The Difference Between Water-Based and Silicone-Based Foundation & How To Pick The Right One

Water-Based Foundations vs. Silicone-Based Foundations - What's The Difference

When choosing a makeup foundation, we often focus on its finish or its coverage. We want to know how much it’s going to help cover up skin imperfections or whether it’s going to look natural or matte. However, there’s an overlooked aspect that may be the key to finding the right foundation for your skin type and needs. And it’s the base of your foundation. Foundations can be silicone-based or water-based.

And that alone tells a lot about what kind of texture it will have, how much coverage it’s going to give, and how well it will work for your skin type. And that’s what this guide’s about. If you’ve failed to find the right foundation for your skin type or ended up frustrated by the results, here’s a new way to go about finding the right one for your skin. Keep reading to learn about the differences between silicone-based and water-based foundations, and how to pick the right one for you.

What is a Water-Based Foundation?

A water-based foundation is a foundation that has a water base. Water-based foundations usually contain hydrating ingredients and not just water. They contain water or water-like substances such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin, or aloe juice right at the top of the ingredient list.

But know that water-based does not mean it’s all formulated with water or water-based substances. It just means that the water content is higher and the foundation is primarily formulated around these ingredients. That means a water-based foundation can still contain silicones. It just means silicones are really low in concentration.

Consistency & Coverage

Water-based foundations tend to have a runny texture and liquid consistency. Water-based foundations usually have low to medium coverage. Most of them have a natural or dewy finish.

Key Benefits

Water-based foundations are usually hydrating for the skin. They blend easily and give you natural-looking makeup. They don’t feel heavy on the skin and have a more ‘breathable’ consistency.

They’re non-comedogenic and non-acnegenic, meaning that they won’t clog pores or cause acne. They’re also easier to remove.

Ideal Skin Type

Water-based foundations are ideal for all skin types. People with oily and acne-prone skin can find water-based foundations to be more convenient as they won’t clog pores or worsen acne.

People with dry skin can find these types of foundations more hydrating and less flaky. And people with sensitive skin will benefit from water-based foundations as they are more skin-friendly and feel lightweight.

Ideal Primer

If you’re using a water-based foundation, you need to pair it with a water-based primer. Otherwise, a silicone-based primer will make it very difficult to blend your water-based foundation into the skin and you’ll probably end up with less coverage than you’re supposed to get as well as a patchy-looking base.

Water-Based Foundation Example

A good example of a water-based foundation is Ilia Super Serum Skin Tint. It’s silicone-free and oil-free. It’s incredibly light and when you check the ingredients, you’ll see that it contains hydrating ingredients like squalene, hyaluronic acid, and aloe. And as you can guess, it gives you light coverage and a natural finish.

What is a Silicone-Based Foundation?

Silicone-based foundations are foundations that have high silicone content. That means that the primary ingredients revolve around silicones.

Again, a silicone-based foundation can still contain water or water-like substances. But the silicone content outweighs the water content.

Consistency & Coverage

Silicone-based foundations, whether they’re liquid or stick, usually have a creamier consistency. They usually have medium to full coverage and can come in different finishes such as matte or natural. When applied, they leave a soft, velvety feel on the skin.

Key Benefits

The most important benefit of a silicone-based foundation is its ability to blur skin imperfections and texture irregularities and mattify skin.

Because silicones have a smoothing effect on the skin, which helps with anything from large pores to wrinkles. Also, silicone-based foundations tend to be longer lasting than water-based foundations. And most water-proof foundations are silicone-based.

Ideal Skin Type

Silicone-based foundations are ideal for all skin types and anyone looking for a flawless base. However, certain skin types benefit from them the most. People with oily skin can use silicone-based foundations to blur and smooth out pores.

People with mature, aging skin can use silicone-based foundations to smooth out wrinkles. Because silicones may sometimes feel heavy on the skin, people with sensitive skin can find these types of foundations to be difficult to work with.

