The story of how the original blemish balm creams became a ‘household name’ cosmetic item throughout the world illustrates how innovation can jump across geographical borders and take decades to develop into a popular consumer product.
Originally, blemish balms were created by a German company to protect, soothe and help regenerate skin after surgery. Samples of the creams were taken to Korea by nurses in the late 1970s who had been working in Germany, and these became popular as cosmetics, primarily by word of mouth. During the 1980s and 1990s, blemish balms gained popularity in Asia and by the late 2000s, blemish balms (or BB creams as they are commonly known) were one of the most popular cosmetic products in Japan. In the last couple of years, BB creams have travelled back to Europe and the West, and are now a popular way of producing a quick, effective, even skin tone. However, as the original medical product was refined to a cosmetic, once again the blemish balm is being refined. BB creams managed to fit the need for quick, easy-to-use cosmetics (the ‘Turbo Beauty’ trend), enabling consumers to adjust colour while moisturising their skin. The new breed of creams, known as colour control (CC) creams, aim to retain these qualities while enhancing the skin care benefits and the quality of coverage on the skin. Additionally, CC creams are said to be less oily, resulting in fewer problems with spots, and offer a greater brightening effect. Currently, CC creams have only been launched in Asian markets. The highest profile of these was Chanel’s launch this year of CC Cream (Complete Correction) on the Chinese market. However, the likelihood is that the trend will soon transfer across the globe in much the same way as the BB is currently doing.
The transition from Asia to Europe
The initial popularity of BB creams was largely based on their ability to even the appearance of Asian skin tones. So, as BB creams have made their way back to Europe (and the US), modifications have had to be made to formulations in order for them to suit the ethnic profile of the consumer base. The introduction of these products has coincided with a growing desire among European consumers for cosmetic products to appear more natural on the skin, so people are starting to use BB creams in place of a foundation, which would have a much ‘heavier’ look. The ability of BB creams to offer luminosity will appeal to people wanting to revitalise the appearance of their skin, producing a younger, healthier look. The added benefits of CC creams are likely to find considerable support in Europe as well. With people working longer hours, a single product that can potentially be a genuine replacement for a moisturiser, foundation, anti-ageing cream, concealer, skin lightener, with SPF protection, will perfectly meet the requirements of timestarved individuals. In many ways, BB and CC creams are the ultimate multifunctional cosmetic product.
In an article published in the November 2011 issue of Personal Care Asia Pacific,1 BASF discussed the particular challenges of formulating BB creams. These include achieving: “…the right combination of pigments for Asian skin types, incorporating a high pigment content into a homogenous emulsion system, and ensuring that the product has the right sensory properties.” The article also pointed out that BB creams were originally W/Si emulsionbased, but over time O/W emulsion-based creams became more popular. In O/W emulsions, it is recommended to use untreated pigments as they are hydrophilic. The main consideration from a formulating perspective is that although BB creams feature colour enhancing or corrective qualities, they fall firmly into the skin care category rather than colour cosmetics, and therefore need to exhibit suitable attributes. Whereas W/Si emulsions are common formats for colour cosmetics such as foundations, the market preference for skin care emulsions, particularly facial skin care, is for the lighter O/W emulsion option. In short, the key challenge is to effectively differentiate the formulation so it is a lightly pigmented skin care emulsion, and not simply a diluted foundation. Why is that a challenge? As the BASF article rightly pointed out, skin care emulsions have evolved to be carefully balanced formulations to deliver the desired application properties, drying time, in-use feel and after-feel. The preference, particularly in Europe, is for lighter and less oily emulsion bases. The challenge comes with successfully incorporating pigments of the right type, at the right levels and importantly without compromising the emulsion aesthetics. What is the answer? Hydrophilicallytreated pigments offer a very good start, although it is important to evaluate whether they still give the desired level of coverage. Achieving the correct level of pigment delivery and distribution onto the skin is not an easy task. The oil phase composition and level offers a big challenge, as depending on the chosen pigments will require the presence of effective solvents to achieve suitable dispersion. Emolliency is of course key in order to retain the desired aesthetics so the choice and combination of oils, esters and waxes will require careful balance. Polar esters such as those found commonly in sun care formulations are known to work well with pigments yet also retain pleasant and light emolliency. Some emulsifiers and waxes, including micronised powders (polyethylene etc.) are perfect options to offer suitable emulsion structure and effective pigment dispersion. The aqueous phase will need consideration, as your usual preferred hydrocolloid may be incompatible or compromised by the introduction of pigments into the formulation. The presence of one or more hydrocolloids is of course vital for ensuring emulsion stability but they also typically play a key role in providing the desired rheology and aesthetics. Often natural gums are better equipped to cope with pigments, but inclusion rates are of course vital to prevent the likelihood of imparting inherent stickiness to the formulation. When starting a project to develop a BB cream, a good initial reference point is to study how some skin care brands have recently modified their formulations to incorporate high levels of UV filters. An example from UK is the Boots No7 brand, which was recently reformulated to ensure its skin care emulsions offer a minimum SPF 15 plus the highest level of UVA protection (5 star using Boots’ rating system). Many of the same formulation challenges applied, as the potentially negative impact of UV filters on formulation structure/stability and aesthetics are virtually identical to those with pigments in BB creams. Of course with growing market and consumer expectation that daily-use skin care products carry suitable protection from UVA & UVB, it is likely your BB cream requires incorporation of the UV filters as well! By studying the ingredient lists and trying the emulsions, you will be able to understand how the challenges were addressed.
Blemish balms and colour control creams will continue to win supporters across the world from consumers looking to reduce the time it takes to complete their daily make-up regime, as well as those looking for a more natural look. By following some of the recommendations discussed in this article, hopefully others will be able to create exciting and effective creams in this interesting new sector of skin care and colour cosmetics. In summary, the main challenge when formulating a BB cream is to make sure the product retains its skin care identity and aesthetics, while successfully incorporating and delivering a suitable level of pigments. If the balance is not perfectly struck, the formulation is likely to either become a foundation, a less elegant skin care emulsion, or simply unstable.
1 Baek YY, Choi SU. Blemish balm creams offer flawless results. Personal Care 2011; 12 (6): 60-1.
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