A Guide to Water-Based Makeup

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Ever since I started wearing makeup at the wee age of 13, my biggest struggle has been pilling and caking with my face products. Whether I was using hydrating foundations, blurring primers or lightweight skin tints, I’ve always had issues with my makeup just not sitting well on my face, and for a while I convinced myself I was the problem.

That was, however, until I stumbled across a TikTok explaining that if you want your makeup to look flawless, you need to use all water-based or all silicone-based products to ensure all your products—primer, concealer, foundation, the whole works—are not counteracting each other. But what does it even mean for makeup to be water based? In search of a more well-rounded understanding of the science of face makeup, I consulted experts to find out just what water-based makeup is, who it’s best for and even their favorite products that fall in the H2O-based category.

Featured Experts

  • D’Andre Michael is a celebrity makeup artist and aesthetician
  • Nydia Figeuora is a celebrity makeup artist and beauty expert
  • Sandy Linter is a renowned celebrity makeup artist

What Is Water Based Makeup?

While this may seem like an overly simple question, water-based makeup is more complex than just having water as a primary ingredient. As celebrity makeup artist and aesthetician, D’Andre Michael explains, water-based makeup has more specific implications for what ingredients are included in the formulas than just featuring water. “Water-based makeup means that water is the first and main ingredient in the product and that there are no silicones or oils within the next four to five ingredients,” Michael clarifies. So, if you’re sensitive to or avoiding silicones in your beauty products, looking for water-based formulas might be something to consider.

My journey into the world of makeup formulas may have started with my issues with face makeup, but I soon found out that water-based products are not limited to complexion products. As Michael explains, anything from foundation and concealer to mascaras and balm-like blushes can all be water-based.

Who Is Water-Based Makeup Best For?

As I mentioned earlier, I found out recently that making sure your face products have the same base is a key component in avoiding pilling and caking, but how do you decide if you should use water-based or silicone-based makeup products? As Michael explains, “Water-based products are best for individuals with dry, combination or sensitive skin, as well as for those who are prone to acne and breakouts because water-based products are lightweight and won’t clog your pores. If you like to maintain an overall moisturized look, too, a lot off these formulas are packed with a lot of nourishing ingredients for creating that dewy, glowy look.”

Celebrity makeup artist Sandy Linter loves water-based makeup products because of the natural appearance and glow they provide the skin. If you’re a fan of lightweight, natural-looking makeup, Linter recommends water-based products as they feel fresh and light on the skin and provide a gorgeous, natural radiance to the complexion. “Water-based makeup is important for someone with sensitive skin because it is less likely to clog pores and irritate the skin,” reiterates makeup artist Nydia Figueroa. “It’s great for someone who wants a natural and lightweight finish to their overall makeup look while still letting the skin breathe.”

Should I Use All Water-Based Products?

While TikTok can provide useful information on beauty, it’s always better to check with the experts before adopting any advice as law. As Michael explains, when it comes to the bases of your makeup products, there’s no set “rule” for whether or not you should be using entirely water-based or silicone-based products, but keeping the bases consistent can definitely help with the way the product sits on your skin.

It is possible to mix products with different bases, Michael explains, with the right technique. “To avoid ‘pilling’this happens when you layer products that are too heavy or too thick and not absorbed—when you apply a water-based primer, give it time to properly absorb and dry before putting on your silicone-based foundation. Another tip is to try ‘bouncing’ your foundation in, which is essentially tapping your foundation on with your fingers or a beautyblender as opposed to wiping.”

Figueroa adds that “Sometimes if you do use a water-based primer under a silicone-based foundation it can cause that formula to ball up and separate on the skin, so my best tip is to let the primer dry before applying the foundation for the best results.”

The Best Water-Based Makeup Products, According to Experts

Now that you know all the ins and outs of water-based makeup products, here are some of our experts’ favorite products that tote water as their hero ingredient.

1 / 9

Chanel Les Beiges Water-Fresh Tint ($70)

When it comes to water-based products, Linter’s favorite is Chanel’s Les Beiges Water-Fresh Tint. Linter describes the product as both “modern and effective,” and loves how the micro-droplet pigments provide a fresh, lightweight, natural wash of color and coverage.



2 / 9

Chanel Les Beiges Water-Fresh Blush ($52)

Another one of Linter’s favorites, Chanel Les Beiges Water-Fresh Blush utilizes the same skin-enhancing micro-droplets in their innovative blush formula, adding a lightweight, natural flush of color for that perfect, no-makeup makeup aesthetic we all love so much.



3 / 9

Lancôme Teint Idole Ultra Wear Foundation ($57)

Packed with skin-enhancing ingredients like hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, moringa and prebiotics, Lancôme’s Teint Idole Ultra Wear Foundation is beloved by Michael and users everywhere for its breathable but long-lasting (we’re talking 24 hours) wear, its natural-matte finish and it’s humidity-resistant formula.



4 / 9

KOH GEN DO Maifanshi Aqua Liquid Foundation ($96)

Enriched with French sea minerals, gloss film powder, moist drop powder and T3 oil, KOH GEN DO’s liquid foundation is backed by 70 percent moisture-maintaining ingredients, making it a must-have for users with dry skin who are looking for that natural, skin-like glow.



5 / 9

L’Oréal Paris Voluminous Original Mascara ($11)

When it comes to water-based eye makeup products, one of Michael’s favorites is L’Oréal Paris’ Voluminous Original Mascara. Affordable and effective, this water-based mascara is formulated to improve lash thickness by five times their original density, and it comes in an array of colors (colored mascara is so in right now).



6 / 9

Thrive Causemetics Liquid Lash Extension Mascara ($26)

The 2024 NewBeauty Award Winner for Best Tubing Mascara, Michael also loves Thrive Causemetics’ Liquid Lash Extension Mascara as much as we do. Water-resistant and available in six shades, Thrive’s game-changing tubing mascara provides next-level length and volume with long wear and easy removal.


7 / 9

Tatcha The Liquid Silk Canvas ($54)

When it comes to water-based primers, Michael loves Tatcha’s Liquid Silk Canvas, a multi-tasking, protective and skin-enhancing primer that features silk extracts, botanicals and natural anti-pollution actives, all of which help the product to improve skin’s appearance instantly and over time. In fact, in clinical trials, 90 percent of users saw an improvement in wrinkles and 98 percent saw a decreased appearance of fine lines within two weeks of use.



8 / 9

Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Primer ($38)

Milk’s Hydro Grip Primer went ultra-viral across social media for its product-gripping formula and ability to secure product to the skin for hours on end, but its water-based formula also makes it one of Michael’s favorites when it comes to hydrating, lightweight primers that create a dewy, skin-loving finish.



9 / 9

Saie Glowy Super Gel ($28)

Perfect for wear on its own or under foundation, Saie’s Super Gel provides unmatched glow with a barely there sensation, making it the best of both worlds.



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