Finding your holy grail foundation is almost as tricky as finding your perfect shade match. But with their lightweight, buildable formulas that give a glowy — never greasy — finish, the best water-based foundations are a foolproof option for just about anyone. To find out how to choose the right one for your skin type, keep reading.
How To Identify A Water-Based Foundation
While some foundations may call out that they're water based, when in doubt, turn your attention to the ingredients list. It’s quite simple: If water is listed as the first ingredient, that’s how you’ll know it’s water based. From there, you can look out for other ingredients you either want, or want to avoid.
What To Consider When Shopping A Water-Based Foundation
People with dry skin will want to look for a water-based foundation that includes hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, pro-vitamin B5 (also listed as panthenol), and aloe vera extract. A water-based formula that calls itself a "serum foundation" is another good indicator that you'll be getting lightweight coverage with plenty of good-for-skin ingredients. Meanwhile, oily and acne-prone skin types will want to go for a water-based foundation that’s noncomedogenic and mattifying (two things that will usually be indicated right on the label).
If you're sensitive to silicones, you should be wary of anything towards the top of the ingredients list that ends in "-cone," "-conol," or "-siloxane." Oily and acne-prone skin types may want to avoid water-based foundations that contain oils, and instead, look for oil-absorbing ingredients like clay, rice starch, and silica.
Shop The Best Water-Based Foundations
In a hurry? Here are the best water-based foundations:
1. Best Water-Based Serum Foundation: L'Oréal Paris True Match Hyaluronic Tinted Serum
2. Best Water-Based Foundation For Dry Skin: IT Cosmetics Your Skin But Better Foundation + Skincare
3. Best Water-Based Foundation For Acne-Prone Skin: Maybelline Fit Me Matte + Poreless Foundation
4. Best Water-Based Foundation That's Silicone-Free: ILIA Super Serum Skin Tint SPF 40
5. Best Water-Based Foundation That’s Waterproof: Urban Decay Stay Naked Weightless Liquid Foundation
1. Editor’s Pick
“I’ve never met a drugstore foundation that I like — until now. L'Oréal’s True Match Hyaluronic Tinted Serum is a water-light, serum/foundation hybrid that feels like it disappears right into your skin — once it dries down (which happens almost immediately), it’s like you’re not wearing anything on your face at all. But its coverage is actually pretty impressive, and you only need a few drops to even out and color-correct your whole face. It’s enriched with hyaluronic acid to deliver plenty of moisture to your skin, and you can apply it both under and over sunscreen without worrying about it pilling. If you, like me, hate most foundations because you find them too heavy or greasy, you need to give this a try.” — Adeline Duff, Bustle beauty editor
Coverage: Light Finish: Natural Available Shades: 14 Noteworthy Ingredients: Hyaluronic Acid, Vitamin E Size: 1 oz. Cruelty-Free: No
2. Best Water-Based Foundation For Dry Skin
For a more traditional formula that offers more coverage and doesn't skimp on the skin care benefits, there's IT Cosmetics Your Skin But Better Foundation + Skincare. Available in 40 shades, the foundation offers buildable, medium coverage but still feels relatively weightless, while micro-fine pearl powder provides a radiant finish. On the skin care front, you'll find a mix of hydrating and antioxidant-rich ingredients like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, and pro-vitamin B5 in here.
Coverage: Medium Finish: Natural Available Shades: 40 Noteworthy Ingredients: Hyaluronic Acid, Aloe Vera Extract, Vitamin E, Pro-Vitamin B5 Size: 1 oz. Cruelty-Free: Yes
3. Best Water-Based Foundation For Oily Skin
With nearly 70,000 five-star ratings on Amazon, this drugstore foundation is a fan favorite for its easily blendable formula that mattifies oily skin without causing breakouts. Some other highlights: It’s fragrance-free, oil-free, noncomedogenic, and — best of all — costs just $5 on Amazon. Plus, it’s made with oil-absorbing ingredients like nylon-12 and silica, the latter of which also serves as a pore-blurring micro-powder.
Coverage: Medium Finish: Matte Available Shades: 40 Noteworthy Ingredients: Vitamin E, Silica Size: 1 oz. Cruelty-Free: No
4. Best Water-Based Foundation That’s Waterproof
For a foundation that holds up no matter what the day brings, you'll want a waterproof formula like Urban Decay’s Stay Naked Weightless Liquid Foundation. It’s completely budge-proof, yet entirely customizable when it comes to how much coverage you get. The brand suggests using a fluffy tapered brush for light coverage, a more densely packed powder brush for medium coverage, and an even more densely packed tapered brush for full coverage (you can, of course, apply this with a makeup sponge, too). Ingredients like silica and Moroccan lava clay give the foundation a matte finish that's helpful for keeping shine at bay. You can expect up to 24 hours of wear time with this long-lasting, vegan foundation.
Coverage: Medium Finish: Matte Available Shades: 47 Noteworthy Ingredients: Vitamin E, Moroccan Lava Clay Size: 1 oz. Cruelty-Free: Yes
5. Best Water-Based Foundation That’s Silicone-Free
If you're all about streamlining your morning routine, ILIA’s Super Serum Skin Tint SPF 40 combines all of your a.m. skin care and base makeup steps into one. To cover all of your skin care bases, ILIA's formula includes the mineral sunscreen zinc oxide as well as squalane, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide to hydrate your skin and decrease signs of inflammation. Then there's the makeup component, which is a lightweight tint that gives your skin a healthy, dewy glow. This water-based foundation is also a solid choice for anyone with skin sensitivities, as it's noncomedogenic and made without silicones, fragrances, and oils.
Coverage: Light Finish: Dewy Available Shades: 29 Noteworthy Ingredients: Zinc Oxide, Squalane, Shea Butter, Niacinamide Size: 1 oz. Cruelty-Free: Yes
6. Best Shade Range
With nearly 100 shades to choose from and a full-coverage formula, PÜR’s 4-In-1 Love Your Selfie Longwear Foundation & Concealer is worth shouting out. It comes with a doe-foot applicator for more targeted concealing (e.g. if you have unwanted blemishes or dark spots), as well as a pump-top dispenser for the traditional, all-over coverage of a foundation. The brand's own complex — which is a blend of encapsulated retinol, lactic acid, shea butter, and a ceramide — works to improve your skin’s tone and texture, while antioxidant-rich ingredients like green tea and ginseng help boost hydration.
Coverage: Full Finish: Matte Available Shades: 96 Noteworthy Ingredients: Ginseng Root Extract, Green Tea Leaf Extract, Pro-Vitamin B5, Sunflower Seed Oil Size: 1 oz. Cruelty-Free: Yes
About The Author:
Marissa DeSantis has worked as a beauty writer for nearly 10 years. Her pieces can be found across print and digital publications like Bustle Digital Group, Evening Standard, Teen Vogue, and InStyle.