Whether you like your foundation full coverage and matte, blurring and natural, or seriously dewy, there’s a liquid formula to suit all.
Liquid foundation is incredibly versatile: it can be applied with fingers, a brush or a sponge for different finishes; built up to give greater coverage where needed and left sheer in other areas; and even mixed with different shades, highlighting or skincare products to produce just the look you want.
Ultimately, the key to beautiful make-up is good skincare, so be sure to layer up and hydrate before you apply. What you use to apply it can give a very different finish too, from a flat or buffing foundation brush, to a damp sponge, to your fingers; have a play around to find the effect that you like best.
We’ve tested a range of formulas, considering shade range, application, finish and staying power, as well as how they work for different skin types and lifestyles.
The search for the perfect foundation is every beauty lover’s greatest quest. We’ve tried hundreds and would struggle to commit to just one formula for life, but these are our favourites.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
Chanel les beiges healthy glow foundation, 30ml
Best for: Natural glow
We fell in love with this foundation the moment we first applied it. It’s thin and silky and blends beautifully to be almost imperceptible on skin. We apply a thin layer over our whole face and then build it up a little over areas of redness around the cheeks and nose; it lets some of the light and imperfections of your skin through, so doesn’t completely mask your natural complexion. The finish is glowy but not a super-wet look; skin looks bright and healthy.
Buy now £34.40, Feelunique.com
Giorgio Armani luminous silk foundation, 30ml
Best for: Satin finish
This gives a flawless, “your skin but better” finish that’s still luminous and bright, rather than flat and completely matte. It is creamy, light and non-drying on the skin, blends beautifully and can be built up where you want more coverage. It doesn’t crease during the day or become patchy over greasy or dry areas. For a best-of-both-worlds formula – neither super glowy nor matte – it doesn’t get any better.
Buy now £42.90, Feelunique.com
Yves Saint Laurent all hours foundation, 25ml
Best for: Combination skin
This is the best foundation we’ve found for people who need a formula that stays put on oily areas (nose and chin) and doesn’t dehydrate on dry ones (cheeks and forehead). It offers medium coverage and a satin finish, but it’s light enough to still let some of your skin’s natural shine and texture through, so it looks natural. With a little powder to set oilier areas, it will stay put all day without melting away, sinking into pores and lines or caking. Our search for the holy grail foundation will never end, but this is pretty close.
Buy now £36.00, Yslbeauty.co.uk
Kevyn Aucoin the etherealist skin illuminating foundation, 28ml
Best for: Events
This is a gorgeous halfway house for those who want glow but also decent and long-lasting coverage. It feels lightweight and hydrating on the skin (it contains hyaluronic acid) but blurs out scarring and dark spots and covers redness. The finish is pearlescent and luminous and reflects light beautifully. We know nights out and weddings feel a long way off, but we can’t wait to wear this for a special occasion; its combination of glow and staying power make it the perfect candidate for the dance floor.
Buy now £47.00, Spacenk.com
Charlotte Tilbury airbrush flawless foundation, 10ml
Best for: Full coverage
This is the most comfortable matte, full-coverage foundation we’ve found. It doesn’t feel heavy or tight as it dries (though drier skin types may find it too dehydrating) and it blurs over fine lines and pores rather than settling in and exaggerating them. Go easy on application as it’s very pigmented, so a little goes a long way; this covers stubborn redness around our cheeks and nose in one light layer. We found it needed just a little touch-up around the nose at the end of the day, but otherwise lasted very well.
Buy now £34.00, Charlottetilbury.com
Estee Lauder double wear, 10ml
Best for: Oily skin
This is a classic for a reason. It is matte, oil-free, water-resistant, sweat-resistant, humidity-resistant and, importantly these days, doesn’t shift under a mask. It offers medium buildable coverage but still feels lightweight on the skin, and it also comes in a phenomenal 61 shades. We’d still recommend finishing up with a powder to keep it in place, but only apply on the areas you know your foundation shifts during the day; leave naturally drier areas, such as cheeks, free.
