The best lightweight serum foundations

Posted by for Beauty

Promising skin-kind ingredients and light-as-air textures, these fluid foundations make for the perfect natural bases. 

Are you team foundation or team tinted moisturiser? We all used to side with one or the other. But thanks to a new generation of cutting-edge formulas, there’s now a plethora of textures in between. If you’re bang in the middle of the two base camps, a serum foundation might be just what you’ve been looking for. 

Think a featherweight fluid texture that feels like water but lends a flaw-blurring veil of coverage – with complexion-loving add-ons to boot.

Like skincare serums, they tend to be loaded with a high concentration of ingredients designed to treat everything from dark spots to dryness, dehydration and fine lines.

Their consistency is fluid and super-runny meaning they’re best applied with a different technique to your usual liquid, powder or cream foundations.

First, always shake the bottle thoroughly. Then pop a couple of drops onto the palm of your hand. The amount required varies by product but it’s much easier to build up coverage than it is to take it away. Most will only require three or four dots and they’ll often come in a handy dropper format with a pipette.

To apply with your fingers, simply use a pressing or patting motion – rather than rubbing – to blend it in seamlessly. Prefer a tool? Buff it on with a fluffy brush and your coverage will be even sheerer or dial up the density for slightly fuller cover.

While some offer a demi-matte oil-controlling tint, others leave skin dewy and luminous. Whichever you plump for, expect a natural, second-skin effect that’s just the ticket for spring.

Here’s our pick of the very best with something to suit every skin type and price point. Ready, set, glow…

  • Cheapest serum foundation

    The Ordinary Serum Foundation

    The Ordinary Serum Foundation

    Don’t be put off by the under-£6 price tag: this is one of our favourite of the bunch. It uses one-of-a-kind technology to prevent pigments settling into fine lines, making it a good choice if that’s one of your bugbears.

    The coverage is a little fuller than some so it’s perfect if you’re new to sheerer bases. With 21 hues, the shade range is seriously impressive, too. Just ask make-up artist Patsy O’Neill who’s been known to use it on celebrity clients like Holly Willoughby during her on-screen appearances.

    £5.70, Cult Beauty

  • Best serum foundation for boosting radiance

    Stila Aqua Glow Serum Foundation

    Stila Aqua Glow Serum Foundation

    If your skin’s in need of a super-charged radiance boost, this is where it’s at. It’s jammed with hyaluronic acid and ionized water to plump up a dehydrated, lacklustre face.

    The pigments are multi-reflective, too, adding an extra hit of luminosity. Skin looks perfected in seconds but not covered up. In 12 shades, it’s one to reach for when you’ve skipped sleep or if you’re feeling hungover.

    £17.25, Stila

  • Best medium-coverage serum foundation

    No7 Lift and Luminate Triple Action Serum Foundation

    Talk about bridging the gap between skincare and foundation – this base, in 14 shades, is spiked with youth-boosting ingredients from Boots’ No7 Lift and Luminate Serum. These get to work on fine lines and uneven skin tone. And instantly? Think medium-to-full coverage that disguises without masking.

    It’s more matte than most and won’t disappear by mid-morning, so one to make a beeline for if you’re on the oily side.

    £18, Boots

  • Best value-for-money serum foundation

    Bourjois Healthy Mix Serum Foundation

    Whenever we quiz make-up artists on their favourite affordable drugstore products, this comes out tops time and time again. It’s outstanding quality for the money and performs like a much swankier product making skin look expensive and radiant while banishing any signs of tiredness.

    The texture’s more akin to a gel than water so it’s another great pick if you’ve been a life-long user of more traditional liquid foundations.

    Amongst its devotees? Lisa Eldridge, who previously said it looks like ‘real skin, only better.’ 

    £6.99, Very

  • Serum foundation with the skincare benefits

    Bobbi Brown Intensive Serum Foundation

    Bobbi Brown Intensive Skin Serum Foundation

    Bobbi Brown is synonymous with sophisticated bases that make skin look naturally flawless. This bestselling formula is just as excellent. It’s infused with a power combination of lychee, bamboo grass and Cordyceps mushroom extracts to offer a firmer, smoother, more lifted look over time. 

    The potent ingredients are reflected in the price but you’ll look fresher instantly, too, with a healthy glow sans shine. As with all Bobbi Brown offerings, the shade range is inclusive with 22 shades – including a multitude of undertones – to choose from. 