Ideal Primer

If you’re using a silicone-based foundation, using a silicone-based primer will give you the best results. However, you can still use a water-based primer underneath a silicone-based foundation. This pairing is not as problematic as you might see in the case of water-based foundations.

Silicone-Based Foundation Example

A good example of a silicone-based foundation is Estee Lauder Double Wear Stay-in-Place Foundation. This is a waterproof, long-lasting, full-coverage foundation. When you check the ingredients list, you’ll see that it starts with lots of silicones. It’s a great option for oily skin too because it’s oil-free.

How To Tell If Your Foundation Is Water-Based or Silicone-Based

There are a couple of ways to tell if a foundation is silicone-based or water-based. Here they are.

1. Check the product description.

Even though you won’t see the label ‘silicone-based’ on a foundation, in some cases, you may come across the label ‘water-based’ on a foundation. That’s one way to know the base of your foundation.

Additionally, you may see foundations labeled ‘silicone-free’. That means your foundation is water-based but may contain certain oils to achieve the blurring effects of silicones without actually using them.

The definitive way to know if a foundation is water-based is to make sure it’s labeled silicone-free and oil-free.

2. Check the ingredients list.

The first ten ingredients of a foundation tell a lot about its base. So that’s how you can know. If a significant number of ingredients are silicones, such as dimethicone, or cyclomethicone, or anything that ends with -one or -ane, it means your foundation is silicone based.

A common mistake people make is to look at only the first ingredient. When you see water as the first ingredient, don’t assume that it’s water-based. Water will always be there! You need to look at the first ten ingredients to get the whole picture.

How About Oil-Based Foundations?

Actually, there’s no such thing as an oil-based foundation. There are, however, tinted face oils and products that work as foundation alternatives. The term oil-based foundation became popular after Kosas launched their Tinted Face Oil, which is not really a foundation.

What most people refer to as an oil-based foundation is actually a silicone-based foundation that also contains oils. These are plant oils such as avocado oil or sunflower seed oil that work to moisturize and nourish the skin.

These types of foundations tend to have a heavier, creamier consistency. And because of the presence of oils, they’re better for people with dry skin. Most cream foundations that come in a pan are usually high in silicones and oils.

Oil-based options can feel really heavy on the skin and clog your pores. If you’re looking for a silicone-based foundation and don’t want any oils in your foundation, just look for the label oil-free.

How To Choose Between Water-Based and Silicone-Based Foundation

1. Determine Your Skin Type

When choosing a foundation, the first thing you should keep in mind is your skin type. If you have oily skin, a silicone-based, oil-free foundation will be the better choice. It won’t clog pores but it will keep your complexion matte and help you minimize the appearance of pores.

If you have dry skin, consider water-based foundations for a hydrating, blendable, non-flaky makeup look. You can also go for silicone-based foundations that contain oils or that have a dewy finish.

2. Choose The Right Coverage

When choosing between water or silicone foundations, consider what kind of coverage you expect from it too.

If you regularly wear makeup and a flawless base is a must for you, definitely go for silicone-based foundations, which tend to last longer too. They’re better for concealing acne, bumpy skin texture, and large pores.

On the other hand, if you don’t need a lot of coverage, look for lightweight, preferably water-based foundations that have light to medium coverage with a natural finish.

3. Look at The Ingredients List

It doesn’t end with silicones and water. When choosing a foundation, make sure to look at the other ingredients too. For example, if you have sensitive skin, it’s a good idea to make sure your foundation is fragrance-free.

If you’re prone to acne, it’s better to make sure your foundation is labeled non-acnegenic. Similarly, if you have dry skin, you want to make sure your foundation contains lots of hydrating and moisturizing ingredients so it doesn’t look flaky on the skin.

The Takeaway

Finding the right foundation is one of the most difficult steps of makeup selection. There’s coverage, base, shade range, finish, longevity, formulation, and so much more. And it gets confusing as to where to start. So if you’re feeling a bit lost and overwhelmed, the base of your foundation is a good place to start. Depending on your needs, you can choose between a water-based foundation and a silicone-based foundation and work from there.

Read Next: The Best Skin Tints

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