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Arguably the most classic foundation formula out there, liquids offer an array of benefits. For starters, they provide the most natural finish of any formula, says celebrity makeup artist Bryan Cantor. They’re also the most versatile: “Liquid formulas allow for the most customized level of coverage, depending on the type of brush and techniques used to apply them,” he says. Not to mention that this is one category where the options truly are endless.
To that point, we did the hard work for you, rounding up the best liquid foundations. Read on to learn more about the aces of bases.
Best Overall: Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation
Cantor is just one of, oh, a million makeup artists we’ve spoken to that cites this as their fave foundation. (Okay, we’re exaggerating, but just a little.) “It’s been my favorite foundation for years, creating an incredibly realistic, lit-from-within look both in person and on camera and blurring away imperfections,” he says. It’s been a staple since it first launched back in 2000; to celebrate the 20th birthday last year, the brand expanded the shade range, and there are now 40 hues to choose from.
What Our Testers Say
"This foundation is nothing short of amazing. As soon as I started blending it in, its smooth texture and luminescent finish made my skin look flawless and airbrushed immediately." — Khera Alexander, Product Tester
Best Drugstore: Revlon ColorStay Light Cover Liquid Foundation
The drugstore is a treasure trove for great foundations (yes, really), but this newbie is one of our favorites. Don’t be put off by the fact that there are only 12 shades to choose from; the pigments are adaptable meaning they blend in surprisingly well on an array of skin tones, even if it doesn’t necessarily look like the perfect match initially. It’s also super hydrating, feels very lightweight, and even contains SPF 34.
Best With SPF: bareMinerals Complexion Rescue Tinted Hydrating Gel Cream SPF 30
Look, in an ideal world, your sunscreen and makeup really *should* be two separate things. That being said, IRL, we totally get wanting a product that does it all. Most foundations cap their SPF at a 15 or 20 (which, to be honest, isn’t enough, even for daily use). That’s why we appreciate that this guy boasts SPF 30. Definitely more of a tinted moisturizer than a full-on foundation, it’s also great for anyone who doesn’t love wearing a ton of makeup, but still wants enough coverage to even out their skin tone.
Best Buildable Coverage: Kosas Cosmetics Tinted Face Oil
Cantor also likes this fairly new and unique foundation formula, which is great for those who like to change up their level of coverage. Use one drop for more sheer coverage, several more if you want to go for more medium to even full coverage. Either way, you get the benefits of the skin-friendly natural oils that Cantor says, “plump, soothe and brighten.”
Best Vegan: Tarte SEA Water Foundation Broad Spectrum SPF 15
Cruelty-free and vegan, this also has the added benefit of being hypoallergenic. Not only does it contain a little bit of sunscreen, but it also contains antioxidant-rich marine extracts to give your skin an added layer of defense against environmental aggressors (always a good thing in our book). It offers pretty true medium coverage and the finish totally natural, neither overly dewy nor overly matte.
Best for Dry Skin: Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Tint
Makeup can easily settle into the cracks and crevices that come with dry skin, which is why, a) prepping with a moisturizer is so important, and b) so is choosing a hydrating foundation. This one, in particular, is choice; it’s packed with hyaluronic acid, a hydrating ingredient that attracts water to and holds it in the skin. Your complexion looks instantly smoother and fresher, though because hyaluronic is so lightweight, the formula never feels heavy or sticky.
Best for Oily Skin: Hourglass Immaculate Liquid Powder Foundation
Those with oilier skin may not naturally gravitate towards liquid foundations, understandably so, since many do innately contain more hydrating ingredients and a dewier finish. Enter this alternative, a unique liquid-to-powder formula, it contains cashmere kaolinite clay to absorb excess oil (buh-bye, oily T-zone), but never makes skin appear cakey.
Best for Dark Skin Tones: Stila Hide & Chic Fluid Foundation
Another one of Cantor’s recommendations, he lauds its silica-coated pigments, which give it both a silky feel and natural finish on all skin types. It blends in seamlessly into skin, and we most appreciate the fact that, of the 30 shades offered, nearly half are great for darker complexions with various undertones.
Best Matte Finish: Fenty Beauty Pro Filt'r Soft Matte Longwear Foundation
This beloved formula truly checks all of our matte finish boxes: It minimizes the looks of pores and makes everything appear smooth and velvety, without ever looking chalky or flat. The medium-to-full coverage also sets and stays put for hours on end without ever budging, and comes in, wait for it, a jaw-dropping array of 50 shades.
Best Radiant Finish: Givenchy Prisme Libre Skin-Caring Glow Foundation
Per the ‘skin caring’ part of things, Cantor gives this base big points for delivering 24-hours of hydration (credit plant-based glycerin, a humectant that attracts water to and holds it in the skin). He also adds that it leaves your complexion fresh and glowy for up to 12 hours, thanks to the addition of nasturtium extract. And these benefits aren’t just temporary; a clinical assessment showed that this foundation actually improved women’s skin hydration by 25% and radiance by 27% after four weeks of use.
Best Longwear: MAC Cosmetics Studio Face & Body Foundation
When you want to make sure your foundation isn’t going anywhere, reach for this pick, another pro favorite. “A perennial classic for decades, it’s a staple in every makeup artist’s kit, and literally looks exactly like skin when applied,” says Cantor. To that point, the coverage is sheer (though buildable) with a satin finish, and super long-wearing and waterproof. A key point, especially if you are also going to be using it on your body.
Best for On-the-Go: Chantecaille Future Skin Cushion Skincare Foundation
Broadly speaking, a liquid foundation isn’t necessarily the type of thing you want to tout along with you for on-the-go touch-ups. But this innovative cushion compact, one of Cantor’s favorites, is the exception to that rule. Even though it looks like a powder compact, the formula inside is in fact a liquid, a water-based foundation that delivers easily buildable coverage.
There’s no shortage of amazing liquid foundations to choose from. Pretty much anyone and everyone are obsessed with the Armani Beauty Luminous Silk Foundation, a true cult classic that leaves skin with the most gorgeously radiant finish we’ve ever seen. For those who prefer a more matte effect, the Fenty Beauty Pro Filt’r Soft Matte Longwear Foundation is another fan favorite and comes in an impressive lineup of 50 shades.
What to Look For In a Liquid Foundation
According to Cantor, the ideal scenario is one in which the coverage your foundation offers is just enough to camouflage any redness and even out your overall skin tone, but not necessarily eliminate blemishes or spots (that’s a concealer’s job). Happily, most liquid formulas are buildable, and how you apply them can also dictate the level of coverage (more on that in a moment).
Consider your skin type
“Some liquid foundations are made for all skin types and others for specific skin types,” says Cantor, so choose one that suits you. If it is an “all skin type” situation, how you prep your skin before the foundation will be key for making that foundation work for your skin, he explains.
How do you apply liquid foundation?
While you can dab it on with your fingertips if you really want to, a tool is going to be your best bet. Applying with a foundation brush will make for more full coverage; choose one with synthetic bristles, which won’t absorb the product as natural hairs can. To sheer it out, stipple on the base with a makeup sponge. Top tip: Dampen it slightly before application, again, so that it doesn’t absorb too much product.
How long does liquid foundation last?
Many of today’s formulas are more long-lasting than ever, boasting waterproof, sweatproof, and transfer-proof claims. That being said, the products you use before and after can make all the difference. Prep skin with a primer, then top foundation with a loose finishing powder or setting spray to help lock it in place.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. She typically only wears foundation for special occasions, but when she does, it’s always a liquid formula.
Meet the Expert
Bryan Cantor is a global celebrity makeup artist based in New York City. He brings his impressive knowledge of skincare, makeup products, application techniques, and professional tips and secrets to clients and companies in New York City and across the globe.
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find enough liquid foundations from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business to meet this percentage. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at email@example.com and we will evaluate the product ASAP.