"If somebody has general hydration issues or just want their makeup to feel better on their skin, then a water-based primer is absolutely the way to go," says makeup artist Mary Irwin. These types of products are made with water (as opposed to silicone-based primers, which are—obviously—made with silicone), and pros suggest looking for formulas that include hydrating ingredients like fatty acids, jojoba oil, or hyaluronic acid. "If you're using nourishing ingredients like that, it'll help to prevent makeup from sinking in and fading during the day, and it keeps makeup looking freshly applied because it doesn't evaporate as fast as a water-based moisturizer does," makeup artist Jenny Patinkin previously told Well+Good.
Unlike silicone-based products, which can cause irritation, clog your pores, and trigger breakouts, water-based primers are generally A-OK to use on all skin types. "Water-based ultimately means the first ingredient or two is water, which allows for the product to be really fluid on the skin, and is usually tolerable for sensitive skin," says Neil Scibelli, a makeup artist in New York City.
The other thing that makeup artists love about water-based primers is the fact that they're so versatile and can be used under any type of foundation without the worry of flaking or pilling. "You also can put almost anything on top of the water-based primer if it's the right formula, as opposed to a silicon-based formula," says Irwin. "If you have a silicone-based formula and you put a water-based foundation over the top of it, they're going to fight because the formulations aren't designed to work together."
The only time you might want to opt for a silicone-based primer over a water-based one is if you have issues with makeup settling into your pores. "In that case, you'll want something that's going to fill in the pores temporarily to make the makeup stay on top of your skin," says Irwin.
Convinced you need to try one for yourself? Shop 12 of the best water-based primers, below.
12 best water-based primers
Both Irwin and fellow makeup artist Melissa Hurkman recommend this primer from Milk Makeup. “This has been a fan favorite all over Tiktok for a clean primer that keeps your makeup on all day without any budging whatsoever,” says Hurkman. “The trick with this primer is to let it dry down on the skin before applying any other products over top to avoid any movement.”
“One of my longtime favorite makeup primers with sunscreen is EltaMD’s UV glow,” says Scibelli. “It is water-based, as well as skin-care-infused—with ingredients like niacinamide to calm redness and inflammation as well as aloe leaf and coconut fruit extract. EltaMD uses transparent zinc oxide which is a bonus for makeup lovers because the formula dries clear, without that white or grey cast.”
“My favorite primer in the entire world is the one from Heir Atelier which is a line designed by a makeup artist,” says Irwin. “The formula is water-based, but it does have a tiny bit of silicone in it and some polymers in it that basically gives whatever you put over the top a grip so that it stays there. And it’s demi-matte space so you can mess with the finish. Depending on what you put on the top, you can make it look super luminous and glowy or you can make it look super matte.”
“Laura Mercier has been the go-to queen of primers since the beginning, so when this primer was recently relaunched, I was so excited,” says Hurkman. Lovello adds “I love this primer because it’s super hydrating on the skin, yet super-lightweight without any oil.”
“Makeup Forever’s primers are really pro primers, especially because you can color correct with a few of them,” says Scibelli. “The shine primer helps to control oil production while your makeup is on, and creates a barrier between your pores and anything over it.”
“This is a perfect formula for anyone on the dryer side,” says Hurkman. “This primer feels like a drink of water to the skin. It’s super refreshing but helps glide your makeup on perfectly as well.”
“The e.l.f. prep and hydrate balm is a great budget option that’s only $8,” says Lovello.
“This lightweight primer is perfect too for a normal-to-dry skin type,” says Hurkman. “This formula helps add a little glow to your skin while smoothing out your pores beautifully.”
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