Buy now £34.50, Esteelauder.co.uk
The Ordinary coverage foundation, 30ml
Best for: Budget
We already love The Ordinary for its budget-friendly, ingredient-focused skincare, and its foundation is a very good option if money is tight. It feels light on skin and gives fair, buildable coverage with a natural, glowing finish. The bottle is small, but the formula is well pigmented and it doesn’t hugely absorb into a brush, so you don’t need much to cover your whole face. Those with oily skin might find they have trouble getting it to stay put though.
Buy now £5.90, Cultbeauty.co.uk
IT Cosmetics your skin but better CC+ cream, 32ml
Best for: Dry skin
We’re slightly cheating here as this is technically a CC cream rather than a foundation, but it’s incredibly pigmented and so behaves more like a foundation in terms of coverage (which we’d say is medium and natural). The formula is rich and feels hydrating on the skin, rather than sucking moisture out as it dries, and the finish is dewy and light-reflecting. It doesn’t settle into dry patches or leave cheeks papery after a few hours.
Buy now £32.50, Itcosmetics.co.uk
Chanel les beiges eau de teint, 30ml
Best for: Holidays
Holidays may feel a long way off right now, but it’s best to be prepared – or even to just bring some sunny vibes to your flat. This is a clear formula with beads of pigment suspended in it, which burst on contact with the skin. It feels cool and refreshing on application and gives light coverage and mega, almost wet-look glow. The secret is to apply it with your fingers or the brush provided; if you apply it to the back of your hand first, the pigment bubbles will burst there rather than on your face.
Buy now £48.00, Chanel.com
Fenty Beauty pro filt’r soft matte longwear foundation, 10ml
Best for: Shade range
Rihanna’s beauty brand promises inclusion for all skin tones and this foundation delivers on that front. The range of 50 shades goes from very light to very dark, with a multitude of undertones catered for. It goes on velvety smooth and takes longer than most matte foundations to dry, so you’ve plenty of time to blend it in. The finish is matte but satin rather than flat, and it stays put for a good 10 hours. Those with dry skin may want to try the hydrating formula instead (£27, Boots.com), still in the same brilliant range of shades.
Buy now £27.00, Harveynichols.com
Mac studio face and body foundation, 10ml
Best for: Buildable coverage
We’ve been using this foundation for more than 15 years and for good reason. It’s a thin, milky formula that doesn’t dry down straight away, so you’ve plenty of time to blend and work it in. You can build up the coverage in the areas where you want it and leave it sheer in those you don’t, and it has a dewy, luminous, slightly tacky finish. Layer it with plenty of good skincare and highlighter for a beautiful glow.
Buy now £27.00, Maccosmetics.co.uk
Suqqu nude wear liquid ex foundation, 30ml
Best for: Natural finish
This is very thin foundation (it will run between your fingers) that glides on easily and gives an incredibly natural, barely-there, demi-matte finish. To the touch, it feels very silky on the skin, and it’s so lightweight that within a few minutes you’ll completely forget you’re wearing it. You will need a little concealer on top to cover any particular areas of scarring or redness. Sadly, as is common with Japanese beauty brands, the shade range is quite limited to light tones.
Buy now £48.00, Libertylondon.com
The verdict: Liquid foundations
This is such a list of heavy hitters that it’s hard to choose a favourite, but Chanel les beiges healthy glow has to take the best buy spot, because we love it’s subtle, lightweight formula that lets your skin’s natural beauty shine through.
That said, Giorgio Armani’s luminous silk and YSL’s all hours have been in regular rotation on our dressing table for years for good reason: they give medium coverage and a gorgeous satin finish that will suit all. They’re the catch-all formulas we recommend to everyone, regardless of skin type.
For more beauty favourites read our round up of the 10 best red lipsticks that are long wearing and don’t smudge