Silicone-Based vs. Water-Based Makeup: Which One Is Better?

Silicone-Based vs. Water-Based Makeup: Which One Is Better? featured image
Getty Images / Rosdiana Ciaravolo / Contributor

When it comes to makeup formulas, two types reign supreme: silicone-based and water-based.

How your makeup feels when you apply it and how long it will last are largely determined by how your products are categorized between the two. So what’s the difference, and—more importantly—which one should you be using?

To answer those questions, we turned to the experts. Below, they break down the differences between silicone-based and water-based makeup while also giving tips on how to use each product. Read on to learn more. 

  • Charlene Valledor is a cosmetic chemist and the president and co-founder of SOS Beauty
  • Andrea Tiller is a celebrity makeup artist

Silicone-Based vs. Water-Based Makeup

Cosmetic chemist and president and co-founder of SOS Beauty Charlene Valledor says that generally, silicone-based formulas tend to have a richer full-body consistency, and they can have a pore-blurring effect to give you a smooth and even texture. Water-based formulas, on the other hand, are more lightweight and can feel refreshing and cooling on the skin. She says they can also serve as a better delivery system for active ingredients to provide skin-care benefits. 

While complexion products such as primers and foundation are usually the focus of conversation when talking about silicone-based and water-based makeup products, she says that eyeshadows, blushes and other makeup can also be categorized between the two. 

To tell whether something is water-based or silicone-based, you can look to the ingredient list. Though it won’t tell you the whole story, it will guide you in the right direction. She says ingredients that end in -siloxane or -cone that are named in first or second in the list are clues that the formula is silicone-based. If non-silicone ingredients and water are listed first or second, then it’s likely to be a water-based formula.

The Pros (and Cons) of Silicone-Based Makeup

According to Valledor, the main benefit of a silicone-based formula is its ability to provide full and even coverage. Silicone-based makeup tends to be thicker and made with ingredients that help prolong its wear, making it ideal for events where you need your makeup look to last (e.g. red carpet, weddings or any other fancy soirées on your social cal) or if you’re just looking to even out your skin’s texture

But typically, silicone-based makeup tends to be heavy on the skin and might clog pores. It’s not ideal for those with acne-prone or sensitive skin.

The Pros (and Cons) of Water-Based Makeup

Water-based makeup is great for those looking for that “no makeup makeup look.” Valledor explains that these formulas tend to be lighter in texture and can help add moisture to the skin while giving that natural-looking coverage. Celebrity makeup artist Andrea Tiller recommends water-based makeup for those prone to breakouts or with dry skin, as it is packed with gentle and hydrating ingredients. “The formulas usually have skin-loving ingredients that help achieve the moisturized look,” she says. 

One of the major cons to water-based makeup is that it might not last as long as anything that is silicone-based. Because of its lightweight nature, it will need to be touched up more often. So, if you’re looking for something that will last for hours, water-based products might not be the best fit. 

How to Wear Each 

Valledor says that ideally, you pair silicone-based products with other silicone-based products and the same goes for anything water-based. “This will minimize the chances of pilling, separation and compromised wear on the skin,” she says. 

Next, you have to consider what occasion you’re wearing makeup for. Tiller says that if you’re looking for something lightweight for everyday wear, water-based makeup like foundation will be gentle enough to wear often. Some of her favorite products include the classic Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Primer ($38), which is a silicone-free formulation that will lock in your makeup looks, and the Chanel Les Beiges Water-Fresh Tint ($70), a hydrating skin tint to give you that dewy glow. 





As mentioned above, silicone-based makeup is ideal for when you want your makeup look to last all day or night. Tiller recommends using something like the Smashbox Photo Finish Primer ($42) to not only lock in makeup but also reduce excess oil and shine on your face. For full coverage, she likes the Estee Lauder Double Wear Foundation ($52). 






But with today’s market, Valledor says these differences are getting more minimal as formulations get tweaked and improved. You’ll find that these lines between silicone-based and water-based makeup get more blurred. “There are really great water-based formulas that have great wear, and there are also examples of silicone-based formulas that are lightweight and natural,” she says. So the best way to find the right one for you and your needs is to test out as many as you can until you find one that fits. 

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