If you live in particularly humid or tropical climates, wearing foundation can be a problem. The same goes when you are prone to breakouts. In addition, the wrong foundation may cause you to have inflammation instead of a smooth canvas to base your makeup look on.
Despite your skin concerns, you’re not ready to give up on foundations — not just yet, because you’re holding out for the one that can work magic in making your face smooth and flawless. Then someone suggests you wear a water-based foundation. You think: this might be the solution to my problem. Or is it?
The right foundation can improve the way you look and present yourself. There’s no need to ditch this product altogether if you have oily skin or skin problems. Today, we give you a comprehensive guide to water-based foundations, a product that has become a holy grail for many. With this, you will be able to decide if this is the solution to your foundation problems.
What is a Water-based Foundation?
All foundations essentially have water content in them, but they are categorized according to the base ingredient they primarily have. The three common types of foundations are:
Needless to say, water-based foundations contain much more water than the rest of their oil and silicon-based counterparts. Mainly, water-based foundations are enriched with ingredients that help boost skin hydration, like hyaluronic acid and plant extracts.
They may also contain:
Water-based foundations had their roots before World War II, when women began grinding their powder makeup, mixing it with water and oil, and (surprisingly) applying it into their legs as a means of getting rid of stockings. The formula evolved into water-based face makeup and has come a long way since then.
What is Water-based Foundation Used For?
Though using a water-based foundation can be a matter of preference, certain skin types can benefit quite well from water-based foundations. If you also prefer a natural, sheer look, then water-based foundations might be your best bet.
These skin types include:
- Oily Skin
- Acne-Prone, Sensitive Skin
- Dry Skin
- Combination Skin
- Fresh, No Makeup-Makeup Look
Let’s go ahead and take a closer look at how these skin types can benefit from a water-based foundation.
Oily skin reaps benefits from a water-based foundation as it decreases the production of sebum. Genetics, diet, and lifestyle play a role in having oily skin, and mostly, sebum production is in overdrive because the skin feels it is not getting enough moisture. Too much exfoliating, washing too often, or the use of alcohol-based toners can also trigger oily skin.
Water-based foundations provide moisture and hydration to oily skin, so it doesn’t feel the need to produce more sebum. Less sebum equals less shine-and longer-lasting makeup!
Acne-Prone, Sensitive Skin
Water-based foundations are also kind to acne-prone skin. As a primary ingredient, it is less irritating to the skin than other ingredient bases (though it is safe to say that water-based foundations also contain some amounts of silicone/oil, negligible enough to irritate).
What’s more, water-based foundations are usually supercharged with other ingredients, like plant extracts, to increase hydration and soothe skin.
Dry skin also benefits from water-based foundations. Flaking and dryness often look worse with makeup if the skin is not properly hydrated beforehand.
With a water-based foundation (preferably with a good hydrating moisturizer underneath it), the skin gets continuous moisturization even with the foundation on top of it. As a result, the cakey look is eliminated. In turn, it will help keep your skin looking fresh and immaculate.
Contrary to older findings, even combination skin can receive great benefits from a water-based foundation. As combination skin is both oily and dry in certain areas, using different kinds of the foundation is not only inconvenient for the user — it can also mean more money spent on other products.
Good thing there are water-based foundations that can cater to the needs of combination skin-providing hydration at areas needing it while controlling oil, right?
Fresh, No Makeup-Makeup Look
Don’t fancy the full-coverage look? Want to have a good canvas for your makeup but still want your skin to shine through? Most water-based foundations allow you to do that.
Instead, you can go with a natural, no-makeup-makeup look that highlights your features well. Water-based foundations are also great when the weather is warmer. They don’t feel heavy or sticky and don’t leave you patchy-looking when you sweat.
However, water-based foundations are not limited to light formulas. There is also a wide range of water-based foundations that offer medium to full coverage if that is what you prefer.
How Do I Know If My Foundation is Water-Based?
Since almost all foundations contain water, whatever its base ingredient may be, how can one know if a product is water-based? Not all foundations indicate if it is water-based or not.
