Remember when Korean beauty was about one step: the BB cream? I certainly do. Around the same time Psy’s “Gangnam Style” pervaded YouTube and radio, the BB cream introduced most Americans to the boundless inventiveness of Korean beauty. (Let’s ignore the part about a German derm originally formulating BB.) These days, it seems like new Korean imports – essence serums, sheet masks, cleansing sticks and so on – are inundating U.S. beauty aisles. But BB cream remains unmatched. Whether its acronym stands for beauty or blemish balm, the comprehensive product did something very un-Korean to beauty routines: it eliminated steps by hydrating, covering, brightening, moisturizing and protecting.
Not all BB creams, however, were created equal. Varieties marketed by Korean brands could be quite different from those by American brands. As a BB rookie years ago, I tried several sold at both upscale beauty retailers and drugstores. The Korean brands’ BB textures were more foreign to me than kimchi. I found them to be pastier and thicker, supporting the notion that Korean women prefer to completely conceal their imperfections and appear lighter. I gravitated to silkier selections, finally settling on mass retail favorite Garnier Skin Renew Miracle Skin Perfector BB Cream, still a staple in my makeup bag.
Now, I’m a rookie once again. Cushion compacts have transformed the BB concept. Instead of BB creams oozing from tubes, these compacts concentrate the BB formula in sponges that users dab with makeup pads to apply. Erica Chung, founder of the skin care brand 3Lab, asserts the appeal of cushion compacts is that they are convenient, especially for women out in the sun who want additional swipes. “I love the compact because it’s easy to keep reapplying it,” she says, noting people don’t usually stuff tubes into their purses. In her review of Korean company AmorePacific’s Iope Air Cushion Compact, the leader of the cushion compact crowds and a product Asians supposedly purchase twice a minute, Charlotte Cho, founder of Korean beauty e-commerce destination Soko Glam, declared it “will change your life.”
To determine if cushion compacts would indeed change my life and to decipher the differences between Korean and American offerings, I tested seven cushion compacts or similar products. Three were from Korean brands: the aforementioned Iope cushion candidate, Missha’s Magic Cushion and Laneige’s BB Cushion. Four were American-bred: MAC’s Prep + Prime Beauty Balm Compact, Pür Minerals’ Air Perfection, 3Lab’s Aqua BB and IT Cosmetics’ CC+ Veil Beauty Fluid Foundation. Here’s my take on the whole cushion caboodle:
Eye on Iope
The granddaddy of cushion compacts, this product ingeniously made BB, ehem, compact enough to carry. The cushion compact isn’t as compact as the majority of compacts, be they powder, cream or otherwise. To make room for the BB-soaked sponge, it’s roomy. Perhaps because of the application method via coating the makeup pad rather than coating fingers, the BB formula goes on thin. The thinness makes it distinct from the dense BB creams from Korean brands I previously checked out. The instructions paired with Iope’s compact say it can be used as a foundation. It can, of course, but traditional foundations usually provide greater coverage. Traditional foundations and BB creams often don’t sport considerable sun protection. My Garnier Skin Renew Miracle Skin Perfector BB Cream has an SPF 20. The IOPE cushion possesses SPF 50. On top of the skin protection, Iope touts it whitens and improves wrinkles. In terms of the shade, every cushion I sampled was light. The light of Iope was the second lightest among them. Apparently its Asian fans are even lighter than ghostly me. The Iope cushion formula has a flowery scent. I will definitely bury my face in it in the future.
A Missha Moment
At under $15, Missha’s Magic Cushion is roughly one-third the price of the Iope cushion. The cost divide isn’t as significant as it may seem, though, because Iope’s cushion compact comes with an extra sponge full of formula and a pad. Missha’s doesn’t. It does share Iope’s SPF 50. Missha’s formula is a tad lighter in shade than Iope’s, and is slightly more concentrated. Missha’s finish skews matte, while Iope’s finish is dewier. Missha’s cushion is a worthy substitute for the cost. Is it magic? Well, it’s maybe as magical as makeup gets.
A Few Lines On Laneige
Sold at Target, the $34 price of Laneige’s BB cushion, which includes an antimicrobial puff, falls in between Iope’s and Missha’s. It’s formula, on the other hand, is not midway. Laniege’s is extremely lightweight. The moisturizing quality of this BB is off the charts. What’s not off the charts is its SPF. Like the two cushions from Korean brands I detailed already, it’s SPF 50. Like one of those brands – Iope – AmorePacific owns Laniege. Its buoyancy is curious given that fact. I wonder if, due its target audience of Americans at Target, AmorePacific lightened the Laneige formula load. If it was meant to appeal to Americans, it does a good job of being appealing. This formula is perfect for women seeking a fresh look without a chalky finish.
