BB cream has its origins in northern Germany. Dermatologist Christine Schrammek, MD, invented it in the 1960s to protect the skin of one of her surgically treated patients.1 These creams did not become popular until they were introduced to Korea in 1985, where they currently occupy a large share of the cosmetic market. Skin lightening had been commonplace in Asia, but modern skin-lightening products such as BB creams differ greatly from those used in the past. In Japan, geishas adopted many methods to lighten facial color, including the application of heavy, white makeup. Following folk tradition, Chinese women ingested minced pearls to obtain skin lightening. Other past lightening products have been formulated with phenol derivatives such as hydroquinone, which has been recognized as a potential carcinogen. Alternatives included foundations that imparted heavy, unnatural results. Tinted moisturizers were then introduced, which were less binding and offered some pigments but did not correct underlying skin color.
A fundamental principle of color and light physics became clear, as understood by Japanese and Korean women—one’s complexion cannot be bright if it does not receive illumination from the lower skin layers. This principle was well-known by Renaissance painters who prepared the canvas base with a bright white to allow pigments to perform enhanced shine and brightness. Similarly, Asian women have been known to apply a thin layer of cream or “base” containing white pigments and fillers first, to enhance the luminosity of skin tone provided by the foundation that followed.
BB stands for “blemish balm” in Asia or “beauty balm” in some parts of Europe. It is defined loosely as a product that combines serum, moisturizer, base cream, foundation and sunscreen in one. The success of BB creams has been aided by the discovery of spheronized pigments coated with layers of transparent materials. BB creams must be multifunctional, easy-to-use, have immediate results and impart a natural look. Only recently have BB creams seen popularity in Western markets, where large beauty manufacturers have launched their versions to eager consumers.