You have to be a beauty sleuth with this one and heed the ingredients listed in the product. As a general rule, the first few ingredients in the list give us a clue whether the product is water, oil, or silicone-based. Water will undoubtedly top the list, but it is not an assurance that the product is already water-based. It makes the foundation easy to spread onto the skin. That’s why it will always be the topmost ingredient.
Look first for ingredients that tell us if it’s silicone or oil-based, and take note:
- If ingredients at the beginning of the list are oils, such as lanolin oil or argan oil, then it is oil-based.
- If ingredients that have the affix -silo or -cone is high up in the list, the product is silicone-based.
- See none of these products at the top of the extensive ingredient list? It is most likely water-based.
- Another one: If the foundation mentions “hydrating,” then it is more likely to be a water-based one.
- When in doubt, ask your beauty consultant at your favorite store. Or, if you are shopping online, read the product description well and the consumer reviews.
Common Ingredients in Water-based Foundations
What are the ingredients commonly found in water-based foundations? Here’s the deal with these ingredients and how they help you achieve your perfect makeup look.
Water is the ingredient of all foundation products. Not only it makes the product easy to apply onto the face, but it also gives the skin the moisture it needs. Depending on the product, it might be plain distilled water or imported, hard-sourced waters from glaciers, springs, and other sources. It constitutes a large volume of the formulation.
These ingredients help skin stay soft by holding on to moisture and soothing skin. These include oils (but not in great quantity as the product is water-based), glycerin, and
Amazonian clay, bentonite clay, silica, and kaolin… are the ingredients that help to keep oil at bay by absorbing it, maintaining a natural finish. Matte foundations usually contain a higher percentage of these ingredients.
Ingredients such as dimethicone crosspolymer, laureth-4, glyceryl stearate, and others bind all the ingredients together, particularly the products that are insoluble to each other (like water and oil). They give the foundation a smooth feel and let the ingredients blend well without separating into the different components.
These fast-evaporating liquids are the secret in turning liquid foundation into a sheer, smooth layer upon application. They are also used in other cosmetic products such as quick-drying lipstick, eyeliners, and cream blushers. Cyclomethicone, isohexadecane, and isododecane are three of the most common volatile liquids present in water-based foundations.
Plant extracts, acids, and vitamins
They nourish, hydrate, and address skin issues. Aloe vera is one of the most popular extracts used in water-based foundations, as well as Centella. Hyaluronic acid is also added to some foundations because it attracts water to the skin. Vitamin A and E are other popular add-ons to foundations.
The best water-based foundation is nothing but a breeding ground for bacteria if not for preservatives to help it stay in tip-top condition and provide the coverage you want. Phenoxyethanol, potassium sorbate (food-grade), and parabens (though more and more products now are going paraben-free) prevent bacterial contamination in your foundation and keep it good until its expiry date.
Choosing the Best Water-based Foundation for You: Our Selection Criteria
Ready to do the switch to water-based foundations? If so, these selection criteria will probably help you choose the best one for your needs and budget:
- Skin Type
Let’s go ahead and break down these considerations.
Your skin type should be your number one consideration in choosing a water-based foundation. Do you have oily skin? Or does your face feel dry as a desert? Maybe you have dry patches in your cheeks and oil everywhere else (combination skin).
If your skin is sensitive, it helps to figure out which products are causing your skin to flare up, so you can avoid them when picking out makeup products.
Not all expensive foundations are fantastic, and do not underestimate budget finds-you might find your holy grail product in a drugstore brand! But of course, more expensive brands usually have premium ingredients (but then again, what are premium ingredients if they don’t go well with your skin).
Start your search for a water-based foundation with brands you have experience in and trust. They are most likely to address your skin concerns if you have a good experience with one of their products since products within the same brands often have similar formulations (with the addition of one ingredient or several to tweak the formula). However, this must not stop you from trying out new brands!
