. and shows no signs of letting up any time soon.

Multitasking Appeal

The concept originated in Germany in the 1960s when dermatologist Christine Schrammek, founder of Dr. med Christine Schrammek Kosmetik GmbH, sought a post-procedure product that would protect and soothe her patients’ skin following laser procedures, peels and surgery. In the 1980s, the idea spread to Japan and South Korea, where young television soap stars revealed the secret to their coveted camera-ready porcelain white complexions, making BB creams first a national—and now a global—commodity.

Coined by one U.K. journalist as the “Swiss army knife of the beauty industry,” BB creams continue to be popular due to their all-in-one, multitasking appeal. BB creams are available in any number of combinations, from 3-in-1 moisturizer, sunscreen and foundation to 10-in-1 creams with anti-aging and skin-perfecting agents included.

In the Western world, SPF and all-in-one anti-aging combination formulas are fueling the demand, while skin-brightening products are most desired in Asia, where lighter skin is commonly associated with beauty and success. The Huffington Post reported that BB creams account for 13% of the cosmetic market in South Korea, where the cosmetic industry grew approximately 6% in 2009, largely as a result of BB creams, according to www.channelnewsasia.com.

The lightweight, mineral-based coverage BB creams offer is preferable to heavier foundations for many consumers. The key to choosing the correct shade is to find a good blend in which the sunscreen minerals don’t overpower the tint. This is instantly evident if the product is ashy on the skin. Titanium dioxide and zinc are the sunscreens that usually have this effect, and if your target customers are concerned about the whitening of the sunscreen on their skin tone, avoid a BB cream with a high concentration of these ingredients. It’s also important to find a formula that strikes the right balance between benefits, coverage and moisture.

Perfecting the All-in-one Formula

But do they work?

Like other products, the answer lies in the ingredients. As with any formulation, the active ingredients and their concentration determine a BB cream’s efficacy. Depending on the formulation, the efficacy of anti-aging actives could be less than one that concentrates on a particular concern, such as brightening, or treating fine lines and wrinkles. Consumers who are more interested in treating a single condition might not be satisfied by using a multifunctional BB cream.