Beauty solved: The WTF of alphabet creams

In an extract from their new book ‘About Face’, Aisling McDermott and Laura Kennedy delve into the baffling world of alphabet creams


It’s no secret in the cosmetics world that alphabet creams saved the industry from the recession. The beauty hybrid, BB creams, were an Asian import and their arrival was greeted with excitement by cosmetic companies and consumers alike. We all thought, “Oh how nice. Something really different”, and hurried to buy the products.

Every brand zealously set about to convince women they needed these creams: they peeled the stickers off their existing tinted moisturiser products and renamed them BB creams, they added foundation to day moisturisers and confused the life out of consumers. Naturally, people wanted to try these new products.

They sometimes bought several different types and became puzzled by the differences between brands and the inconsistency in formulation. Cash registers continued to ring as we all tried to find the perfect BB cream for us – it was cha-ching time for the cosmetic industry.

In 2013 Euromonitor warned the beauty industry against the overuse of the term “BB cream” as it had moved so far from the original Asian concept that the Western versions, by and large, bore no similarity to the original products. Consumers were being misled by these products, which promised so many multi-functional benefits that some of them only stopped short of promising to hang out the washing and make you a cup of tea when you got in from work. We’ve since raced past CC and DD and we’re now on to EE and FF. If we ever get on to GG, we’ll go utterly bonkers.

Resist the temptation to pull your hair out and bellow your demands for justice at the sky. The best way to navigate this domain of alphabetised products is to forget about the names and judge them based on formulation. If you’re interested in buying one, check what it is promising and then see if it delivers when you test it. It’s that simple.

BB creams Although we’re all thoroughly exhausted by the bombardment of letters, and it feels as though they’ve been around forever, BB creams actually made their first appearance as a Westernised product in 2012. They were inspired by Asian, and particularly Korean BB creams, but the Western version is quite different.

BB is an acronym of “beauty balm”, and the original Korean version was heavily focused on light coverage combined with impressive skincare. Asian women have a reputation for being very serious about their skincare. The idea was to care for skin while also acting as a base in a way that products hadn’t done before. Asian BB creams offer wider shade ranges and feel quite different in texture.

Western versions are more along the lines of a tinted moisturiser and vary widely in terms of the quality of skincare components. They tend to come in limited shade ranges, which is far from ideal, although some are lovely as light bases, particularly during the summer, when you’re in the mood to wear less make-up.

Smashbox Camera Ready BB Cream is a nice option. Thicker than standard BB creams and with coverage that can be built up to medium, it is slightly more like a light foundation than a BB cream. Kiehl’s Skin Tone Correcting & Beautifying BB Cream is more along the lines of its Asian counterparts. Featuring SPF 50 and free of mineral oil, this one is a winner if you can find a shade-match.

If you like something with a very soft but slightly thicker texture, L’Occitane Precious BB Cream is a good bet if you can find a shade-match from its limited range of three shades.

We think that Mac Prep+Prime Beauty Balm is very underrated. Perfect for Mac’s chief demographic of younger people with oily skin, it comes in eight shades and creates a dewy complexion that somehow stays put on oily skin. Rimmel BB Cream Radiance is a beautifully glowy option at under a tenner, but it’s only available in three shades. BB creams generally don’t cater for people on either end of the skin tone spectrum so they are pretty useless for the palest- and darkest-skinned beauty enthusiasts, who have to opt for a tinted moisturiser or light foundation instead. CC creams After BB came CC. Meaning colour correction, CC creams use colour theory, which is the idea that opposing hues on the colour wheel can be used to counteract one another, and neutralise pigmentation issues without looking heavy on the skin.

Aimed at people with redness, under-eye darkness or general pigmentation issues and patchiness, these products frequently do live up to their hype. They generally contain tiny particles of various tints and colours that act to conceal discolouration and they tend to work well. Obviously, any extreme discolouration needs concealer, but for the more every-day redness, blueness and greyness that we’re all prone to, these will do the job.

Bourjois 123 Perfect CC Cream offers very impressive coverage for a product that looks so unassuming in the tube and is slightly runny in consistency. Again, shades are limited, but if you can find yours, it’s definitely worth trying. For more mature skin, Chanel Complete CorrectionCC Cream is beautiful. Dewier and less oil-absorbent than the Bourjois 123 Perfect CC Cream, the thick consistency melts on contact with the skin for a finish that glows.

YSL Forever Light Creator CC Cream is gorgeous. You can wear it under foundation or on its own and it will make your skin glow. Clinique Moisture Surge CC Cream is another nice option, though it can settle into dry skin despite the name, so moisturise well before you apply it.

DD creams DD creams claim to combine the tint and skincare benefits of a BB with the colour-correcting clout of a CC and offer defence while they’re at it. Some companies refer to DD creams as “dynamic do-all” and some claim that the acronym DD stands for “daily defence” but frankly, BB and CC creams both offer defence in the form of SPF, so we don’t really feel the need for DD creams. The idea that this is an all-in-one product that dispenses with the need for any skincare underneath is just nonsense. Some DD creams, like Nuxe Crème Prodigieuse DD Crème, are quite nice but they’re really best as tinted moisturisers. Calm down, beauty industry. You’re trying too hard.

EE creams At this point, we’re tempted to dispense with the whole alphabet and just head to the pub because it’s getting beyond ridiculous, and every new alphabet cream seems to be a combination of the previous ones repackaged as something new.

In 2014 Estée Lauder launched the first EE cream, which they called Enlighten Even Effect Skintone Corrector. It claims to treat, rather than just cover like a CC cream, pigmentation spots caused by sun damage. It is a really nice light foundation. But that’s what it is: a foundation. In short, just no. Go home, foundation, you’re drunk.

About Face is published by Gill & MacMillan, €22.99

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