With our choices below, we included inexpensive finds to high-end brands-perfect when you just want to start building your makeup arsenal or for indulging in a luxurious product as a treat. Either way, these recommendations save you from trying bottle after bottle of products in the search for your number one water-based foundation.
Our Water-based Foundation Recommendations
Can’t wait to try a water-based foundation? We scouted seven (in no particular order!) of the best foundations out there to help you choose the best one for your needs.
Best for Combination Skin: L’Oreal True Match Super Blendable Liquid Foundation
Combination skin can be pretty tricky to apply foundation, but thanks to L’Oreal True Match Liquid Foundation, your skin can be hydrated and mattifying at the same time. It melts into your skin and matches it perfectly, with a natural yet buildable finish.
Its Precise Match Technology ensures that you’ll get true-to-you coverage, allowing your skin color to take center stage while providing a smooth, even base. This foundation is also enriched with Vitamins A and C, plus wheat germ and grapefruit extract for extra nourishment.
Users rave about its light, creamy moisturizing formula that does not settle into lines (for older women) and how it feels like a second skin. It’s also affordable and suitable for daily wear.
- Oil and fragrance-free
- With SPF 19 for your skin’s protection
- It comes in 33 shades
- It leaves streaks upon application but evens out as it dries
- Not for full coverage, if that’s your thing
- It does not come with a pump, so you need to control how you tip the bottle so it won’t all end in your sponge
Best for Active People: COVERGIRL Outlast Active Foundation
You’re the sporty/athletic kind, but that does not mean you don’t love getting dolled up during your runs and workouts. Covergirl Outlast Active Foundation helps you stay pretty and fresh even when you’re sweaty and not look overdone. It is transfer-proof and sweatproof, too!
It’s budget-friendly; you need not worry about purchasing it often because you want to grab more of this product to keep up with your active lifestyle. Not that active, but sweat a lot? No problem. This product promises to stay on for 24 hours and also has SPF 20 to shield you from the sun’s harmful rays.
- Water and sweat-resistant
- It is pretty inexpensive (Your wallet will be so happy!)
- Can settle in lines when over-applied
- It has a distinct smell but goes away eventually
- It cannot be removed easily with soap and water-needs a face cleanser
Best for Dry/Combination and Combination/Oily Skin: Clinique Even Better™ Makeup
Clinique Even Better™ Makeup, promises to make your skin better with every wear with a richly pigmented yet lightweight foundation. This product is formulated to last for 24 hours. It comes with a nifty applicator and also has a broad-spectrum SPF 15 so that you’ll stay protected from both UVA and UVA rays. It also claims to reduce dark spots with continuous daily wear.
- Gluten and alcohol-free
- Looks natural and sheer (your skin, but better!)
- Perfect to wear for day and night
- A little more expensive than other products
- Not full-coverage
- Has octinoxate, an ingredient that disrupts thyroid function in large amounts
Best for Medium to Full Coverage: MAC Studio Fix Fluid SPF 15 Foundation
Want a product that evens out your skin and covers the blemishes you want to hide without being cakey? The long-wearing color in this foundation (up to 24 hours) and oil and shine control (up to 6 hours) lets you enjoy your look without the need for heavy touch-ups.
Mac Studio Kit Fix fluid SPF 15 foundation wears comfortably, does not clog nor highlight the appearance of large pores, and provides up to 8 continuous hours of hydration.
- It does not promote breakouts nor irritate them
- Sweat and humidity-resistant
- It looks pasty upon application but evens out once settled
- It might be harder to match with different skin tones
- A little heavy on the skin
Best for Full Coverage: Milk Makeup Blur Liquid Matte Foundation
Love the matte finish full-coverage foundations give but not the heavy feeling? This silicone-free formula is like a dream come true for your skin-it blurs fine lines and pores, and it is not heavy to apply-it almost feels like a serum!
In addition, it has hyaluronic acid to help boost up moisture levels in your skin and bilberry fruit extracts to keep your skin healthy.
