Foundations and primers image

You might have heard that mixing a water-based primer with a silicone-based foundation causes your makeup to separate or that mixing a silicone-based primer with a water-based foundation can lead to patchy application.

While you can wear a silicone-based primer with a water-based foundation and vice versa, sometimes formulas don’t work well together, so it can be easier to stick with makeup products with the same base to avoid any issues.

But how do you tell whether a primer or foundation is water- or silicone-based? This blog post will ensure you can easily tell the difference between the 2 formulas. Plus, there are some examples of water- and silicone-based primers and foundations to help inform your next purchase.

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How to tell if primers and foundations are water- or silicone-based

Identifying water and silicone ingredients

Looking for water in an INCI list is very easy. You simply look for “water” or “aqua”. It’s often the first ingredient listed. And we all know the many benefits of water, most notably hydration in skincare.

Paula’s Choice provides an excellent description of silicones below:

The unique fluid properties of silicone give it a great deal of slip, and in its various forms it can feel like silk on skin, impart emollience, and be a water-binding agent that holds up well, even when skin becomes wet. 

Paula’s Choice

In makeup products, particularly primers, silicones give that silky, slippery texture, which makes it feel like they’re gliding over the skin with a smoothing finish. Many silicone ingredients end in -cone or -xane. Some of the most common silicones include cyclopentasiloxane, cyclohexasiloxane, dimethicone, and phenyl trimethicone.

Looking at the INCI lists

INCI lists always start with the most concentrated ingredients at the start and move to the least concentrated ingredients at the end. When looking at the INCI list of a product to determine whether it’s water-based or silicone-based, you need to look at the beginning of the INCI list.

If the INCI list contains water as one of the first few ingredients, and either has no silicone ingredients or features silicone ingredients lower than the INCI list, it’s a water-based product.

If there are one or several silicone ingredients high up the INCI list, it’s a silicone-based product. It’s important to note that silicone-based makeup products may still contain water high up the INCI list, but if there are silicones high up the INCI list as well, it’s still silicone-based.

INCI list examples

Let’s take the e.l.f. Power Grip Primer‘s INCI list below:

water (aqua), butylene glycol, glycerin, peg-150 distearate, niacinamide, rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) leaf, melissa officinalis flower/leaf/stem water, mentha piperita, sodium hyaluronate, sodium ascorbyl phosphate, menthol, pentylene glycol, propylene glycol, peg-240/hdi copolymer bis-decyltetradeceth-20 ether, peg-40 hydrogenated castor, phenoxyethanol, ethylhexylglycerin, caprylyl glycol, disodium edta, 1,2-hexanediol

As you can see, water is the first ingredient listed, but there are no other silicones mentioned in the INCI list. This means it’s water-based.

But if we look at the Benefit Porefessional Face Primer below:

Cyclopentasiloxane, Dimethicone, Dimethicone/Vinyl Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Isononyl Isononanoate, Silica, Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Isododecane, Phenoxyethanol, Polymethyl Methacrylate, Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891), Cyclohexasiloxane, Tocopheryl Acetate, Fragrance (Parfum), Mica, Iron Oxides (CI 77492), Limonene, Iron Oxides (CI 77491), Iron Oxides (CI 77499), Triethoxycaprylylsilane, Bht. N?? 04932/N

There are multiple silicones listed at the start of the INCI list, making it silicone-based.

Examples of water- and silicone-based primers and foundations

Below are some examples of popular water- and silicone-based primers and foundations.

Silicone-based primers

Benefit Porefessional Face Primer

Laura Mercier Pure Canvas Hydrating Primer (SARAHSSPH at checkout for 15% off)

Tatcha The Silk Canvas

Bobbi Brown Vitamin Enriched Face Base (LFTFBLOGSARAH at checkout for 20% off)

Hourglass Vanish Airbrush Primer

Armani Luminous Silk Hydrating Primer (LFTFBLOGSARAH at checkout for 20% off)

NARS Soft Matte Primer

The Ordinary High-Adherence Silicone Primer (LFTFBLOGSARAH at checkout for 20% off)

Silicone-based foundations

IT Cosmetics Your Skin But Better CC+ Cream (LFTFBLOGSARAH at checkout for 20% off)

Glossier Perfecting Skin Tint

Maybelline Super Stay up to 24H Skin Tint (LFTFBLOGSARAH at checkout for 20% off)

HAUS LABS Triclone Skin Tech Foundation

MAC Studio Radiance Serum Powered Foundation (LFTFBLOGSARAH at checkout for 20% off)

L’Oréal Paris True Match Nude Plumping Tinted Serum (LFTFBLOGSARAH at checkout for 20% off)