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The Differences Between Water, Silicone and Oil-Based Foundations

Feb. 04, 2024
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Many of us choose our foundations and primers based on recommendations from our friends and favorite influencers, rarely thinking about what’s actually in each formula. While this may work sometimes, it’s never a bad idea to look into what ingredients are in your foundation because they may not be the best fit for your skin’s specific needs. 

For example, liquid foundations are typically silicone-, water- or oil-based. To determine the best one for you, your skin type, skincare regimen and the other makeup products you use all come into play. “As a professional makeup artist, I can tell you that choosing the right foundation is essential for achieving a flawless look,” says celebrity makeup artist Kasey Spickard. “There are three main types of foundation — silicone-based, water-based, and oil-based. Each type of foundation has its own unique benefits and drawbacks.” 

Keep reading to learn about the different types of foundation formulas and how to find the right primer to pair with your foundation, plus take our quiz on how to find your undertones.

Silicone-Based Foundation

What are Silicone-Based Foundations?

If your foundation is silicone-based, it usually contains ingredients ending in -cone or -siloxane as the second or third ingredient. “Silicone-based foundations contain ingredients like dimethicone, which create a smooth and silky texture on the skin,” says Spickard. The first ingredient will most likely be water, but that doesn’t mean the foundation is water-based. Two examples of silicone-based foundations are the Valentino Beauty Very Valentino 24 Hour Wear Liquid Foundation and the Lancôme Teint Idole Ultra Wear Care & Glow Foundation. Both formulas are buildable and contain SPF, but the first offers a semi-matte finish while the latter provides a luminous glow.

Who Should Use a Silicone-Based Foundation?

According to Spickard, “silicone foundations can come in a variety of finishes from dewy to matte.” That means that regardless of aesthetic preference, most people can probably find a silicone foundation that they like. “They can also work well for those with skin imperfections like large pores and wrinkles, as silicone can help to blur and fill them in and create a smoother surface,” he says.

The Best Silicone-Based Foundations

Our favorite thing about the NYX Professional Makeup Total Control Pro Drop Foundation is the way the buildable formula allows you to totally customize your coverage level, from sheer to medium. You don’t have to worry about cakiness, ashiness or greasiness with this foundation. 


The serum-based formula of the Lancôme Teint Idole Ultra Wear Care & Glow Foundation is infused with hyaluronic acid, a skin-loving ingredient that hydrates and nourishes your skin. Choose between 30 transfer-resistant shades to find the one that best matches your skin tone.


We can’t get enough of the glowy-yet-matte finish of the YSL Beauty All Hours Foundation. It glides smoothly across your skin for a full coverage, soft matte look. Not only does it instantly make your skin look flawless, but it stays that way — this foundation is waterproof, transfer-proof and heat resistant.


Oil-Based Foundation

What are Oil-Based Foundations?

In the case of oil-based foundations, oil will be listed as the second or third ingredient. These are great for dry skin types. “Oil-based foundations often contain ingredients like mineral, jojoba or argan oil, which can provide a very hydrating and nourishing effect on the skin,” explains Spickard. The biggest perk of oil-based foundations is the dewy, radiant finish they provide. We love the Maybelline New York Green Edition Superdrop Tinted Oil for its lightweight, natural and extremely hydrating finish.

Who Should Use an Oil-Based Foundation?

While oil-based foundations are a good choice for those with dry skin, they may not be ideal for oily or acne-prone skin, as “[oil-based foundations] can exacerbate these issues,” warns Spickard. “Additionally, depending on the formula, they can sometimes feel greasy or heavy on the skin.”

The Best Oil-Based Foundation

Formulated with jojoba and marula oils, the Maybelline New York Green Edition Superdrop Tinted Oil is a lightweight foundation with adjustable coverage. Apply one drop for sheer coverage, three drops for light coverage or five drops for medium coverage, then blend it into your skin. 


Water-Based Foundation

What are Water-Based Foundations?

Water-based foundation doesn’t contain oil or silicone at the top of its ingredient list. “Water-based foundations are typically lighter in texture and can provide a more natural, breathable finish,” says Spickard. Some water-based foundations may have silicones in them, but the quantity is so small that it isn’t always mentioned.  

Who Should Use a Water-Based Foundation?