- A little goes a long way
- Has an airless tip for mess-free application
- It might be too thick for others
- It has a chemical smell
- It can look patchy if the skin is not prepped
Best for Dry Skin: Too Faced Born This Way Foundation
Dry skin can be tricky to apply foundation to, as moisture needs to penetrate it to have a soft, healthy appearance. If the skin is not moisturized well, the foundation appears to sit on top of the skin, resulting in a blotchy, too-obvious look.
A thick, oily foundation is not comfortable to wear either, even as it seals hydration in. Even more frustrating, removing it afterward can make the screen drier than before.
Too Faced Born This Way Foundation is a product that addresses dry skin concerns. Alpine rose extract makes skin look more radiant, coconut water provides hydration, and hyaluronic acid smoothens and helps to keep moisture in to maintain a youthful appearance.
In addition, it has medium to full coverage to cover up acne scars, freckles, and other imperfections.
- Medium to full coverage but is undetectable, much like a second skin
- Lightweight and recommended for daily wear
- Oil-free and easy to blend
- Slightly expensive than other brands
- Paler shades can turn orangey (oxidize)
- It can look patchy when skin is not moisturized ahead
Best for Normal/Dry Skin: Nyx Stay Matte But Not Flat Liquid Foundation
Water-based foundation? Check! Mineral-enriched? Check! Inexpensive and easy to find? Check, check! This drugstore find is lightweight, does not irritate sensitive skin, and gives you medium coverage. It’s definitely among the cheapest products that we can find that still gives us a good performance.
- Blends nicely
- Looks natural, not pasty or ghostlike (for paler shades)
- Not recommended for aging skin, as it settles into the lines
- It needs to be shaken each use (the product somehow separates when undisturbed)
- Best used with mattifying powders to maximize the effect
Water-based vs Waterproof
Have you wondered if a water-based foundation is also waterproof, or vice-versa? Well, that is not always the case, as some water-based foundations are so light and sheer, they are easily washed off or sweated off. To check if your water-based foundation is also waterproof, read the product label. Our choices above are mostly water and sweatproof so you can have peace of mind while wearing your foundation.
War of the Bases: Water-Based Versus Silicone-Based Versus Oil-Based Foundations
Okay, so we have pretty much explained what water-based foundations are. How about silicone-based and oil based-ones? What difference does it make when you wear them?
A silicone-based foundation is excellent for when you want a smooth surface. For example, acne marks or marks made by chickenpox or other diseases, scars, and other blemishes-all are addressed by a silicone-based foundation, as it “fills in” the pores allowing for a smoother surface.
Silicone also helps to control oil production, but not all people are comfortable wearing silicon-based products. You will know if a product is silicone-based if the ingredients at the beginning of the list have affixes like -cone and -siloxane.
Oil-based foundations are thicker than other formulas, but they are not as greasy as you think. Instead, they lend a healthy glow to parched, dry skin when applied properly. Your foundation is oil-based if they contain any oils from plants or mineral oil as the main ingredient.
Tips on Wearing Your Water-based Foundation
You have picked up one or two foundations that you think will fit your needs. Now here’s how to maximize your product and your money:
- Invest in a good moisturizer.
- Use a primer.
- Go for a setting powder or spray.
- Blotting paper to the rescue!
Invest In a Good Moisturizer
Depending on your skin type, your skin needs to be adequately moisturized for makeup products to stay. Proper moisturization does not mean slicking up your face in lots of face creams or following a ten-step routine-you simply have to use a product that addresses your skin’s needs.
A well-moisturized skin is the best base for makeup and allows you to get the best results from the products you apply to it. Use a moisturizer that helps minimize oil if you are oily, a hydrating one if you have dry skin, and one for combination skin if you have an oily T-zone and dry cheeks.
Use a Primer
Don’t skip this step, especially if you want your makeup to last long and you can’t do a lot of touch-ups. Instead, use a water-based primer. Silicon-based and oil-based primers won’t work well with your waterproof foundation, resulting in a splotchy face or an overly shiny one after a few hours of application.
