Just like natural redheads or a parking spot in Manhattan (street, not garage), water-based primers are rare, but they do exist. And they’re worth tracking down. Unlike the silicone- or oil-based majority, the best water-based primers feel weightless and hydrating on skin, and they don’t run as much a risk of clogging your pores and triggering breakouts. But they’ll still behave like a good primer should: I.e., establish a smooth base for your makeup to glide over nicely, and cling to all day (and night). The best ones typically provide some additional skin care benefits, as well.
Another point of differentiation between water- and silicone-based primers is that the former tend to impart a dewier, glowier finish, rather than the powdery finish for which silicone primers are known. That said, they may not be as effective at minimizing the appearance of enlarged pores or thoroughly absorbing excess oil, since they can’t “spackle” quite like silicone can. But if you have dry, sensitive skin in particular, or if you just prefer a slightly more natural look, then these are all points in a water-based primer’s favor.
Scroll on to shop six of the best water-based primers on the market right now, all of which are available on Amazon — and refreshingly easy to get your hands on.
1. The Best Mattifying Primer
Turns out, water-based mattifying primers are a thing (I was as shocked as you are to learn this), which is great news for people with combination skin. This Honest Beauty matte primer is an especially good choice if you’re looking for something that's relatively “clean.” In lieu of silicone, micronized bamboo powder works to absorb excess oil and impart a slightly blurred, soft-focus effect, but it won't dry out your skin. Don’t be alarmed by the presence of silica in here, by the way — it’s the powdered mineral from which silicone is derived, and it’s neither as potentially comedogenic nor environmentally unfriendly as its synthetic derivative is. And like all Honest Beauty products, this primer is free of parabens, phthalates, dyes, synthetic fragrances, and silicones. But you already knew about that last one.
2. The Best Moisturizing Primer
All the primers on this list are inherently more hydrating than silicone-based primers. But this KORRES priming moisturizer is probably the best choice for people who have very dry or dehydrated skin, and/or don’t use primers because of the “why burden myself with another product/step in my skin care routine” factor. This one's a true multitasker: In addition to prepping your skin for makeup, ingredients like hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, and jojoba oil promise to keep your skin moisturized for a full 24 hours. Antioxidant-rich wild rose oil and turmeric work to immediately brighten and rejuvenate tired skin too — undoubtedly a good thing, whether you follow this up with foundation or not. And you may not want to!
3. The Best Priming Stick
Yet another primer that may convince skeptics otherwise: This priming balm from e.l.f. The hands-free stick packaging makes application convenient, mess-free, and, dare I say, a mildly meditative experience. Shea butter, cocoa, and aloe give this creamy formula its smooth glide, plus lots of nourishment and hydration for your skin. While we’re on the topic of easy-to-apply priming vehicles, e.l.f. also makes a water-based priming mist — doubly rare, considering that it’s also mattifying. But also somehow refreshing. It's a unicorn.
4. The Best Serum/Primer Duo
The ingredients list for this REN primer reads more like a skin care product than makeup, so you can feel good about using it every day, whether you decide to put makeup on top of it or not. In here, hyaluronic acid plumps and hydrates, citric and lactic acids gently exfoliate, and probiotics help fortify your skin's natural protective barrier. All very serum-esque. On the priming front, agave extract replaces silicone to impart a soft, matte finish and boost your makeup’s longevity. Amazon reviewers with sensitive, acne-prone, and reactive skin have all found success with this genius hybrid.
5. The Best Rosewater-Based Primer
Rather than straight-up water, this Touch In Sol primer contains rosewater as its base ingredient. Other than fanciness, rosewater is known for its myriad skin benefits, which include soothing irritation and quelling redness. Rose oil compounds all those benefits, and also gives the formula its unique “water oil” consistency. There are lots of ways to use this K-beauty favorite, beyond the obvious. Some ideas: Run a few drops through dry hair, mix it with your sunscreen or moisturizer, or use it to help combat unwanted scarring anywhere on your face or body (the niacinamide in the formula will help with this).
6. The Best Aloe Vera Juice-Based Primer
I’m cheating a little with this INIKA primer, since it technically isn’t water-based — the first ingredient is actually aloe vera juice, which is amazing for your skin. It's free of silicones, and thanks to the aloe vera juice (and water) in the formula, it's just as hydrating as any other primer on this list. Another selling point? 83% of the ingredients are certified organic. Just too good not to tell you about. This, too, can double as skin care, since it contains other beneficial ingredients like vitamin E, hyaluronic acid, lactic acid, and noncomedogenic, plant-based oils. So in addition to improving your makeup’s smoothness and lasting power, your skin itself will look firmer, brighter, and feel more nourished. It’s definitely pricey, but this gets nearly perfect reviews around the internet and beyond. Plus, fans say a little goes a long way, so you’ll get more use out of this tube than you may think.