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

Photo: Getty Images / Klaus Vedfelt
With the Well+Good SHOP, our editors put their years of know-how to work in order to pick products (from skin care to self care and beyond) they’re betting you’ll love. While our editors independently select these products, making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission. Happy shopping! Explore the SHOP

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.

Best water-based primers at a glance:

What is a water-based primer?

As the name suggests, water-based primers are made with water (as opposed to silicone-based primers, which are—obviously—made with silicone). They stand out for their hydrating properties and the fact that they tend to be gentler on sensitive skin.

Experts In This Article

"If somebody has general hydration issues or just wants their makeup to feel better on their skin, then a water-based primer is absolutely the way to go," says makeup artist Mary Irwin.

What are the benefits of using a water-based primer?

They're moisturizing

In addition to water, these primers often include other nourishing ingredients to prep and protect the skin. The makeup pros suggest looking for formulas that include hydrating ingredients like fatty acids, jojoba oil, or hyaluronic acid. "If you're using nourishing ingredients, 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.

They're great for all skin types

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.

They're ideal for layering

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 silicone-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."

When not to use a water-based primer?

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 of the best water-based primers, according to makeup artists

Best overall water-based primer: Milk Makeup, Hydro Grip Primer — $38.00

Key ingredients: Aloe water, blue agave extract, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide

Both Irwin and fellow makeup artist Melissa Hurkman recommend this primer from Milk Makeup. The hydrating formula includes aloe water, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide (aka vitamin B3), and blue agave extract, which helps grip 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 on top to avoid any movement.”

Size: 1.5 oz


  • Highly rated by customers and makeup artists
  • Contains hyaluronic acid and niacinamide


  • Some customers report pilling
Ilia true skin radiant priming serum, best water-based primers
Best silicone-free primer: Ilia, True Skin Radiant Priming Serum — $52.00

Key ingredients: Aloe vera juice, hibiscus extract, beta-glucan, mastic

This super-clean formula from Ilia is a great water-based primer for those with sensitive skin. It uses aloe vera juice and hibiscus extract, which hydrate and protect skin, and beta-glucan and mastic (a type of tree resin) to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and create a mattifying effect. As a result, it’s a completely silicone-free primer, which makes it more lightweight and less likely to clog pores.

Size: 1 oz


  • Includes several plant-derived ingredients
  • Completely silicone-free


  • Pricier pick
  • Some customers report pilling
EltaMD uv daily broad spectrum tinted moisturizer, one of the best water-based primers
Best primer with SPF: EltaMD, UV Daily Tinted Broad-Spectrum SPF 40 — $38.00

Key ingredients: Water, zinc oxide, hyaluronic acid

This tinted SPF from EltaMD is a newer version of a Scibelli pick (the UV Daily Glow formula, which was recently discontinued). Like its predecessor, this formula is water-based, as well as skin-care-infused with hyaluronic acid. Plus, this tinted sunscreen uses transparent zinc oxide for broad-spectrum sun protection. “That’s a bonus for makeup lovers because the formula dries clear, without that white or gray cast,” says Scibelli.

Size: 1.7 oz


  • Includes hyaluronic acid for hydration
  • Transparent zinc doesn’t leave a white cast


  • No color options for tint
Best water-based primer drugstore find: Maybelline, Facestudio Master Primer — $10.00

Key ingredients: Water, silicone

If you’re a drugstore-beauty queen, you surely have a Maybelline product or two (or more) in your makeup bag. For a water-based primer that delivers results but is easy on the wallet, check out Maybelline’s highly-rated Facestudio line. There are three different water-based formulas available to tackle your different skin-care goals, whether that’s adding hydration, blurring pores, or reducing redness. Best of all, at just $7 it’s the lowest-priced pick on this list. Just note that this pick does include some silicone and lacks added skin-care ingredients.

Size: 1 oz


  • Highly-rated
  • Widely available at drugstores
  • Budget-friendly price


  • Does contain some silicone, which may not work for sensitive skin
smashbox primerizer, best water-based primers
Best water-based primer for dry skin: Smashbox, Photo Finish Primerizer+ — $42.00

Key ingredients: Water, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, algae extract

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. It glides on over the skin creating a smooth, yet dewy base for your foundation. The formula is a fan-favorite among those with dry skin and includes hydrating hyaluronic acid and algae extract, plus niacinamide, which can help minimize the appearance of pores.

Size: 1 oz


  • Highly moisturizing
  • Niacinamide helps reduce pore visibility


  • Some customers say it’s a thinner formula
Laura Mercier Pure Canvas Primer Hydrating, best water-based primers
Runner-up: Laura Mercier, Pure Canvas Primer (Hydrating) — $47.00

Key ingredients: Water, glycerin, olive extract, marine botanicals

Another great pick for folks with dry skin, this primer uses olive extract and marine botanicals to lock in moisture. “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.”

