How to Tell if Your Base Products are Silicone-, Water-, or Oil-Based

So you apply your primer and foundation, and partway through the day, you notice that your foundation looks weird. So you run screaming to the Internet, and Google tells you a bunch of stuff like “use products that have the same base” and “don’t put the water-based things on top of the silicone-based things.” But how can you tell what base your products have? You don’t have a chemistry degree; you just want to look gorgeous. Don’t panic, because I am here to help. By the end of this post, you’ll be able to figure out what base your products are.

In order to determine whether a product is water-based or silicone-based, you have to look at the ingredients. -Cone/-methicone, and -siloxane words near the top of the list tend to signal a silicone-based product. Some of the most common silicones used in cosmetics are cyclopentasiloxane, cyclohexasiloxane, dimethicone and phenyl trimethicone. These are the kinds of words you want to look for near the top of your ingredients lists (ingredients are typically listed in order, beginning with what is in there most and ending with what is in there the least). Water will be at the top of the list for most liquid products because water makes it… well… liquid-y. It doesn’t mean that a product is water-based. Without water, the product would not be spreadable/blendable. For example:

MUFE HD Microperfecting Primer

Photo and ingredients list taken from Sephora website

MAKE UP FOR EVER HD Microperfecting Primer Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Dimethicone, Trisiloxane, PEG-12 Dimethicone, Dimethicone/Vinyl Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Methylpropanediol, Butylene Glycol, Pentylene Glycol, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Squalane, Glyceryl Caprylate, Lauryl PEG/PPG-18/18 Methicone, Phenoxyethanol, Ceteth-10, Laureth-4, Ethylglycerin, Panthenol, Potassium Sorbate, Polysorbate 60, Parfum (Fragrance), Argania Spinosa Extract (Argania Spinosa Kernel Extract), C12-14 Pareth-12, Hydrolyzed Algin, Dodecene, Sorbitan Isostearate, Isostearyl Alcohol, Laminaria Digitata Extract, Polyaminopropyl Biguanide, Tromethamine, Biosaccharide Gum-1, Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate, Sodium Hyaluronate, Carbomer, Hexyl Cinnamal, Benzyl Salicylate, Limonene, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Linalool. [CI 19140 (Yellow 5 Lake), CI 75470 (Carmine), CI 77007 (Ultramarines), CI 77288 (Chromium Oxide Greens), CI 77289 (Chromium Hydroxide Green), CI 77491 (Iron Oxides), CI 77492 (Iron Oxides), CI 77499 (Iron Oxides), CI 77742 (Manganese Violet), CI 77891 (Titanium Dioxide)].

See the bold words? Definitely silicone-based! Again, the water keeps it a more liquid-y consistency so it’s easily spreadable (if it didn’t contain water, it would be a solid, and you would have to apply it by smacking it on your face). It doesn’t mean that the product is water-based. Particularly with primers, I can always tell because it has that slippery “silicone” feeling. Now, let’s look at a water-based primer:

Photo and ingredients from

Photo and ingredients list taken from Sephora website.

Laura Mercier Foundation Primer – Oil Free Ingredients: Water (Aqua), Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Stearic Acid, Isodecyl Isononanoate, Glycerin, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, C20-22 Alkyl Phosphate, C22-20 Alcohols, Squalane, Butylene Glycol, Cetyl Esters, Phenoxyethanol, Boron Nitride, Silica, Cetearyl Alcohol, Sodium Hydroxide, Allantoin Tocopherol Acetate, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Hamaelis Viginiana (Witch Hazel) Extract, Cucumis sativus (Cucumber) Fruit Extract, Cymbopogon Schoenanthus Extract, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Retinyl Palmitate, Dimethicone, Polyamino Sugar Condesate, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Chlorphensin, Benzoic Acid, Polysorbate 60, Polymethyl Methacrylate, Saccharomyces/Xylium Black Tea Ferment, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Ethylparaben, Butylparaben, Isobutylparaben, Potassium Sorbate, Green 5 (CI 61570), Yellow 5 (CI 19140).

See how there are no -cone/-methicone or -siloxane words near the top of the list? That means that it’s water-based. This primer does contain dimethicone, which is a silicone, but it’s very low on the list, which means that it contains a very small amount of silicone. Thus, because this primer contains much more water (and other ingredients) than silicone, it is water-based.

Oil-based products are exceptionally rare. After much searching, I finally found one: Alexandra de Markoff Countess Isserlyn Cream Makeup (another is NARS Balanced Foundation, which has been discontinued, so I could not find an easily copy/paste-able ingredients list). Let’s look at the ingredients:

Photo from; cannot find where I got the ingredients list.

Photo from; cannot find where I got the ingredients list.

Water (aqua), Decyl Oleate, Lanolin Oil, Propylene Glycol, Talc, Isotearic Acid, Stearic Acid, Glyceryl Stearate SE, Cetyl Acetate, Triethanolamine, Fragrance (parfum), Emulsifying Wax NF, Magnesium Aluminum Silicate, Acetylated Lanolin Alcohol, PPG-12-PEG-65 Lanolin Oil, Imidazolidinyl Urea, Methylparaben, Propylparaben. May contain Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891), Iron Oxides (CI 77491, CI77492, CI 77499, Ultramarines (CI77007)

Yes, water is listed as the first ingredient, but that is to keep the product more blendable. The second and third ingredients (in bold) are definitely oils. Phew! You don’t know how many ingredients lists I went through to find that! I swear unicorns are easier to find! They are unlikely to be of concern to you because chances are you’re not using an oil-based foundation (if you are using an oil-based foundation, check your closet for a herd of unicorns). They seem to work best with oil-based primers. Good luck finding one.

This rule (i.e. -cone/methicone or -siloxane words near the top of the list indicate a silicone-based product) generally applies for viscous products. NARS Sheer Glow, for example, is an exception, as it is an exceptionally runny product.

NARS Sheer Glow

Photo and ingredients list taken from Sephora website.

NARS Sheer Glow Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Cyclopentasiloxane, Butylene, Glycol, Glycerine, Polymethylsilsesquioxane, Dimethicone, Dimethicone/vinal Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Triethylhexanoin, Peg-10 Dimethicone, Dis-butydimethicone Polyglyceryl-3, Disteardimonium Hectorite, Sodium Glutamate, Sorbitan, Sesquiisostearate, 1-Methylhdantoin-2-imide, Phenoxyenthanol, Sodium Dehydroacetate, Triethoxycaprylylsilane, Polusilocone-2, Serralysin, Curcuma Longa, Glycuosyl Hesperidin, Ascorbyl Glucoside, Tocpherol, [+/- (may contain): CI 77891 (Titanium dioxide), CI 77492 (Iron oxides), CI 77491 (Iron oxides), CI 77499 (Iron oxides)].

Even though it contains silicones, it contains a relatively low amount of silicones compared to the amount of water it contains, making it a water-based foundation. If you’re not completely sure, then try this:

1. Spread a silicone-based primer on the back of your hand or somewhere on your arm in a thin, even layer. With primers, it’s much easier to tell if it s silicone- or water-based.

2. Apply a small amount of foundation over the primer.

3. Wait about 30 seconds

Hey, I never claimed to be an artist...

Left: Cargo HD Picture Perfect Pore Refining Primer (water-based, denoted by water droplet drawn underneath) Right: L’Oreal Magic Perfecting Base (silicone-based)

First of all, yes, the foundation is too dark for the underside of my forearm. It matches my face, though. Second of all, yes, that is kind of a crappy rectangle. I never claimed to be an artist.

Anyway, you can see that on top of the water-based primer, NARS Sheer Glow looks like it blends into the texture of my skin perfectly. On top of the silicone-based primer, it’s started to pill off and it looks kind of like powder just sitting on top of my skin. This is what happens when you use a water-based foundation on top of a silicone-based primer.

Also, you could test it on your face, but I think it’s better to test on your arm so that if you do end up using a water-based foundation on top of a silicone-based primer, you don’t have to walk around all day with your face looking like the right portion of the box above.

You want water-based primers with water-based foundations (or tinted moisturizers, BB creams, CC creams, concealer, or any other base products; I’m just going to keep typing “foundations” for the sake of brevity). It’s similar to the way that oil and water do not mix. The two different bases (water and silicone) do not mix well and can cause your foundation to pill. In particular, using a silicone-based primer with a water-based foundation causes the foundation to pill because the primer creates a silicone barrier. When you try to apply a water-based foundation on top of that, the silicone “repels” the water from the foundation and does not let the water in the foundation soak in the way that a water-based foundation needs to in order to blend into the texture of your skin. In my experience, using a silicone-based foundation on top of a water-based primer does not result in the same problem, because the water in the primer absorbs into your skin and the foundation is able to apply easily on top of it.

Where does your moisturizer/sunscreen fit into all of this?

Give your moisturizer time to absorb fully, meaning your skin should no longer have that “tacky” feeling that you have right after applying moisturizer. If you use sunscreen (which you should, regardless of whether it’s sunny outside), you need to let that absorb as well. The base of your moisturizer/sunscreen is irrelevant, because if you allow them to absorb completely, they will not affect makeup application at all. If you begin applying primer and foundation before your moisturizer and/or sunscreen has fully absorbed, they can cause your makeup to break up sooner, which is the opposite of what you want. If you don’t want to have to wait for your moisturizer and sunscreen to absorb (for whatever reason), then look for products that absorb quickly. Alternatively, blot your face before you start applying your primer.

What about your powder?

Similarly, your powder is irrelevant to the base of your foundation/primer. There is no such thing as a water-based powder (it wouldn’t be a powder). If your powder isn’t working with your foundation/primer and giving you the look that you want, it is not related to the base of your foundation/primer.

A Final Note…

Please remember that using two products with the same base doesn’t necessarily mean that the products will work for you. Not every product works for every person. You may need to experiment to find the right combination for you. I highly recommend asking for samples, as they are a much cheaper (i.e. FREE) method of trying out a product. You can ask for samples of any product that can be sanitized and put in a small sample jar, such as primer and foundation.

I hope this post has been helpful.I know that the whole issue of silicone- and water-based products can make one feel overwhelmed. Fortunately, you don’t need to be a chemist to discern the difference. Feel free to leave comments, questions, and feedback.


Eye Shadow Primers and Bases

Whether you are a makeup expert or a makeup dabbler, you have probably seen or heard people writing or talking about how they use an eye shadow base and/or an eye shadow primer. But what is the difference? Can you get away with only using one or the other? Should you use both? What do they do, anyway? Do not fear; I am here to answer all of your questions!

Eye Shadow Primer

What is it?

Eye shadow primer is a lightweight, thin, creamy liquid that is applied directly to the eyelids to prepare the eyelids for eye shadow application. It typically blends out to be invisible, but some are meant to even out discoloration that naturally occurs on some people’s eyelids (most people will use an eye base for this; eye bases will be discussed below). Eye shadow primer creates a smooth, tacky surface on the eyelid that helps powder eye shadows adhere better to the skin of the eyelid, improving pigmentation and staying power (i.e. prevents your eye shadow from fading throughout the day). Eye shadow primer also acts as a barrier between the skin of your eyelids and your eye shadow, preventing your sebum (i.e. oils naturally produced by your skin) from mixing with the eye shadow and creasing (i.e. creases appearing in your eye shadow during the day as the result of blinking and normal eye movements). Basically, an eye shadow primer will 1) improve the pigmentation of your eye shadows, 2) keep your eye shadow on all day without fading, and 3) prevent your eye shadow from creasing.

You Want To Use a Primer If:

  1. You are dissatisfied with the pigmentation of your eye shadows;
  2. Your eye shadow does not last throughout the day without fading;
  3. You have oily and/or sweaty eyelids; and/or
  4. Your eye shadow creases before you are done with your day.

Alternatively, if your lids are not particularly oily, you can use a very small amount of foundation as primer to help with your eye shadows’ pigmentation.

How to Use:

  1. If you are using an eye shadow primer with a doe-foot applicator/wand, then dab it onto your lids (or dab onto your finger, then dab onto lids; if using a squeeze tube, then squeeze out about a drop of primer, then dab onto lids), then blend with your ring finger (your gentlest touch) all over your lids. Cover the entire area where you plan on putting any eye shadow, from your lash line up to your brow bone if you put eye shadow all the way up there (as a highlight, or whatever). Use a nice, thin layer. You don’t need to be piling this on. Also, apply to the lower lash line if you plan on using any liner on your lower lash line. Some people use eye shadow primer under their eyes to keep their under-eye concealer from creasing. If you have problems with your under-eye concealer creasing you can place this everywhere you put your under-eye concealer (i.e. under your eyes… I know… shocking!)
    One dab is all you need for one eyelid.

    About how much I use for one eyelid (one dab from a doe-foot wand). I drew some happy faces on my fingers because the photograph was really boring otherwise.

    Halve this for the amount I use on one eyelid.

    About how much I use for two eyelids (from a squeeze tube). I wanted to show you how much I use for one eyelid, but I squeezed out too much by accident. Halve that for the amount I use for one eyelid.

  2. Wait for it to dry. You want it to be dry because if you apply shadow over wet primer, it will be patchy and difficult to blend. It should only take a few seconds for the primer to dry. Make kissy faces in your mirror, pee, rock out to a song, or all of the above (hey, I won’t judge you).
  3. Make sure your eyelids no longer feel wet from freshly-applied eye shadow primer.
  4. Apply eye shadow. Some people like to start by applying a layer of eye shadow that matches their skin tone all over first so that blending is easier (also, some people like to do this as an alternative to using a base). You can apply eye shadow however you like. The sky’s the limit!

