Makeup Tips

12 of the Best Water-Based Primers That Makeup Artists Say Will Keep Your Foundation From Flaking All Winter Long

Kara Jillian Brown

Photo: Getty Images / Klaus Vedfelt
The one thing I won't miss about summer is sweating off my foundation as soon as I step outside. But, cooler weather also presents its own makeup challenges. Dryer air can make your skin, and thus, your makeup, flakey. One of the easiest ways to prevent those dreaded dry patches, according to makeup artists? By prepping your skin with one of the best water-based primers on the market.

"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

Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Primer, best water-based primers
Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Primer — $34.00

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.”

EltaMD UV Glow Tinted Broad-Spectrum SPF 36
EltaMD UV Glow Tinted Broad-Spectrum SPF 36 — $39.00

“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.”

Heir Atelier Face Primer, best water-based primers
Heir Atelier Face Primer — $42.00

“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.”

Smashbox Photo Finish Super Light Primer
Smashbox Photo Finish Super Light Primer — $39.00

This primer is the water-based version of Smashbox’s iconic silicone-based Photo Finish primer. Makeup artist Cara Lovello is a fan, and notes that it’s great for oily skin.

 

Kevyn Aucoin Sensual Skin Primer, best water-based primers
Kevyn Aucoin Sensual Skin Primer — $44.00

“I’ve been using Kevyn Aucoin’s sensual skin primer in my kit for a while now,” says Scibelli. “It uses hyaluronic acid and vitamin E for a soothing, and hydrating finish. It’s great for all skin types and leaves no residue behind.”

Dior Backstage Face & Body Primer
Dior Backstage Face & Body Primer — $36.00

“In my opinion , Dior does no wrong in my book when it comes to makeup, so you know I love this one,” says Hurkman. “This obviously works perfectly with Dior’s foundations, but will also help any other water-based foundation last all day, too.”

Cover FX Water Cloud Primer, best water-based primers
Cover FX Water Cloud Primer — $38.00

Lovello is a huge fan of the Water Cloud primer from Cover FX. She says it has a mousse-like texture, and primes the skin while providing antioxidant protection from blue light and other pollutants.

Laura Mercier Pure Canvas Primer Hydrating
Laura Mercier Pure Canvas Primer Hydrating — $39.00

“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 Step 1 Primer Shine Control, best water-based primers
Makeup Forever Step 1 Primer Shine Control — $37.00

“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.”

Too Faced Hangover Replenishing Face Primer
Too Faced Hangover Replenishing Face Primer — $35.00

“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.”

e.l.f. Cosmetics Prep and Hydrate Balm, best water-based primers
e.l.f. Cosmetics Prep and Hydrate Balm — $8.00

“The e.l.f. prep and hydrate balm is a great budget option that’s only $8,” says Lovello.

Armani Beauty Luminous Silk Hydrating Makeup Primer
Armani Beauty Luminous Silk Hydrating Makeup Primer — $44.00

“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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