BB and CC Creams

Breakthrough or hype?

October 3, 2013

BB and CC Creams: Do BB and CC creams provide adequate sun protection?

BB and CC creams are not adequate for use in intense sunlight nor long periods.  Some of them may help protect skin from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet radiation during low-exposure activities such as driving, walking between shaded areas or indoors, but they will not shield your skin from harmful rays if you are outside for a longer time span or if you will be in intense sunlight.  If you are out at midday, say, running, playing tennis, cycling or watching your kid’s cross country meet, a “beach and sport” sunscreen that rates highly in EWG’s Sunscreen Database is a better option.

As with all other sunscreens, EWG suggests that you avoid products with:

  • poor UVA/UVB balance
  • oxybenzone
  • vitamin A, also known as retinyl palmitate

All the BB and CC creams EWG assessed had a sun protection factor (SPF) rating. But the term SPF doesn’t translate to adequate sun protection in all circumstances.  As EWG’s 2013 Guide to Sunscreens points out, the chemicals that form a product’s sun protection factor are aimed at blocking ultraviolet B rays, the primary cause of sunburn and non-melanoma skin cancers such as squamous cell carcinoma (von Thaler 2010).

A sunscreen lotion’s SPF rating has little to do with the product’s ability to shield the skin from ultraviolet A rays, which penetrate deeper into the skin and are harder to block with sunscreen ingredients approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration for use in U.S. sunscreens.  Scientists know less about the dangers of UVA radiation, but the general consensus is that it is less obvious than UVB damage but possibly more serious.  

Strikingly, 12 percent of BB and CC creams assessed by EWG had unbalanced UVA and UVB protection.

Read more about the importance of using a balanced sunscreen here:

BB and CC creams offer one clear benefit:  you may be less likely to forget to apply sunscreen if it’s already in your one-step cream.

In order to take full advantage of sun protection in your BB or CC cream, be careful to cover your face completely. Don’t dab it on as a “spot” treatment to cover blemishes. If you need it for color correction, apply extra on dark spots.

Above all, don’t fall into the trap of letting your BB and CC cream give you a false sense of security. You need to take other sun protection measures. The best defenses against getting too much harmful UV radiation are protective clothing, shade and timing. For important sun safety tips see:

The problem with oxybenzone

Oxybenzone, found in 18 percent of the BB and CC creams EWG analyzed, is a widely-used sunscreen ingredient that can penetrate the skin, cause allergic skin reactions and may disrupt hormones (Calafat 2008, Rodriguez 2006, Krause 2012). Preliminary research suggests a link between higher concentrations of oxybenzone and its metabolites in the body and increased risk of endometriosis and lower birth weight in daughters (Kunisue 2012, Wolff 2008).

EWG suggests products with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. These minerals provide broad-spectrum protection with fewer health concerns. Read more about oxybenzone here:

The problem with vitamin A

About 10 percent of the BB and CC creams EWG analyzed contained retinyl palmitate or other vitamin A derivatives. Vitamin A, an anti-oxidant, is added to skin products because manufacturers believe it slows skin aging. While this may be true for lotions and night creams used indoors, a study by federal scientists has suggested that retinyl palmitate can spur excess skin growth and may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions when applied to sun-exposed skin (NTP 2012). Other studies have shown that in sunlight, retinyl palmitate can form free radicals that damage DNA (NTP 2000).

Read more about vitamin A here: