Let’s be honest: Sometimes powder foundations and tinted moisturizers just don’t cut it. When the goal is smooth, even, radiant-looking skin, liquid foundations are often the recommendation. However, with so many formulas on the market, it can be hard to know which product is actually worth weaving into your makeup routine. With that in mind, editors set out to find the best liquid foundations. To do so, they enlisted the help of a handful of reviewers to research the most popular formulas and test them out firsthand to see which actually live up to the hype.
After rigorously testing 27 top-rated liquid foundations—taking into account the formula’s coverage, finish, active ingredients, and overall wear—we uncovered the top six liquid foundations. In the end, the NARS Light Reflecting Advanced Skincare Foundation came out on top thanks to its extensive shade range and high scores in all of the aforementioned categories.
Ready to uncover the other five winners? Keep reading for the best liquid foundations, according to InStyle testers.
NARS Light Reflecting Advanced Skincare Foundation
What We Love: This lightweight liquid foundation has a glowy finish that doesn’t sink into creases at all.
What We Don’t Love: The formula is a bit watery, which makes it drip a bit when you pump it.
The NARS Light Reflecting Advanced Skincare Foundation boasts a lightweight liquid formula that offers buildable medium coverage. “I would say [the coverage claims are] true—it has a great coverage that builds very easily,” our reviewer reveals. The foundation is sold in 36 shades ranging from light to dark, with options for warm, cool, and neutral undertones alike.
This liquid foundation formula doesn’t only offer color coverage, though. It’s made with biomimetic oat to reduce the appearance of redness, Japanese lilyturf to help reinforce the skin’s moisture barrier, and cacao peptides and milk thistle to counteract the negative effects of environmental stressors like blue light. In that way, this foundation helps protect and nourish skin just as much as it perfects its color tones.
The best part is that, thanks to its lightweight nature, it dries quickly and leaves skin looking radiant in a flash. “It is dewy and very natural looking,” our reviewer notes. “It is glowy and doesn’t set into my creases at all.”
The one downfall is that, since the formula is so lightweight, it’s a bit watery. As such, when you pump it out, it tends to drip a bit, which can potentially waste precious product.
Even with that one shortcoming, our reviewer remains head over heels for this product. “I loved the formula. It melted into my skin and it looks great. I really don’t have any dislikes,” she shares.
Price at time of publish: $49
Coverage: Medium | Finish: Natural | Active Ingredients: Biomimetic Oat, Japanese Lilyturf, Cacao Peptides, Milk Thistle | Size: 30 mL | Cruelty-Free: No
L’Oréal Paris Infallible Fresh Wear Foundation
What We Love: It’s notably more affordable than other high-performing liquid foundations we tested.
What We Don’t Love: This foundation does include fragrance and the smell a con for some of our testers.
Newsflash: The way-too-thick, orange-tinged foundations of drugstores past are long gone. The L’Oréal Infallible Fresh Wear 24HR Foundation was one of the top performers of our tests thanks to its just-right consistency and its ability to dry down quickly while still being able to blend for seamless coverage. Plus, it doesn’t crease or cake with wear.
“This feels like the perfect combination of a thick and thin foundation,” our reviewer says. “It is not runny but still light and not overly thick.“
From a coverage stance, this drugstore staple delivers buildable coverage with a natural, semi-matte finish. “I love the finish of this product and the packaging,” our reviewer shares. “Upon first use, there is nothing I do not like about this product. It looks beautiful on the skin without being drying or cakey and it went on like a dream.”
In addition to evening out skin tone, the foundation, which is sold in 40 shades, also offers SPF 25 sun protection. (Though, considering dermatologists recommend at least SPF 30, don’t let that fool you into thinking it replaces the sunscreen in your skincare routine.)
Price at time of publish: $16
Coverage: Medium | Finish: Natural | Active Ingredients: Octinoxate, Titanium Dioxide | Size: 30 mL | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Light Coverage
ILIA Super Serum Skin Tint with SPF 40
What We Love: This serum-like formula has a dewy finish that never looks oily or greasy.
