BB cream vs foundation: which is better for your skin?

If you’re confused by the BB cream vs foundation dilemma, this is the difference between the two products

Two models with glowing skin backstage at the 3.1 Philip Lim show in New York
(Image credit: Getty Images / Johannes Eisele)

When it comes to perfecting your complexion, picking the right base is key. If you’re perplexed by the BB cream vs foundation dilemma, then we’re here to answer all your questions. 

With a plethora of options to choose from, you may find yourself both overwhelmed and thoroughly confused. We’ll make acing your base simple by filling you in on all you need to know about two of the most popular skin tone perfectors out there. So, do you pick one of the best BB creams or foundation?

Should you use a BB cream?

The Koreans have been perfecting BB formulations since the 80s, and although they are now known for their love of elaborate multi-step beauty regimes, they have set the standard for this multi-tasking skincare/make-up hybrid. Beauty brands in the West have taken their cue from Korean innovations, and so you’ll find that BB cream formulations here are anything but basic. 

“‘Beauty’ or ‘blemish’ balms aka BB creams are the perfect entry into color cosmetics. They offer sheer coverage that conceals and blurs imperfections and contains a hefty dose of actives to keep skin looking its best,’ shares make-up artist Elaine Lynskey

In a single step, BB creams flood the skin with restorative actives. These actives, such as ceramides, hyaluronic acid and vitamin C, offer long-term as well as instant skin-perfecting results. Most protect against harmful UV rays and there are options for all skin types and most skin concerns. 

This means oily, combination, normal and dry skins are all catered for and even concerns such as acne, rosacea, lines and wrinkles may be addressed. But shade availability is where BB creams lag behind. Designed to offer sheer coverage and made with pigments that adapt to the wearer's skin tone, most brands only offer one or two shades. And while others offer more, many (but not all) don’t have a range of darker tones, making it harder for warm and dark skin tones to find a BB cream that addresses their skin concerns and matches their skin tone too. 

We tested several BB creams to find the best – read our Pixi Beauty Balm review to find out just how good it is.

Okay, but what about the case for foundations?

As the name suggests, foundation is the basis of most make-up wearers’ regimes. It comes in a multitude of forms from liquids and mousses to powders and sticks – offering a host of different coverage options and finishes. Whether light, medium or full coverage, mattifying, natural or dewy, you’ll find that foundations are designed to camouflage skin conditions such as acne, pigmentation, redness, and even out skin tone too. They are also made to last, with some boasting up to 18 hours of wear. 

One size does not fit all, and nowadays there is a range of formulations to suit every skin type. And despite ‘color correcting’ and texture perfecting being their main objective, you’ll find that many of them offer some skincare benefits too. Typically, these come in the form of hydrating hyaluronic acid, mattifying clay, repairing anti-oxidants, SPF protection and acne-busting acids. The best non-comedogenic foundations won't block your pores either.  

Shade-wise, offerings have increased considerably in recent years, and while drugstore brands still have some work to do, generally warm and dark skin tones have more options than they once did.

What’s the main difference between BB cream and foundation?

“The main difference between a BB cream and a foundation is the coverage. BB creams are skincare products first, that are designed to treat your skin and even out skin tone with very light coverage. While despite the addition of skincare ingredients in some formulations, a foundation's main job is to hide imperfections,” shares Diego dalla Palma's international beauty ambassador, Gianluca Oddi. 

BB Cream vs foundation: so which one should you use?

There is no need to pick one over the other. In fact, when it comes to most beauty products, you'd be wise to invest in a wardrobe of bases – much the same way as you would lipsticks. 

Some days you might just want something quick and easy that benefits your skin and imparts a sheer, second-skin veil of color, and go for a BB cream. While on others your main concern might be concealing imperfections and evening out your skin tone in the way only a foundation can.