Beauty Q&A: What’s the Difference Between Silicone- and Water-Based Primers?

October 20, 2021
Mary Honkus
By: Mary Honkus | Makeup.com by L'Oréal
The Difference Between Silicone- and Water-Based Primers

If you’ve ever experienced a foundation catastrophe — like it slipping and sliding all over your face or flaking off— your primer may be to blame. It doesn’t matter how good the formulation is, it will only stay locked in place and look smooth and even if it’s compatible with the primer you’re using. Like foundations, face primers are typically water- or silicone-based, and celebrity makeup artist Jamie Dorman emphasizes the importance of choosing one that will work with your foundation. “If a primer is not compatible with the foundation you use, it will coagulate on your skin, creating a broken finish texture,” she says. Below, she explains key differences between water- and silicone-based primers, tips for selecting one that will work best for you and some of her favorites.  

Water-Based Primers vs. Silicone-Based Primers

Though it is crucial to make sure your foundation is compatible with your primer, it can also be helpful to understand how water- and silicone-based primers individually benefit the skin. “Water-based primers are best for dry and dehydrated skin — they will last longer and look better on dry skin,” says Dorman. “Whereas silicone-based primers look better on oily skin, as the silicone creates a layer that keeps the oil from breaking through.”


That said, water-based primers will provide you with a more natural look because they “let your skin texture shine through,” says Dorman. When looking for a water-based primer be sure to look at the ingredients — water or glycerin should be one of the top three.


If your goal is to create a smoothed-out surface for makeup application, you’ll want to find a silicone-based foundation and primer. Again, ingredients matter: cyclopentasiloxane or dimethicone should be mentioned as one of the top three ingredients. 


Now that you understand the key differences and what to look for in silicone- and water-based primers, find some of our editor-approved favorites below.


Photo: Chaunte Vaughn, Design: Hannah Packer

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