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What's up with BB, CC, and DD creams?

What's up with BB, CC, and DD creams?

You may have noticed that there’s this new trend of using Asian cosmetics. Since a few years ago, there has been a whole swathe full of cosmeceutical and cosmetic products arriving from Japan and Korea. One particular popular product of interest is the double letter cream, AKA the BB, CC, DD, and even now the EE creams. While cosmetic companies often provide explanations for what these lines of products do, they are usually tailored to the company’s own brand, creating an inconsistent array of product information and inter-brand variability for consumers. In our article today, we hope to decode what these letters actually stand for and what these products are actually supposed to do, and whether they are likely to do them based on their ingredient lists.

Let’s start with a brief history. As you may already know, this line of product started with the BB cream. The Blemish Balm (or BB cream) was originally invented in Germany by Dr. Christine Schrammek in the 1950’s as a post-dermatologic treatment moisturizer that also camouflaged redness. While it had some initial uptake, it didn’t really achieve international renown until its wide acceptance in South Korea several decades later. As soon as this product hit the shelves in Korea, it became an instant celebrity among cosmetics, spreading to Japan, China, and later to European and North American countries.


So why was the BB cream so popular in Korea but not as much in Germany? We postulate that one reason, among others, may be cultural differences in cosmetic application routines between Asia and North America/Europe. While many traditional North American/European cosmetic practices focus on a simple 3-step method involving cleanse, foundation, and color, Asian techniques can easily have 10+ steps (ie: cleanse, exfoliate, refresh, essence, eye cream, moisturizer, UV protection, cover, color, etc)! You can imagine how time consuming this can be. BB creams essentially promise to combine 4 or 5 of those steps all into one product and thus provides an effective time saving solution.


What are BB creams?

As we discussed above, BB creams are moisturizers that also hide blemishes. While ‘blemish balm’ is the original name, other terms that have been used include ‘beauty balm’, ‘blemish base’, ‘beauty benefit’, and ‘beauty base’. Regardless of the name, most BB creams contain at least 3 basic functions: moisturizer, sunscreen, and color. It might be more straightforward to think of them as tinted moisturizers with SPF. For discussion, let’s consider the BB cream from the popular Korean brand Missha.

Missha’s BB cream claims to be a skin lightening moisturizer that has an SPF of 42 (that’s kind of specific). It’s ingredients list features around 40 different chemicals. While many of these are included for textural, aromatic, preservative, and color purposes, we highlighted a few of the active ingredients that support their claims of the cream’s function:

  • Moisturizer: Capric triglyceride, dimethicone, glycerin, and ceramide

  • Sunscreen: Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate and zinc oxide

  • Color: Talc and arbutin


Just like the company claims, this combination of ingredients theoretically can create a UV protecting moisturizer with a skin whitening effect.

What about CC, DD and EE creams?

Capitalizing on the market generated by BB creams, a Singaporean cosmetics company called Rachel K developed the first color control ‘CC’ cream. Since its advent, numerous other companies have also created their own versions using other adaptations of the CC acronym such as ‘color correction’, ‘correction cream’, ‘complexion coordination’, ‘complete correction’, ‘correction collection’, and many more. CC creams are supposed to be the ‘next level’ product that includes everything the BB cream does and also color control. But wait a minute… isn’t color control essentially the same thing as blemish balm in that they both correct color? If you look carefully at the ingredients of various CC creams, you will notice that many of them also contain moisturizer, sunscreen, and color balancing agents. At least from the ingredients perspective, it is very difficult to determine a unifying difference between a BB cream and a CC cream. That is not to say that a specific company’s BB and CC cream products are the exact same thing because there is likely to be intra-brand consistency in product differences. For instance, many companies claim that BB creams correct color by whitening and CC creams do so by using skin-colored agents, thus ‘evening’ the skin color.


DD creams, or ‘daily defense’, ‘dynamic do-all’, or ‘dermatologic defining’, are the next step up from CC creams with a focus on SPF. So basically, in addition to all the effects of BB and CC creams, it also acts as a moisturizer, sunscreen, and color corrector… AKA it’s pretty much the same thing.


Most recently, EE creams have also hit the shelves as ‘even effect’, ‘extra exfoliating’ or ‘energy enhancing’, which are supposed to combine all previous products but also allow for color control… sigh…

Let’s sum it up!

If you look around hard enough, we are sure you can find more definitions of each one of these items and probably FF, GG, HH and so on. Needless to say, none of these cosmetic products, or pretty much any cosmetic product, have scientific evidence measuring their claims. This doesn’t mean that the creams are ineffective by any means, it just means that marketers have more freedom in doing what they do best, marketing. While we are not trying to make generalizations about these products, there does not appear to be much evolution of the products since the ground-breaking BB cream in terms of types of active ingredients. Of course, we have not used or tested all of these types of products and there are sure to be some differences between them based on the exact ingredient list and their respective concentrations, but in general, there seems to be a trend in pushing out a product labeled with the next set of alphabets rather than actually creating a conceptually new product.


Kudos to Dr. Schrammek for sticking to the BB cream and not following the alphabets trend.


That’s all for today folks!


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PS. For those who are interested, FF, GG, and HH creams are available in your neighbourhood supermarket (fat free cream, gluten-free goat cream, and half & half cream).


PPS. We made up the gluten-free goat cream.


Disclaimer: We are not sponsored by any organizations nor do we endorse any specific product or brand.



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