Go for a Setting Powder or Spray
After putting on your primer and foundation together, a setting powder or a spray will help your look last much longer. Doing this is particularly true when wearing full-coverage makeup. This step also minimizes product transfer to other surfaces (like your face mask, perhaps).
Blotting Paper to the Rescue
Sometimes, touching up with loose or pressed powder makes you pile up the product on your face, which will eventually lead to a cakey look. Blotting papers remove the excess oil and do not move your makeup underneath, unlike a sponge does.
Keep a stash in your purse to keep your foundation looking fresh. A bonus: it does not spill or transfer to clothes and takes up so little space in your bag! Try NYX Cosmetics Green Tea Face Blotting Paper 100 Sheets or Zorom’s Natural Oil-absorbing Sheets. You can just throw them in your purse so you always have them when you need them!
Our Top Three Water-based Foundation Picks
- COVERGIRL Outlast Active Foundation: A no-nonsense, won’t budge water-based (and waterproof) foundation that won’t burn a hole in your pocket.
- Too Faced Born This Way Foundation: Moisture and coverage all in one good product.
- Clinique Even Better Makeup: For when you’re feeling fancy, feel like primping up, and want to minimize dark spots.
Question: What are the benefits of using a water-based foundation?
Answer: Water-based foundations are the gentle choice for sensitive, acne-prone skin. They moisturize and hydrate without clogging pores, and some even contain acne-fighting ingredients that soothe skin and fight bacteria.
Water-based foundations work well with dry skin, combination, and normal skin too. They look more natural, like your skin but better.
Question: Can I use an oil-based primer with my water-based foundation?
Answer: No. It would likely result in a disaster. Oil and water don’t mix, and these two products will repel each other and don’t give you a look you are going for.
Instead, as suggested, use an oil-based primer for an oil-based foundation, water-based primer for water-based foundations, and silicone-based primer for silicone-based foundations. That way, you are sure that the products are working together well.
Question: I can’t tell if the foundation I bought is water-based, and it lists the main ingredient as aqua. How do I find it out?
Answer: Do these two things: First, read the product description. Does it say “hydration,” “aqua gel,” and related words? If it does, it is probably water-based.
Second, apply it to your skin. Does it feel lightweight? Does it have a soft, smooth, and dewy after-feel? Or is it matte but still feels like skin? Again, chances are it’s water-based.
Question: I’m using a water-based foundation, but my face is still oily. What could be causing the problem?
Answer: You could be using other products that are incompatible with your water-based moisturizer. Check your moisturizer and primer if they are water-based, like your foundation.
Question: My water-based foundation has a good look and feel, but it makes my skin irritated. Should I ditch it?
Answer: Yes. There might be additives in your foundation that upset your skin, like certain plant extracts and other chemicals. Try switching to another milder product instead.
Question: My water-based foundation doesn’t work well in the winter. Can I switch to an oil-based one and switch back forth during the summer months?
Answer: Yes. Our skin’s needs vary from season to season, so feel free to adjust your foundation type accordingly.
Question: I want to use a water-based foundation, but I need more coverage. Is there a product that can hide my flaws without irritating my skin?
Answer: Yes, there is a wide range of water-based foundations with full coverage, calming to the skin. A lot of them contain aloe vera, fruit extracts, and other good stuff for your skin, so you’re not just applying makeup; you have skincare benefits as well!
Wrapping Up: Our Final Thoughts
Water-based foundations are a great way to amp up your skin’s hydration and get a fresh, lightweight finish that one cannot readily achieve with other foundation types. Most water-based foundations are now infused with skincare ingredients that nourish your skin while giving you the coverage and finish that you want.
As water-based foundations are evolving, their use is no longer limited to those with oily or dry skin-combination skin is also being addressed with potent formulas that keep oil production down while providing skin-loving moisture. Of all the foundations we mentioned, our favorite has to be the Clinique Even Better Makeup. With its inclusive shade range, impressive moisturizing properties, and relatively affordable price-point, it’s a clear winner in our books.
So go ahead and try your hand at a water-based foundation. Their lightweight formulas and finish might be just the ones that you needed to complete your makeup routine!