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The Difference Between BB, CC and DD Creams

Which letter is right for you.
Photo: Getty

Photo: Getty

If you’ve set foot in Sephora, a drugstore or anywhere near a cosmetics counter lately, chances are you’ve been bombarded by a bewildering array of flesh colored fluids. The alphabet formulations--like BB cream, CC cream, and soon DD creams--have joined tinted moisturizers and standard foundation on the shelves as potential skin-perfecting options. But what do they all (supposedly) do? What's the difference between them? And most importantly: Which should you use?

We break it down for you.

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Tinted Moisturizer:

The name is pretty self explanatory: The product gives you a bit of color with a moisturizing benefit--the color is usually pretty sheer. My sense is that they may be headed for extinction, or at least hibernation. While tinted moisturizers are still on the market and probably still have many fans, I haven’t seen a new launch for one in quite a while--alphabet creams are all the rage now.

Editors' Pick: NARS Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer, $45, available here.

Editors' Pick: NARS Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer, $45, available here.

BB Creams:

BB creams are an Asian import that have become super popular in the last two years here in the US. BB creams provide coverage with added skin care benefits like SPF and anti-oxidants--the list goes on depending on what brand you choose. They're lighter than foundation but heavier than tinted moisturizers. While the additives in BB creams can have the same efficacy as they would in stand-alone serums, be careful about counting on BB creams for adequate sun protection. "My only concern is that since BB cream is generally tinted, women use less on their face," Manhattan dermatologist Dr. Heidi Waldorf said. Meaning you won't slather it on the way you do--or should--with a more traditional sunscreen, resulting in inadequate protection.

Editors' Pick: Bobbi Brown BB Cream SPF 35, $46, available here. 

Editors' Pick: Bobbi Brown BB Cream SPF 35, $46, available here

CC Creams: 

The difference between BB and CC creams is subtle--CC generally stands for “color correcting” and the products are meant to address issues like redness or sallowness (usually with light-diffusing particles), whereas BB creams are like lighter foundation with a few skin care benefits thrown in. “CC cream is a color corrector and will be lighter on the skin [than a BB cream],” celeb makeup artist Nico Guilis told us. “They have more of a whipped, light, fluffy feel and finish--kind of the new and improved BB.”

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While BB and CC creams are marketed for separate issues, and are theoretically different, I've tried many BBs and a few CC creams--and honestly, they're almost the same. Where it gets most confusing here is that BB/CC benefits and coverage vary greatly among different brands. For example, Clinique's CC cream is definitely more opaque than some BB creams I've tried from other brands. So go figure. You have to be diligent in reading ingredients and most importantly, trying them out (like we did) to figure out what you want and need. (Allure has a great list here detailing which BB/CC brands are best for which type of skin issues).

Editors' Pick: Clinique Moisture Surge CC Cream Hydrating Colour Corrector Broad Spectrum SPF 30, $39, available here. 

Editors' Pick: Clinique Moisture Surge CC Cream Hydrating Colour Corrector Broad Spectrum SPF 30, $39, available here

DD Creams:

And now get ready for DD creams (sigh).

Julep is releasing what it's calling a "Dynamic Do-All" cream this summer, and it kinda sounds like a BB/CC hybrid. Weirdly, the cosmetics industry was predicting something completely different for DD creams. Back in November of 2012, a cosmetics industry analyst told Cosmetic Design (a trade website) that a number of DD creams, called "Daily Defense" creams were poised to launch, but they aren't for your face--rather they are "heavy duty body and foot creams." So it will be interesting to see if Julep single-handedly just changed that category with its forthcoming launch.

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So if BB and CC creams provide some decent coverage and even skin care benefits, is this the end of traditional foundation as we know it? Probably not.

Guilis prefers traditional foundations, because she can custom mix them. And this highlights probably the most important difference between all these products: BB/CC creams and tinted moisturizers usually come in only a few shades, while foundations can come in dozens, ensuring a more exact skin match. “To me personally [BB and CC creams] are kind of like a shampoo and conditioner all-in-one--it doesn't give the [exact] finish you want,” Guilis said. I've even heard several makeup artists say they like to use BB cream as a primer--and then put foundation on top.

While there are a lot of options out there for skin coverage, I'm inclined to consider it a good thing. The more choices, the better right? Just don't fall for the marketing, and try them out (or read a lot of reviews--Makeup Alley rarely steers me wrong) before you buy them.

Editors' Pick: Chanel Perfection Lumiere, $50, available here.

Editors' Pick: Chanel Perfection Lumiere, $50, available here.