Even foundations rated “the best” can look off if the texture isn’t compatible with your skin. When your complexion is dry, the wrong base can settle into fine lines, accentuate peach fuzz, and latch onto skin flakes. That’s where hydrating formulas come in. Often packed with oils and acids, these picks promise to soothe skin, moisturize without making you look oily, and photograph well.
I tested 15 options, with both matte and dewy finishes, to see which could hide imperfections on my parched skin without looking like a heavy layer of spackle. Read on to see which ones resulted in the most radiance and which fell short.
The Long-standing Favorite
Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk is a cult favorite, and rightfully so. The fluid texture is lightweight and melted into my skin without settling into any lines or clinging to dry patches. I experimented with shade 5.5, which is slightly too deep for my pale complexion, but even so, it blended seamlessly, giving me a dewy glow that lasted all day. I looked like I had just returned from a sunny escape when I was actually fighting a head cold.
The Best Value
I prefer to apply my foundation with a brush or a sponge, but I swiped L’Oréal’s stick on my face straight from the tube and blended it with my fingers. The formula was creamy and glided onto my skin. I found it successful at blurring my pores for a smoother and glow-ier complexion. Expect medium coverage, enough to hide imperfections without looking like you’re wearing an opaque mask. The stick application also makes it easy to touch up on the go. The only thing I found less easy was covering my neck area.
The Nonsticky One
I liked that this foundation camouflaged redness on my cheeks and had a hydrating effect without feeling sticky or heavy. I used a fair/medium shade and blended it in with my fingers. While I did notice some buildup in fine lines around my eyes later on in the day, overall it wore well. My only objection: I found the applicator (which you’re supposed to drop directly onto a foundation brush) to err on the messy side.
The Luxurious-But-Worth-It Pick
An expensive option that’s worth the money is Chanel’s liquid foundation. The formula is extremely lightweight, with a watery consistency. It yielded medium coverage that looked like a second skin — but better and luminous instead of tired, dry, and pasty. All day my skin appeared even and dewy, like I had just come from getting a facial.
The Best for Full Coverage
NARS claims this foundation lasts for 16 hours, and 14 hours later mine still looked fresh, except for a small area around my nose. Of all the ones tested here, this one offers the fullest coverage. While it provided more of a base than I’m used to, it was not flat or mask-like, and it erased dark shadows under my eyes, eliminating the need for concealer. In fact, I think it faded slightly and actually looked better as the day wore on. The second time I tried it I soaked my sponge to sheer it out, but still achieved medium coverage. It’s easy to waste product with this one; the tiniest bit was enough to cover my entire face.
The Great Drugstore Option
Maybelline stays true to its name with a formula that goes on smooth and appeared dewy. With buildable coverage, SPF 18, and a sleek pump applicator, this option is a steal that impressed me with its staying power and hydrating effects every time I wore it.
The Photo-Ready One
This foundation offers full coverage with a matte finish. I attempted to sheer it out with a damp sponge, but it was still heavier than I was used to. But it didn’t streak or cake up on dry areas. I would try this again for a wedding or any photo-heavy occasion where I wanted a long-wear formula without too much of a sheen.
The One That’s Great for Monday Mornings
This foundation hydrated my skin and gave me a smooth, even texture. The light formula provided medium-level coverage that didn’t feel like “too much” for a Monday morning. I applied it using a damp sponge. The result was similar to my usual daytime tinted sunscreen but with longer-lasting coverage. I felt confident enough to skip using any concealer, bronzer, and blush.
The One That Feels Like a Tint
What I love most about YSL’s Touche Éclat foundation is that it looks and feels like a tinted moisturizer. It gave a hint of coverage that was perfect for everyday wear. The moisturizing formula isn’t too watery, and left me with a light-reflecting glow that lasted all day.
The One That’s Not Too Matte
Usually when I apply a foundation, I prefer to go a few shades deeper to give my pale complexion a boost of color. This time, I tried a fair shade that was probably more accurate for my natural tone. The result was more porcelain-doll than sun-kissed, but it was a nice change. While a matte finish isn’t the most flattering on dry skin, this one only drew minimal attention to some lines on my forehead.
Another Great Drugstore Pick
While I tend to steer clear of matte formulas, Covergirl’s was creamy enough that I didn’t feel as if I was wearing a mask. Another budget-friendly option at $12, it wore well throughout the day. To give the formula a hydrating boost and add some subtle radiance to my skin , I found it helpful to moisturize my sponge with a dab of face cream prior to application.
The Best for a Healthy Glow
I love this new option from Dior so much I used it again and again. It blended easily, erasing pink areas around my nose, cheeks, and chin, and didn’t cling to dryness or sink into lines. The result was glow-y and healthy skin that looked even but not like I was wearing heavy makeup. I applied it with a damp sponge for medium coverage.
The Most Luxurious
Yes, $250 for a single makeup item is steep. But, if you think of Clé de Peau’s foundation as the luxury skin-care product that it is (the ingredient list is loaded with skin-plumping extracts and antioxidants), the price tag makes more sense. The formula goes on so smoothly there’s almost no need to use a sponge or brush (but I still did). In fact, the box directs you to apply it with your hands, like you would a skin cream. Any brown spots or redness around my nose and chin vanished instantly with only minimal blending. It left my skin radiant in all the right places, almost as if I had used a highlighter. Also, a few tiny dots of the liquid-gel formula goes a very long way, so consider it a skin-care investment.
The Ones Not Best for Dry Skin
This medium-coverage foundation has all the ingredients someone with dry skin should look for: hyaluronic acid to moisturize and vitamin C to fight sun damage. But I found the semi-matte formula to be appear chalky and flat. It also accentuated peach fuzz on my face and fine lines around my eyes, making my skin look even drier than usual.
Kevyn Aucoin products rarely fall short, which is why the results of this one surprised me. It took a lot of effort to blend in the foundation with a brush, and even still, it appeared streaky. Not long after, I caught it settling into fine lines around my eyes, mouth, and forehead. In natural light, it looked like I was wearing foundation. Interestingly enough, the Sephora reviewers who gave high ratings to this product classified their skin type as oily. Perhaps my skin is just too dry for this formula.
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