    £48, Bobbi Brown

  • Best serum foundation for dry skin

    Bare Escentuals Bare Minerals Bare Skin Serum Foundation

    Bare Minerals bareSkin Pure Brightening Serum Foundation SPF 20

    For those that crave a super-juicy dewy foundation, it doesn’t get better than this. It’s free from silicone so doesn’t have the slippy texture some other serum foundations do. There’s no oil either –instead, the formula contains coconut and jojoba to quench and nourish without greasiness. 

    As you’d expect from Bare Minerals – who mastermind countless skincare-make-up hybrids – the skin-treating claims aren’t just marketing bumph.

    The brush is well worth a shout-out, too. It has a unique ‘reservoir’ in the centre to collect the fluid then disperse it seamlessly via dense bristles. You can choose from 20 shades.

    £28, Bare Minerals

  • Most lightweight serum foundation

    Dior Diorskin Nude Air Serum Foundation

    Dior Diorskin Nude Air Serum

    If it’s the feel of foundation that puts you off, this is the formula for you. It feels lighter than any foundation we’ve tried with a true breathable texture. It still manages to erase larger pores and blemishes but you won’t look like you’re wearing a thing making it perfect for the gym or early morning starts.

    As with all serum foundations, you’ll still need to prep with your usual moisturiser to avoid it clinging to dry patches and, again, there’s only six shades. But for a speedy faff-free option, we’re totally hooked.

    £38, Boots

  • Serum foundation with the best shade range

    Tarte Rainforest of the Sea Water Foundation

    Tarte Rainforest of the Sea Water Foundation

    Now we’re talking! This wonder base comes in an extensive 33 shades with a variety of tones to choose from. On the skincare front, it’s packed with antioxidant pollution-shielding marine plant extracts.

    And the coverage? At the heavier end of the spectrum, it does a top job of erasing spots and redness, making it an excellent offer if you’re usually a full-cover lover. Go for one or two drops (a little goes a long way) and build it up from there. 

    £37, QVC

  • Best serum foundation for barely-there coverage

    Clarins Skin Illusion Natural Hydrating Foundation

    This newer launch, in 22 shades, replaces Clarins’ original pump-action Skin Illusion Foundation. But while the name is much the same, the formula is distinctly different. It has a dewier finish, fluid texture and a dropper delivery system that dispenses just the amount required.

    Skincare-wise, it fuses pigments with nourishing oils for a deeply hydrating blend that’s the ideal match for dry complexions. The coverage is uber-light – think a gentle tint. But if you usually go without a base and you’re simply after a confidence-boosting softening veil, it’s a smart buy.

    £30, Boots

  • Best airbrush-effect serum foundation

    MAC Studio Waterweight SPF 30 Foundation

    Full-coverage, high-glam bases are usually MAC’s bag but this is a departure from its other erase-all options. If the bestselling MAC Studio Fix Fluid Foundation feels too mask-like for you, then this, with 25 hues, is set to become your new favourite base.

    It doesn’t offer a shedload of skincare benefits like a serum would, but it has a comfortable fluid texture that imparts a gleam making dull, lifeless skin look infinitely better. It works beautifully topped with powder if you’re after extra mileage or a more matte effect, too.

    Spots and unwanted marks are airbrushed away but it’s pretty imperceptible even when you look close up.

    £30, John Lewis

  • The original serum foundation

    Perricone MD No Foundation Foundation

    Dr Perricone MD No Foundation Foundation Serum

    One of the first on the market, this isn’t just a base but part of an extensive ‘no make-up make-up’ range that allows you to create a full face of undetectable products.

    For those days when you want to look groomed and polished but not overdone, it’ll gently disguise imperfections without looking like you’ve applied anything. It’s not as bouncy and dewy as some but there are plenty of complexion-boosting ingredients including alpha lipoic acid – a potent free radical-fighter.

    £45, Look Fantastic

  • Best anti-ageing serum foundation

    YSL Forever Youth Liberator Serum Foundation

    The brains over at Yves Saint Laurent’s have managed to pump some of their very best cutting-edge anti-ageing technology into this lightweight base. It uses Glycanactif – their patented skincare formula that promises an improvement in skin tone and skin texture within eight weeks. 

    The results of its make-up counterpart aren’t quite so speedy but as double-action foundations go, this is seriously high-powered. 

    £43.50, Boots

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