What’s the difference between a BB and CC cream—and should you use one?

If you’re confused about all the complexion-perfecting makeup out there, consult our primer.

Credit: IT Cosmetics / Getty Images / Vladimir FLoyd
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The makeup world is oversaturated with products promising you a smooth, unblemished complexion. BB and CC creams receive a lot of buzz, particularly during the warmer months when people are shedding layers and swapping heavier makeup in favor of sheerer options that give a more natural “no-makeup" look—and they're less likely to streak when sweat beads up and runs. These formulas also tend to include extra ingredients such as vitamins and antioxidants aimed to solve skin problems, as well as sunscreen, which is more effective in these products than in foundation.

Before you begin sifting through the alphabet soup of BB and CC creams at your local drugstore or Sephora, you should understand the differences between these alliteratively named products, as well as where tinted moisturizers and foundations fall into the mix. The main distinction is the level of coverage you get: Tinted moisturizers typically are the lightest, followed by BB and CC creams, respectively, and then foundation. Here’s what else you should know.

What is a BB cream?

BB, or beauty balm (sometimes called “blemish” balm), creams are less pigmented compared to CC creams or foundations and therefore provide less coverage on the skin. These creams boast that they're skincare and makeup in one because they typically incorporate antioxidants, moisturizing ingredients like hyaluronic acid, and sunscreen. While SPF in makeup is not typically enough to protect your skin from the sun, SPF in a BB cream is more effective because of how you apply it, according to Suzanne Friedler, a board-certified fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology based in New York City. Friedler says that using a foundation usually requires layers of moisturizer and primer underneath, which dilute the SPF in the foundation, while BB creams stand alone without these added steps.

Top-rated BB creams to try
Tarte BB Tinted Treatment 12 Hour Primer Broad Spectrum SPF 30 ($37 on Ulta)
NYX BB Cream ($13 on Ulta)
Dr. Jart+ Premium Beauty Balm SPF 45 ($39 on Sephora)

What is a CC cream?

Color correcting” CC creams, like BB creams, offer coverage plus moisturizers and more. They contain more pigment than BB creams to mask discoloration on the skin (redness, sallowness, etc.). Many also contain light-diffusing particles to enhance this effect. Friedler says the best way to choose between a BB and CC cream is to decide how much coverage you want. “As you get older, people tend to want heavier coverage,” says Friedler. A light or even medium coverage foundation might have the same opacity and ability to conceal uneven skin tone and blemishes, but will generally lack the other skin-benefitting ingredients of CC creams.

Top-rated CC creams to try
IT Cosmetics CC+ Cream with SPF 50+ ($39 on Sephora)
Supergoop! CC Cream Daily Correct Broad Spectrum SPF 35+ Sunscreen ($34 on Sephora)
Thrive Causemetics Buildable Blur CC Cream Broad Spectrum SPF 35 ($38 on Thrive Causemetics)

How does tinted moisturizer compare to BB and CC creams?

A tinted moisturizer is exactly what it sounds like: a moisturizer with some pigmentation to help even the complexion. Tinted moisturizers offer the least coverage and are sheerest compared to BB creams, CC creams, and foundations. Their main purpose is to hydrate the skin, but like BB and CC creams, they may also contain skin-nourishing and protecting ingredients like SPF. A tinted moisturizer is a great choice for someone with dry skin who wants a two-in-one product that can make the skin tone appear a little more even.

Top-rated tinted moisturizers to try
Nars Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30 ($45 on Sephora)
Neutrogena Healthy Skin Anti-Aging Perfector ($8.99 on Target)
Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 20 ($46 on Sephora)

How does foundation compare to BB and CC creams?

There are hundreds of different foundations out there, ranging from sheer to full coverage and suited for different skin types (dry, oily, combination, sensitive, acne-prone, and more). They come in a multitude of textures, too, that affect ease of application and amount of opacity: liquid, pressed powder, stick, cream, mineral, whipped, and spray. Foundations are great if your one and only goal is to make your face appear even and blemish-free, but they are not specifically designed to be moisturizing or nourishing the way that tinted moisturizers and BB and CC creams are. If the foundation has SPF, you also may have to apply more product than you would with a tinted moisturizer, BB, or CC cream to get the protection you expect.

Top-rated foundations to try
Liquid: Estée Lauder Double Wear Stay In Place Makeup ($42 on Ulta)
Powder: PÜR 4-in-1 Pressed Mineral Powder Foundation SPF 15 ($29.50 on Ulta)
Stick: Hourglass Vanish Seamless Finish Foundation Stick ($46 on Sephora)
Cream: IT Cosmetics Confidence in a Compact with SPF 50+ ($38 on Ulta)
Mineral: Bare Minerals Original Foundation Broad Spectrum SPF 15 ($32 on Ulta)
Whipped: Revlon Colorstay Whipped Creme Makeup ($22.99 on Walmart)
Spray: Get the Dior Airflash Spray Foundation ($62 on Sephora)

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Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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