What Primer(s) Do I Recommend?

This is an immensely difficult topic. Because cosmetics are so personal, different products work differently for different people. All I can really do is to point you to these two blog posts from Brightest Bulb In the Box, showing how well particular primers performed with regard to eye shadow pigmentation and fading after four hours on her arm:

You can see in her swatches how primer improves the pigmentation of the eye shadow and helps with fading.

If you are using an eye shadow primer, but your eye shadow is still creasing, there are a few possibilities:

1. You are using too much primer; or

2. It is not The One Primer for you. This happens. Not every product works for everybody, and that is fine. We can’t all be friends, sadly.


Eye Shadow Bases

What is it?

Eye shadow base is a thicker, creamier product. Its primary purpose is to intensify the color of eye shadow by providing a base for the powder to adhere to. For example, if you want to use purple eye shadow, you would use a purple base underneath the purple powder eye shadow to make it extra purple.  Because it provides a sticky base for eye shadow to adhere to, it helps keep your eye shadow from fading the same way a primer does. For example:

That's some intense pigmentation with a base!

The colored bases were Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencils from the Black Market set that was sold for the 2013 holidays.


You can see that the white base helped the eye shadows show up more blue or purple, respectively. The base that (approximately) matched the eye shadows intensified the pigmentation greatly and added some incredible sheen that you cannot see in the swatches on bare skin.

Using different bases can change the way duochrome eye shadows look. A darker base will help the “other color” to show up more. A demonstration using MAC Club:

The duochrome is more apparent with a darker base!

MAC Club on bare skin and over NYX Jumbo Eye Pencil in Milk, Rimmel Scandal Eyes Eye Shadow Stick in 002 Bulletproof Beige, Maybelline Color Tattoo in Bad to the Bronze, Rimmel Scandal Eyes Kohl Kajal eyeliner in 003 Brown, and UD 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil in Zero. I purposely left some of the base visible around each eye shadow swatch so you could see the color of the base. I’ll have you know I’m actually excellent at coloring inside the lines (passed kindergarten with flying colors)!

You can see that on bare skin, Club looks brown. With different bases, that blackish-green duochrome is more apparent.You can see that Club over the black base is just the blackish-green color. No brown at all. Absolutely gorgeous.

However, due to the creamier texture, eye shadow bases often crease, unlike primers, which help prevent creasing.

Another use for an eye shadow base is to even out discoloration in your eyelids. The skin on your eyelids is often very thin, so sometimes, blood vessels can discolor your eyelids. If you use a base that is the same color as your skin, or a color-correcting color (i.e. green to cancel out reds, or salmon/yellow to cancel out blue/purple), you can eliminate the effect of discoloration on your eye shadow. You can use a concealer for this purpose.

You Want To Use a Base If:

  1. You want your eye shadow colors to show up more true-to-color; and/or
  2. You want to cancel out discoloration in your eyelids that may be affecting how colors look on your eyelids.

How to Use:

  1. Apply to lids. It is difficult to give guidelines regarding amount, because I usually just scribble on my lid (if using pencil) or dab my finger into cream shadow until I have “enough.”
  2. Blend it out so it’s evenly distributed wherever you want it. Use your ring finger again (be gentle on your delicate eye area). You want to keep it to a pretty thin layer to minimize creasing. I typically use my fingers and rub (gently), but you can use a brush if you prefer. Give them a few seconds to set.
  3. Apply eye shadow. Enjoy your intensified color.

What Base(s) Do I Recommend?

This is, again, a difficult question because cosmetics are so personal and results may vary. However, you can use pretty much any cream eye product, including cream eye shadows and even eyeliners. Some popular ones include MAC Paint Pots, Make Up For Ever Aqua Cream, Maybelline Color Tattoos, and NYX Jumbo Eye Pencils.

If you experience creasing while using a base, you may be applying too much base. Try using less. Just the minimal amount to cover the area in a thin layer.

Can You Use Both a Primer and a Base?

Of course you can! The primer will help keep the base (and your eye shadows) from creasing. Both the primer and base will intensify the color payoff of your eye shadows and enhance its lasting power. You would apply the primer first, then the base, then your eye shadow(s).

 Do You NEEEEEEEEEEED To Use a Primer And/Or Base?

Of course not. You do not need to wear any makeup. But if you are dissatisfied with the pigmentation of your eye shadows or experiencing fading or creasing early in the day, they are certainly helpful.

I hope this has been helpful! I know that cosmetics companies often name products differently, but the way that you use them does not change. For example, NARS Smudge Proof Eye Base is a primer, even though it is called a base. Feel free to leave comments, questions, and feedback below!