Foundation vs BB cream: what’s the difference and which is better?

Pro makeup artists break down the key benefits of foundation vs BB cream to help you pick the perfect base

A pink backdrop with swatches of foundation vs BB cream
(Image credit: Future/Getty images)

Weighing up whether to use foundation vs BB cream? According to the makeup artists, there’s a time and a place for both. While these base products share the same purpose (to make your skin look better), they go about it in different ways. Foundation typically focuses on good coverage, whereas BB cream delivers more natural-looking results.  

Before you decide between foundation vs BB cream, ask yourself these questions: “How does my skin feel? What occasion do I need this to be the best foundation for? How do I want my skin to look?” According to Rachel Hardie (opens in new tab), NARS Lead Artist, your answers will help determine which base is best for you. If it’s full coverage and an airbrushed finish that you’re after, reach for foundation. But for a sheer veil of lightweight coverage and a fresh-faced finish, consider one of the best BB creams.  

“It’s important to own different base products to cater to your different needs,” says Hardie, who admits she switches up her products depending on the time of year. To know when to opt for foundation and when to go for BB cream, we’ve quizzed the experts on the key differences and benefits of both. 

Foundation vs BB cream: your expert guide

What are foundation and BB cream?

“Foundation is a base product that’s typically used to even out skin tone and conceal imperfections,” explains Aimee Connolly (opens in new tab), makeup artist and founder of award-winning makeup brand Sculpted by Aimee. “BB cream, short for ‘blemish balm’, bridges the gap between skincare and makeup,” continues Connolly, “it gives you a much sheerer finish than foundation and boasts added skincare benefits.” As with the foundation vs CC cream debate, these small nuances can make a real difference to the look and feel of your makeup.

Foundation vs BB cream: key differences

“Although they share similar functions, bb cream and foundation do differ in results,” says Connolly. Here, our makeup artists break down the key differences between the two:

  • Coverage: “Foundation is typically thicker and provides higher coverage as a base product,” says Connolly, “whereas BB cream is typically light, almost serum-like, and is ideal for subtly evening out skin tone.” 
  • Skincare benefits: BB cream often boasts hydrating properties, anti-redness ingredients (like vitamin E) and added SPF. “BB cream tends to be formulated with more skincare ingredients than foundation,” notes Connolly. However, some foundation formulas are catching up - just read our Clinique Even Better Clinical Serum Foundation review and Chanel N°1 de Chanel Revitalizing Foundation review for proof.
  • Texture: BB cream usually has a liquid or cream (hence the name) texture. Foundation, on the other hand, “is available in many different formulations including liquid, cream, powder and stick,” says Connolly. This in turn has an impact on whether you should use a foundation brush vs sponge to apply your chosen base (generally, lighter textures suit sponge application better than heavier ones)
  • Shade range: Both BB cream and foundation should exactly match your skin tone. In terms of range, there are usually more foundation shades to choose from than BB cream shades. However, “BB creams blend more seamlessly with the skin so can adapt a bit more,” notes Connolly, which can be useful if you aren't 100% sure how to find your foundation shade.

When should I use foundation vs BB cream?

If we go back to Hardie’s questions in the introduction (“How does my skin feel? What occasion is this for? How do I want my skin to look?”) the answers can help steer you in the right direction. Say, for instance, your skin feels dry and you’re looking for a hydrating base that’s suitable for an everyday natural makeup look – BB cream is the one. “BB cream offers a more natural, dewy, sheer finish,” says Connolly.   

If, however, you’re after full coverage that will conceal imperfections and stay put all evening – your best cream foundations is probably the better choice. “Foundations are great for that longer-lasting, high coverage finish that will stick around all day/night long without drying out your skin,” says Connolly. “Anyone looking to cover prominent pigmentation or blemishes might prefer foundation as a higher coverage option.” 

While you probably have an idea of whether you prefer something light and sheer or something with higher coverage – you may feel differently depending on the day. So, as Connolly says, there’s no harm in having both in your kit. “I love a BB cream when I’m on holiday, for instance, but prefer higher coverage when I’m attending events.” Hardie agrees, “I tend to use one of the best tinted moisturizers in the day while I’m on the go, before  switching to a heavy-duty foundation at night.”

Is foundation better than BB cream?

“It really depends on what you’re looking for,” says Connolly. “But to sum it up, if you’re looking for something long-wearing and high coverage, a foundation is a better bet. A BB cream or tinted moisturizer is ideal for lighter coverage and less of a heavy finish.” Hardie adds that, “foundations can have various levels of coverage too, so when you’re looking for the perfect product – consider what you want your skin to look like.” 

Foundation vs BB cream: W&H verdict

If you’re shopping for makeup and weighing up foundation vs BB cream, there’s no need to choose. Both these products are beauty bag essentials that are guaranteed to get used up. BB cream is ideal for those good skin days when you want just a hint of dewy makeup coverage. Foundation is the perfect pick for long-lasting coverage that will conceal all signs of a tough week. 

“I would always recommend BB creams and tinted moisturizers to anyone new to makeup,” says Connolly. If you then find your BB cream isn’t delivering enough coverage or doesn’t last well throughout the day, switch to a foundation. 

The latest foundation formulas to hit the market boast impressive skincare benefits and come in a wide range of finishes and coverage. So, if we were pushed to pick between the two, foundation gets our vote (but then again, we’d want a few foundation options to cover all bases). 

Emma Stoddart

Emma Stoddart is a freelance beauty journalist and self-confessed skincare aficionado with over five years’ industry experience. Emma has worked for some of the UK’s top women’s titles including Net-A-Porter, Stylist and Grazia. Her experience spans online and print as well as producing editorial shoots with some of the industry’s biggest artists, including Val Garland. Asides from working with them behind the scenes, she’s also had the chance to interview the likes of Patrick Ta, Pat McGrath, and Sam McKnight for all their insider tips and tricks.