If you’re prone to breakouts, a water-based foundation will be the most gentle on your skin. Water-based foundations are also a great option for dry skin because the formulas tend to be nourishing and packed with skin-loving ingredients to help maintain a moisturized look. “They work well for those with dry or combination skin as they tend to be more natural-looking and can help hydrate the skin,” says Spickard. Plus, “water-based foundations tend to be less comedogenic, so they are great for acne-prone skin.” 

Spickard notes, however, that water-based foundations often provide a lighter coverage level, which is something to keep in mind if you prefer a full glam look. Our favorite water-based foundation is the Giorgio Armani Beauty Luminous Silk Foundation, which offers medium coverage and a lightweight, radiant finish. 

The Best Water-Based Foundations

When it comes to water-based foundations, it doesn’t get much better than the Giorgio Armani Beauty Luminous Silk Foundation. This foundation effortlessly melts into your skin for a natural-looking, second-skin effect. Use it to smooth skin texture, blur imperfections and give your complexion an added glow. 


We absolutely adore makeup with skincare benefits, like the ILIA Beauty Super Serum Skin Tint, which has an SPF of 40. This serum combines makeup, skincare and sunscreen into one game-changing product. Use it to enhance your natural skin and boost your dewiness on those no-makeup-makeup days.  


Pairing Primer With Foundation

How to Find the Right Primer Formula for Your Foundation

When picking a primer, it’s best to find one that has similar ingredients as your foundation, otherwise, you could experience separation, flaking or pilling.

When it comes to water-based primers to pair with your water-based foundations, we love the Giorgio Armani Beauty Luminous Silk Hydrating Primer and the Dermablend Insta-Grip Jelly Makeup Primer. For a silicone-based primer that blurs pores and mattifies, try the NYX Professional Makeup Pore Filler Targeted Stick. The YSL Beauty Touche Éclat Blur Primer is another silicone-based primer, but this one has a glowy finish that illuminates the skin and blurs pores. Oil-based primers are less common, but the NYX Professional Makeup Hydra Touch Oil Primer is a great, hydrating option that gives the skin a lightweight, dewy glow. 

Silicone-based primers create a barrier between your skin and the foundation. They pair best with silicone-based foundations to blur texture and smooth the skin. However, when a silicone-based formula is paired with a water- or oil-based formula, this can lead to separation, pilling and unwanted texture. 

To test your foundation and primer’s compatibility, place a small amount of primer on your hand and layer your foundation on top. If it turns powdery or starts to separate, then you know your products won’t play well together. Another way is to test the combo on your complexion and see firsthand how your foundation wears with your primer throughout the day. Ultimately, if your foundation pills or flakes, that’s a good indication that your primer and foundation have conflicting formulas.

The Best Silicone-Based Primers

If you tend to touch up your makeup throughout the day, you need the NYX Professional Makeup Pore Filler Targeted Stick. The transparent formula instantly blurs and smooths away pores, fine lines, oil and shine. While it’s designed for on-the-go touch-ups, you can also apply this primer as a first step in your makeup routine before your silicone-based foundation.


The YSL Beauty Touche Éclat Blur Primer is the primer for you if you prefer luminous makeup looks. This illuminating primer gives your skin a subtle, gold-toned shimmer and helps bring out the radiance of your silicone-based foundation. 


The Best Oil-Based Primer

As mentioned above, oil-based primers are harder to come by than silicone- or water-based options. Luckily, the NYX Professional Makeup Hydra Touch Oil Primer glides across your skin to give you a dewy base for the rest of your makeup. Just remember to give your primer a couple of minutes to set before applying your foundation.


The Best Water-Based Primers

This water-based primer from Giorgio Armani Beauty hydrates and blurs your skin to prep it for seamless makeup application. Use it to create the perfect smooth canvas for your favorite water-based foundation.


The Dermablend Insta-Grip Jelly Makeup Primer is completely silicone free, instead formulated with water and plant extract. The unique, jelly-like texture grips your makeup to ensure that it stays in place all day long. The best part? This primer absorbs into your skin super quickly, so you can go in with your foundation shortly after applying.   