The ‘IT’ Item
IT Cosmetics proclaims its CC+ Veil Beauty Fluid Foundation SPF 50 is the first cushion compact from an American brand. The $38 compact casing is marginally rounder than the ones from Korean brands, but doesn’t stray from them much overall. Inside the compact, IT Cosmetics immerses its sponge in a color-correcting or CC formula rather than BB cream. Inspired by IT Cosmetic co-founder Jamie Kern Lima’s need to cover her rosacea-prone skin, IT Cosmetics’ products generally offer substantive coverage. The brand hasn’t branched into BB because, as Kern Lima told Shesaid.com, “There’s actually not that much coverage with a BB cream.” To give it a color-correcting purpose, IT Cosmetics infuses the cushion formula with liquid crystals for luminosity. I don’t know too much about that, but I can tell you the CC concealed somewhat more than the BBs dominating the cushion compacts, although it was not heavy. After application, the CC didn’t feel weighty on my face. The brand purports the product has a wealth of skin-boosting ingredients as well such as anti-aging peptides, niacin, algae, hyaluronic acid, hydrolyzed collagen, and vitamins A, C, B and E. I’d be happy to fill my ‘it’ bag with an IT cushion.
When developing its Aqua BB cushion compact, 3Lab’s Chung emphasizes she took a skin care approach. “I’m a very serious skin care creator. That is something that was different from the color BB companies,” she says. The cushion’s formula has serious skin care ingredients, notably sodium hyaluronate for robust cells and beta-glucan to tackle discoloration. Those ingredients don’t come cheap, and 3Lab’s SPF 40 cushion compact is $100. The compact’s size is comparable to IT’s in that it is a touch rounder and slimmer than the Korean variations. The formula is hydrating and glides on smooth. On a scale of 0 to 100 percent, Chung estimates the cushion’s coverage is 30 to 40 percent. “It’s in between an extreme coverage foundation and a very sheer [tinted moisturizer,]” she pinpoints. A fantastic advantage of the Aqua B is that, if you reapply it over and over, it doesn’t get cakey. Chung asserts BBs are “going to be here for a long time, and foundation is going to be diminishing.” I wholeheartedly agree.
MAC’s Prep + Prime Beauty Balm SPF 30 doesn’t follow the prevalent cushion compact path. It’s more akin to a typical compact that delivers BB. It’s a phenomenal alternative for women who prefer not to use liquid formulations. Instead of the BB being liquid, it’s in a solid cream format. The experience of using it is familiar to anyone who has picked up a powder compact, and that makes it an easy transition. Obviously, it is a cream and, therefore, is creamier than powders. Its moisturizing powers aren’t exactly on par with liquid BBs, so you might opt to pair it with your regular moisturizer. The $30 Prep + Prime BB is virtually weightless and covers well, although people desiring intense coverage should probably stick to MAC’s incredible foundation line-up. Because it’s not a cushion, Prep + Prime compact is trimmer than the average cushion compact. It would fit perfectly into a clutch.
Pür Minerals’ Air Perfection, a $30 CC version of the cushion, is the most disappointing product in the bunch. Only half of the reviewers on Pür Minerals’ website report they would recommend it to a friend. In a description of the product on the site, Pür Minerals calls it “our lightest foundation ever.” Many of the reviewers criticized it for being too light. They commented it wouldn’t replace their customary powders or foundations. Actually, I didn’t have a problem with Air Perfection’s lightness. I favor gentler coverage, so am fond of the soft finish. Pür Minerals spells out that the formula contains Babassu Oil for hydrating effects. I find the formula hydrating, although it doesn’t leave as dewy a complexion as its Korean cushion cousins. My main problem with Pür Minerals Air Perfection is the shade. The Air Perfection is available in three shades, and I chose the lightest of the three. It has an orangey undertone that, especially viewed in the sunlight, is incongruous with my skin color. I don’t think Pür Minerals’ Air Perfection and me are going to be pals for long.
Like their BB creams ancestors cushion compacts are terrific face product options, especially for makeup wearers without strong coverage demands. Where they best their forerunners is on portability. Cushion compacts are awesome in a pinch beyond the bathroom. The Korean cushion compacts did tend to be on the lighter side shade-wise, but their American brethren have paralleled their efforts in whipping up supple, long-lasting formulas. Did the cushion compacts change my life? Not remotely. I’m not abandoning the silky smoothness of my Garnier Skin Renew Miracle Skin Perfector BB Cream. Throughout the course the course of a day, I might turn to a cushion compact to make my skin look a little better, but I can’t testify that I’m healthier, skinner or younger. I might have to get off the sofa cushions to achieve those results.