Size: 1.7 oz


  • Expert-recommended
  • Moisturizing, yet oil-free texture


  • Some customers say it’s better at moisturizing than priming
Makeup Forever Step 1 Primer Shine Control, best water-based primers
Best water-based primer for oily skin: Make Up For Ever, Step 1 Primer Shine Control — $39.00

Key ingredients: Water, magnesium aluminum silicate, ginseng

Water-based primers may not seem like a fit for those with naturally oily skin, but the right formula can deliver both moisture and shine control. This formula from Make Up For Ever contains ginseng, which works to protect the skin barrier, and magnesium aluminum silicate, which helps absorb oil and create a matte finish on the skin. It’s also another pro favorite: “Make Up For Ever’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.”

Size: 1 oz


  • Matte finish combats shiny skin
  • Ginseng helps reduce inflammation and protect skin barrier


  • May not be a fit for those with sensitive skin
Kevyn Aucoin Sensual Skin Primer, best water-based primers
Best primer for flaking: Kevyn Aucoin, Sensual Skin Primer — $54.00

Key ingredients: Water, hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, aloe vera gel

This pick uses another highly-moisturizing formula that aims to keep makeup intact and prevent flaking. “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.”

Size: 1 oz


  • Highly hydrating formula combats flaking
  • Good for all skin types


  • Pricier pick
Dior Backstage Face & Body Primer, best water-based primers
Best with some silicone: Dior, Backstage Face & Body Primer — $38.00

Key ingredients: Water, Polysilicone-11, shea butter

“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.” While it’s water-based, this primer does include some silicone for blurring, as well as shea butter for moisture.

Size: 1.6 oz


  • Customers say a little goes a long way
  • Signature Dior fragrance is a fan-favorite


  • No additional skin-care ingredients
  • Fragrance might not suit those with sensitive skin
Cover FX Water Cloud Primer, best water-based primers
Best gripping primer: Cover FX, Water Cloud Primer — $38.00

Key ingredients: Water, plankton extract, marigold flower

Lovello is a huge fan of the Water Cloud primer from Cover FX. She says it has a mousse-like texture that primes the skin for makeup and provides antioxidant protection from blue light and other pollutants (thanks to plankton extract). Best of all, customers say it does a great job of gripping makeup for lasting wear.

Note: This pick can be a little tricky to find, but a good alternative is the Cover FX Gripping Primer ($22), which also uses a water-based formula.

Size: 1 oz


  • Highly rated for gripping makeup
  • Marigold flower aids in hydration


  • Can be difficult to find in stores
Too Faced Hangover Replenishing Face Primer, best water-based primers
Best for combination skin: Too Faced, Hangover Replenishing Face Primer — $39.00

Key ingredients: Coconut water, probiotics, olive oil

Coconut water is hailed for its nourishing, hydrating properties, so it’s no wonder this primer from Too Faced (which uses coconut water as a base) is such a popular pick among users with dry and combination skin. “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.”

Size: 1.4 oz


  • Highly rated by people with combination and dry skin
  • Added probiotics to enhance elasticity


  • Some customers report breakouts
Armani Beauty Luminous Silk Hydrating Makeup water-based primer
Best for blurring pores: Armani Beauty, Luminous Silk Hydrating Makeup Primer — $44.00

Key ingredients: Water, glycerin, rice bran, shea butter, silicone

This pick from Armani Beauty uses rice bran, glycerin, and shea butter for a boost of moisture. It’s a hit with folks of all skin types and, as the name suggests, it creates a silky foundation for makeup. “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.”

Size: 1 oz


  • Great for long-lasting wear
  • Addition of silicone helps with blurring pores


  • Does contain some silicone, which may not work for sensitive skin

Things to consider before buying

Your sensitivities

While water-based primers tend to be gentler on sensitive skin, you should still read the full ingredient list to ensure you’re not missing a possible irritant or allergen.

Your skin type

Some water-based primers are designed for oily skin, while others are highly moisturizing for dry to combination skin. Be sure to read up on what skin types each formula is best suited for and, when in doubt, read the reviews to see what customers with similar skin have to say.

Your budget

Primers are beloved by makeup artists and beauty enthusiasts, but everyone’s skin is different and some people may not need a primer under their makeup to get the results they desire. It could take a little trial and error to find the right primer for your foundation so—especially if you’re a water-based primer newbie—you may want to start with one of the lower-priced options on our list or a brand that offers travel sizes.

Frequently asked questions

What are the disadvantages of water-based primers?

While water-based primers are known for being hydrating and gentle on sensitive skin, they’re not always as good at blurring fine lines or pores as primers made with silicone. If you have oily skin, you may also have a difficult time finding a water-based primer that doesn’t exacerbate your natural shine.

What primer do I use with a water-based foundation?

As Irwin mentioned above, water-based foundations are better suited on top of water-based primers. She notes that water-based foundations tend to fight against silicone-based primers and blending the two may cause your water-based foundation to pill or flake.

But wait, there's more!
Want to be the first to hear about the latest (and greatest) SHOP product drops, custom collections, discounts, and more? Sign up to have the intel delivered straight to your inbox.
Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.

Loading More Posts...