What We Don’t Love: It has a slightly tacky finish.
If your goal is radiant, natural-looking coverage, this lightweight liquid foundation is a must. The ILIA Super Serum Skin Tint SPF 40 Foundation is sold in 30 shades, all of which have skincare-meets-makeup benefits, and is Cindy Crawford-approved. This formula is lightweight and fairly thin—serum-like, as advertised.
In addition to creating natural-looking coverage, this serum-foundation hybrid revitalizes skin with a blend of hydrating squalane, smoothing niacinamide, and plumping hyaluronic acid. What’s more, it’s infused with zinc oxide to deliver SPF 40 protection, so it acts as a sun shield, too.
“This formula claims to provide dewy, lightweight coverage; I would say this is 100% true—it leaves my face with that ‘your skin but better’ look and blends really easily,” our reviewer notes. Part of what makes it so natural-looking, she adds, is the fact that it doesn’t sink into creases or fine lines—even over extended wear.
Two things to note: Despite the beautiful finish it delivers, from a physical feel stance, our reviewer found this serum foundation to be a bit tacky to the touch. Then, from an application standpoint, she says that the serum dropper is a bit more difficult to use than a classic one-handed pump. “It’s easier to dispense too much or too little product,” she admits.
Still, those two pitfalls weren’t enough to deter her from this popular liquid foundation. “Overall, I loved this formula,” she says. “Its coverage is definitely more sheer, but it imparts a dewy, natural-looking glow and blends incredibly easily. The added broad-spectrum SPF protection is also a bonus.“
Price at time of publish: $48
Coverage: Light | Finish: Radiant | Active Ingredients: Plant-Based Squalane, Niacinamide, Hyaluronic Acid | Size: 30 mL | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Medium Coverage
Lancôme Teint Idole Ultra 24H Long Wear Matte Foundation
What We Love: This liquid foundation has the perfect consistency—it’s not too watery and not too thick—and it feels weightless on the skin.
What We Don’t Love: It’s not quite full coverage—but it is buildable, so you can still achieve adequate coverage.
The Lancôme Teint Idole Ultra 24H Long Wear Matte Foundation claims to be a full coverage foundation but when our testers wore it from morning to night, they found that it’s actually a great option for medium coverage. That said, they admit that it is buildable, so it is possible to achieve fuller coverage if that’s your goal. And, even if you do opt for extra layers, they found that it remains lightweight and comfortable throughout wear—it never feels heavy on the skin.
Part of why it’s so comfortable is because it’s specifically formulated to be. “It contains eternalsoft polymers to provide an increased level of comfort for ultra-long wear,” our reviewer found.
Logistically speaking, the foundation, which is housed in a tall, frosted glass bottle, is sold in 43 shades ranging from light to dark. “It claims to have a natural-matte finish, which I agree with,” one of our reviewers says. “It is matte but still has a bit of a glow and does not look drying or cakey on the skin. It does not settle into fine lines or wrinkles. It has a very nice finish.”
Even though the coverage this foundation delivers doesn’t quite match up with its claims, our reviewers found that, overall, there’s nothing they don’t like about the product.
Price at time of publish: $52
Coverage: Full | Finish: Matte | Active Ingredients: Eternalsoft Polymers | Size: 30 mL | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Full Coverage
HOURGLASS Vanish Seamless Finish Liquid Foundation
What We Love: Although the finish is matte, it has a touch of dew to keep skin looking natural and healthy.
What We Don’t Love: It takes longer to dry down because it’s a thicker formula.
The HOURGLASS Vanish Seamless Finish Liquid Foundation is another liquid foundation that claims to offer full coverage, that our reviewers found to be closer to medium-to-full coverage in reality. Despite not fully living up to its claims, though, our reviewers concluded that this thick formula is truly something to behold.
