When it comes to choosing a foundation, there are a lot of decisions to be made. What color do you want to use? What texture? Do you need to be grab one with skin-care benefits? And should you be opting for an oil-free foundation, or something else?
While we can’t exactly shade match you from the Well+Good offices (sorry!), we can help you figure out the answer to that last one. To find out when you should be using a water-based, oil-free foundation, we chatted with the pros, who shared how to apply them and the best ones on the market right now.
“People choose to wear oil-free foundation when they are tackling sensitive, acne-prone, or oily skin,” says makeup artist Jamie Greenberg, adding that it’s the best bet for these skin types, or for anyone who runs hot and sweats off their makeup. “If you have the above skin types, a foundation that contains oil can clog pores, move on the skin when you run hot, and won’t set as easily. Foundation with oil doesn’t always clog pores, but many people with sensitive skin complain of this issue. Oil-free foundation is a little lighter on the skin, will reduce natural oils from your face, and give you a natural finish.”
According to Julia Dalton-Brush, veteran makeup artist and founder of B3 Balm, matching an oil-based foundation with oily skin can sometimes make your skin look greasy, and not in the “dewy, radiant” way you probably want. “Using a water-based foundation can also aid with hydration and is wonderful to help the skin breathe under makeup,” she adds. Water-based foundations are sheer, but buildable, which means you can get pretty much any look you want depending on how you apply and how many layers you choose to put on.
Though “oil free” might conjure images of a dry, caked-on, Bride of Chucky face, thanks to new beauty technology you don’t have to sacrifice the finish you want for the formula that’s best for your skin. Back in the day, using an oil-free foundation used to mean that you were stuck with matte and only matte, and that any sort of luminosity on your skin just wasn’t an option. Now, though, you can find finishes that pretty much run the gamut, despite the fact that most oil-free foundation is technically anti-shine. “I love swapping out different foundations based on the occasion or season,” says Greenberg. “From lightweight foundations that allow you to build a light or medium coverage, to a heavier foundation that is chock full of hydrating ingredients.”
In order to make sure your oil-free foundation stays on all day, it’s important to prep your skin properly by way of exfoliation and using a primer. Then, you can apply an oil-free foundation the same way you would any other foundation. As far as the “right way” to do it goes, it all comes down to preference—you can use your fingers, a sponge, a brush, or some combination of the three. For what it’s worth, Greenberg is personally a fan of using a buffing brush. “It helps distribute the makeup evenly and provides you with a level of control to blend easily into the neck, so your face matches your body,” she says, adding that she likes to get hers from Marshalls.
And now for the final piece of the puzzle: Finding the right oil-free foundation for your skin. Here, nine options to fit your needs.
This matte foundation is so lightweight, you’ll forget you’re wearing it until you look in the mirror and realize how smooth your skin looks. It’s got a demi-matte finish and will stay put for 24 straight hours. “With this foundation, the coverage is great without being cake-y, and it stays matte all day long,” says one reviewer. Her tip for use? Try applying it with a damp Beautyblender, which will help it dry smoothly if you’re prone to creasing.
In addition to offering 12-hour coverage, this foundation is formulated with moisture-locking squalane and vitamin E to keep your skin from looking cakey throughout the day. It’s also got vitamins C and E to help protect from environmental aggressors. In addition to being great for oily skin (this is oil-free foundation we’re talking about, after all), many of the reviewers have lauded it for the wonders its worked on dry, combination, and sensitive skin types, too.
“The finish is beautiful and it is gorgeously buildable,” says Danton-Brush of this pick from Chantecaille. It’s got a gel texture that makes it go on more lightweight than some of the other products on the market, but still provides medium-to-full coverage to skin.
This take on an oil-free foundation delivers on its promise of making skin look “matte and not flat.” At only $7, it will give you a matte finish that still allows some radiance to peak through, and gives you the perfect amount of coverage and staying power to make skin look flawless all the long day.
Clinique knows a thing or two about skin care and makeup, so it’s no surprise that their foundation is essentially like getting both in a single bottle. It moisturizes and hydrates skin without clogging pores, and won’t melt off of your face no matter how humid it gets outside. It also acts as a concealer, so it’s pretty much the only beauty product you could possibly need.
6. Neutrogena Skin Clearing Makeup, $12
Not only will Neutrogena’s oil free foundation formula likely not cause any new zits on oily skin, but it will also help treat any of the ones you’ve already got. It’s the first makeup made with the brand’s MicroClear technology, which treats blemishes by breaking through oil and unclogging pores. Your breakouts don’t stand a chance.
This foundation is so good, it’s won actual awards. It may be a powder, but it somehow manages to be hydrating, too—it doesn’t sit on the skin or flake off the way so many other powder formulations tend to. It goes on lightweight, but offers buildable coverage so you can get as much coverage as your heart (and skin) desires.
The concept behind Too Faced’s newest foundation is that the coverage is meant to look so natural, it will look like your skin—aka that you were born that way. It’s made with coconut water, alpine rose, and hyaluronic acid to up the moisture levels in your skin to make your face look like the actual baby face you were born with.
If you like a foundation stick, you’ll love this long wear option. It’s highly pigmented and offers a matte full-coverage finish , but glides on smoothly and doesn’t look chalky. Not only does it fall into the oil-free foundation category, but its also made with polymers that absorb excess oils from your skin, leaving you mattified and shine-free.
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