A,B,C: What ARE these Alphabet Creams, Anyway?

After getting a shitload of “Which one do I use?” questions from friends, I feel like it might be time to define industry buzz terms like “AA,” “BB” and “CC” creams.
Publish date:
April 4, 2013
skincare, skin, bb cream, cc cream, aa cream

It seems every single week I get a pitch for a new product that swears to do everything from fix your complexion woes to stopping you from drunk dialing your ex in a fit of tequila-fueled bravado/stupidity.

After plowing through about 20 or so of these creams and getting a shitload of “Which one do I use?” questions from friends and blog connections, I feel like it might be time to define exactly you’re buying when you see industry buzz terms like “AA,” “BB” and “CC” creams.

Essentially, these are the ABCs of what product to buy for what’s pissing you off about your skin:

AA = “anti-aging”

Very simple: You want to slow the visible signs of the aging process. The two things you need to know about anti-aging creams are peptides and retinoids. Peptides act like little chemical messengers that shoot through the body, shaking the old cells out of bed and making them produce collagen like a sweatshop with an order for knock-off handbags. Collagen is what boosts skin from underneath and helps it look younger.

Retinoids are Vitamin A derivatives that can help unclog pores, reduce fine lines and smooth skin from the top layer. Peptides boost skin from underneath, retinoids smooth skin from the top. Use this information to pick your favorite product accordingly: Try peptides if you’re losing elasticity, use retinoids if you’re acne-prone and you want to have a face that’s smooth as a hockey rink.

BB = “beauty balm”

These are the “magic bullets” of the beauty industry that combine the effects of tinted moisturizer with skin-nourishing benefits, depending on what ails you. Originating in Germany as a way to protect post-surgery skin with the effects of foundation, they were brought to an art form in Korea in the 80s as the secret to the flawless, eggshell-like complexions of Korean soap actresses.

Essentially, you get light coverage with a toy surprise inside. Many formulas act as primers, anti-inflammatories, UVA/UVB sunscreens, anti-aging serums, skin rejuvenators and tone-evening correctors.

I would, however, caution those of you who break out when your skin even sees the word “silica” or “silicone” to look for formulas without it. I would also not recommend them if you’re any shade other than maybe-kind-of-sort-of-tan. The tinting in these formulas has a long way to go, gals.

If you have darker skin, you can always use the BB cream as a primer and add your regular foundation on top. Also, ALL of you using BB creams should be using an additional sunscreen unless you’re literally reapplying every two hours or more.

CC = “color correction”

All the fun in the sun from your youth is back like Backstreet and twice as aggressive, hence the sun spots, hyper-pigmentation and discoloration you may be experiencing. Color-correction creams use chemicals like N-acetyl glucosamine and niacinamide to help reduce discoloration with regular use while giving you decent coverage and uniform color in a variety of shades. And they blend in quickly, which gives gals with dark skin more options.

If you have serious hyper-pigmentation, I’d ask your derm about using a hyper-pigmentation serum along with the CC creams on a daily basis. Also, the coverage can be pretty light, so I’d recommend using a tinted moisturizer or medium foundation on top of them if you need more than just-rolled-out-of-bed coverage.

We’re also just waiting with baited breath for the DD cream, which is supposed to be for body. Hold onto it, ‘cause it’s coming.

Pick the formula that addresses your specific concerns and use it with the type of fervor that usually reserved for religious fanatics. Apply it morning and night, don’t be skimpy with the amount and give it a good amount of time to see results.

OK, so let’s hear from you. Do you get confused as to which creams are supposed to do what? Are you baffled/disappointed/in awe at the results of certain alphabet-monikered creams? Which ones do you live for, which ones went straight to the bin? Let’s speak and spell in the comments below.