“I love how full coverage this product is while still looking natural on the skin,” our reviewer says. “It claims to have a natural finish, which I agree with. The finish does not appear too matte and still has a bit of a glow. I do not feel that my skin looks heavy or cakey after applying. Overall, it looks very healthy and even on the skin.”
Like the Lancôme foundation, this Hourglass formula comes in a luxurious frosted glass bottle that feels heavy and expensive. “It also has a soft closure, which I love,” our reviewer says. “The foundation comes out in a pump and leaves no mess at all. I love the packaging.“
Although the HOURGLASS Vanish Seamless Finish Liquid Foundation is comfortable to wear, since its a notably thicker formula, our reviewer does note that she thinks it’s best for shorter wear. “It would be amazing for special events when I want to cover redness, acne, or other imperfections,” she says. “My skin still looks healthy and dewy without being overly heavy.”
Price at time of publish: $56
Coverage: Full | Finish: Natural | Active Ingredients: Sunflower Seed Wax, Jojoba Esters | Size: 25 mL | Cruelty-Free: Yes
N°1 DE CHANEL Red Camellia Revitalizing Foundation
What We Love: This medium-coverage foundation leaves skin looking even, smooth, and hydrated.
What We Don’t Love: It’s pricey and we wish it had a wider shade range.
Spending $70 for a bottle of liquid foundation may seem like overkill but our reviewers found that this medium-coverage makeup product is well worth the splurge.
“After applying the N°1 DE CHANEL Red Camellia Revitalizing Foundation, my skin looks so healthy and glowy in all the right places,” our reviewer marvels. “It does not look cakey or oily, just extremely fresh and healthy. I love the finish of this foundation. It doesn’t look too unnatural or like I’m wearing a lot of makeup and it doesn’t settle into fine lines.”
Speaking of a lot of makeup, this liquid foundation is buildable, so you can wear a single oat or layer it on for the tailored coverage you desire. “It is easy to layer this foundation,” our reviewers assure us. “It has a medium coverage, evens out skin tone, and leaves the skin looking super smooth and hydrated. It is not too heavy on the skin but still covers up imperfections.”
It doesn’t just make skin look smooth and hydrated during wear, though. Since it’s formulated with Chanel’s signature red camellia oil, it actually works to impart anti-aging benefits long after wear.
Given the high praise, you’ll be glad to know this luxury liquid foundation looks as expensive as the results it delivers. While the 20 shades span from light to dark, we do wish they had more skin tone offerings.
“I love the finish of this foundation and how my skin looks so healthy, dewy, and even,” our reviewer says. “I feel that I could wear this everyday or for special occasions. There is not much I do not like about this product, other than the high price tag.“
Price at time of publish: $70
Coverage: Medium | Finish: Luminous | Active Ingredients: Red Camellia Oil | Size: 30 mL | Cruelty-Free: No
What to Keep in Mind
Liquid foundations come in a variety of coverages, ranging from light to full. While many foundations fall in the medium to full category (with BB and CC creams offering lighter coverage), light coverage liquid foundations do exist. What type of coverage you choose, depends on your skin concerns as well as personal preferences.
Think about how you want your skin to look post-application. If you want to look dewy and glowing, consider a hydrating satin foundation (like our Best Overall pick, the NARS Light Reflecting Advanced Skincare Foundation); if you want a mattified end look, focus on matte foundations. Oilier skin types may prefer a matte finish to help combat that mid-morning sheen of grease, whereas as drier may want the extra hydration from a dewy product.
Do you want a liquid foundation that wears flawlessly all day long? Or are you looking for something that you plan to only wear for shorter-duration special occasions (like a wedding or night out)? If you’re leaning toward the former, you’ll want to buy a foundation that’s designed to last for up to at least 12 hours (the the Lancôme Teint Idole Matte Foundation has a staying power of up to 24 hours), and that’s specifically marketed not to cake or crease. When working with special occasion makeup goals, on the other hand, you can be a bit more flexible with the wear duration of your liquid foundation.