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If you happen to watch Korean soap operas, you'll notice a couple of things. One, someone always either gets cancer, loses the use of a body part or dies in a car accident. (Uplifting stuff!) And two, everyone has amazingly glowing skin.
Apparently, the secret to their radiance is something called BB cream—blemish balm or beauty balm. I've been seeing the stuff everywhere lately—on blogs, cosmetics counters and friends' bathroom shelves. Some devout users describe it as "magic." One blogger wrote, "It changed my life. I can't even describe how seriously awesome this cream is. I put it on, ran over to my mom and said, 'Doesn't my face look amazing? Touch it!'"
Eager to learn more about this miracle potion (and then immediately dive into a pool of it), I turned to my friend Anna M. Park, editor in chief of Audrey, an Asian-American women's-lifestyle magazine. "It's essentially treatment, SPF and moisturizer, all in a thick-ish tinted lotion that smoothes and evens out skin," she tells me. "Think of it as more coverage than your average tinted moisturizer and less than your average foundation."
As for the "treatment" component, BB cream functions as a multivitamin for your face. You no longer need an army of expensive formulas and serums in your daily regimen. The cream's ingredients, which vary by brand, can help fix a host of imperfections: dark spots, acne, dullness, dryness, fine lines and sagging.
According to Park, a German doctor created a blemish balm as aftercare for laser surgery patients. It eventually made its way to Asia, where South Korean actresses touted the cream as their secret to ssaeng-ul—"that coveted no-makeup look of clear, dewy skin," she describes. Now, a number of global beauty companies have their own versions of BB cream, including Estée Lauder, Dior, Garnier, Smashbox, Clinique and Boscia.
I decided to try one of Park's favorite BB creams, Dr. Jart+ Water Fuse Beauty Balm SPF 25 PA++ (available at Sephora, $32). I don't typically wear much on my face—just some powder with SPF and a little concealer to hide any pesky zits. The moment I applied it, I was surprised at what I saw in the mirror. I looked like me—or, well, a version of me that drinks tons of water, gets eight hours of sleep each night, and didn't eat In-N-Out and Flaming Hot Cheetos for dinner last night. My face was instantly brighter, smoother and more dewy-looking.
The downside to most BB creams is that currently, there aren't many shades out there. Most brands have just one or two hues, and those hues are usually based on East Asian or fair skin tones. More shades are in the works, but if a BB cream appears too light, you can try topping it with your favorite powder.
While I still can't sob on cue as Korean soap stars do, with the help of BB cream, I can at least have their glow.
This column appeared in print as "Skin Like a Korean Soap Opera Star."