Additional Reporting: Reece Andavolgyi and Jordan Julian, Photo: Shutterstock


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2 years ago

By Penny Lafferty

Why are Water Based Foundations Good for All Skin Types (Including Oily)

A lot of water based foundations tend to be oil-free, making them great if you suffer from excess shine. However, even if they're not, the high water content in them makes them super nourishing without being heavy, meaning your skin stays hydrated without becoming shiny or oily throughout the day.

Additionally, water based foundations are super lightweight and can be built-up to your desired coverage without going cakey, making them great if you do suffer from excess shine (which can typically break up makeup molecules and leave your skin looking streaky).

Which Water Based Foundations are the Best

Discover our selection of the best water based foundations below for beautifully hydrated and luminous skin.

Cover FX Natural Finish Foundation

Cover FX's Natural Finish Foundation has been specially formulated with a water-base to help deliver unrivalled hydration into the skin without making it look shiny. The formula is also infused with Vitamins C and E to shield against environmental aggressors, making it a great foundation if you live in a city and are concerned with the effects of pollution on your skin.

Buildable and with a natural satin finish, it melts into the skin upon application to give your complexion a flawless glow.

Estée Lauder Double Wear Light Soft Matte Hydra Makeup

Estée Lauder's Double Wear Light Soft Matte Hydra Makeup is infused with hyaluronic acid to hydrate, whilst also boasting incredible oil-controlling properties to keep shine at bay. It has a super lightweight texture which blends effortlessly into the skin and leaves the complexion flawless and natural with coverage that lasts all day.

The foundation is also non-acnegenic and fragrance-free, making it great if you suffer from sensitivity or breakouts.

Lancôme Teint Miracle Foundation

Formulated with a super high water concentration, the Lancôme Teint Miracle Foundation provides 18 hours of hydration without making the skin go shiny. With a lightweight, natural and matte finish, the face base keeps oil at bay and is fragrance-free so won't cause irritation or aggravation.

It also contains pearlescent pigments which add radiance so that even though the skin looks mattified, it doesn't look flat. As a result, this is one of our favourite water based foundations when our skin looks a little fatigued.

MAC Studio Waterweight Foundation

As it's name suggests, MAC's Studio Waterweight Foundation is a unique water based serum-gel foundation that provides 8-hour wear against sweat, heat and humidity. Using a water-base, it provides continual hydration throughout the day without adding excess shine, while its elastic formulation works into the skin as you apply for a gorgeously flawless finish.

It's both cake-resistant and streak-free, and won't go patchy throughout the day, making it great with anyone who has a slightly oily or combination complexion.

bareMinerals barePRO Liquid Foundation

bareMinerals is a brand synonymous with being perfect for anyone with slightly oily or blemished skin thanks to its blend of mineral pigments which are breathable and lightweight.

Their barePRO Liquid Foundation has unique Mineral Lock™ Long Wear Technology, which contains mineral pigments and lipids to hydrate and keep the makeup in place for 24 hours. Its blend of nourishing ingredients hydrate the skin without feeling heavy, and it's both non-comedogenic and hypoallergenic, as well as being free from oil, making it great for oily skin types.

NYX Total Control Drop Foundation

The second ingredient in NYX's Total Control Drop Foundation is water, making it one of the most hydrating yet lightweight water based foundations we have ever tried. It's perfect for wearing as a sheer and natural face base, or building up for a fuller coverage finish. It has a custom application which makes it easy to distribute the right amount of product for you, and comes in a huge shade range so you can find the right colour for your skin tone.

Chantecaille Future Skin Oil-Free Foundation

Made with 60% water, Chantecaille's Future Skin Oil-Free Foundation is perfect for oily and combination skin types as it's incredibly hydrating whilst also being oil-free. Aloe leaf and camellia extract soothe the skin, while a blend of colour pigments blur imperfections and give the appearance of a flawless complexion. The buildable formula can be worn sheer for a natural finish or built-up to your desired finish.

Pixi H20 Skintint

Enriched with rose water, green tea, chamomile and lavender, Pixi's H20 Skintint is made from the very best botanicals to nourish and soothe the skin without clogging pores. Lightweight and breathable, it helps to conceal minor imperfections and provide sheer coverage when you need a little extra concealing without wearing a full face base.

The Differences Between Water, Silicone and Oil-Based Foundations

Best Water Based Foundations



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