The best lightweight foundation for sheer coverage and natural radiance

These are the best lightweight foundations for every skin type and budget

best lightweight foundation
(Image credit: Future)

The best lightweight foundation will punch well above its weight. If you're looking for a sheer base your top priority is likely to be a formula that looks and feels light on the skin. But a great low-coverage foundation can offer so much more besides that, with skincare ingredients, SPF, and a variety of finishes from dewy and glowing to a soft-focus blur or velvety matte. 

There are plenty of reasons a light formula might be the best foundation for you right now. You might be a fan of a natural makeup look, (opens in new tab) and feel a sheer base compliments your nude lipstick or makes a breezy canvas for the skin-perking powers of the best cream blush. Or perhaps you like to switch to a lighter base for lazy Sundays, trips away or warmer days. 

Whatever the reason you're seeking the best lightweight foundation, we've got you covered. Our recommended tinted moisturizers balance skincare ingredients with makeup pigment and have buildable bases that can be layered up for medium coverage on the days you need it. And there are also silky-smooth lightweight foundations, for a little extra coverage. Whether you have dry, oily, blemish-prone or sensitive skin there is a no-fuss light makeup base perfectly suited to your skin type and cosmetic desires—and this guide will help you find it. 

How we tested and selected the best lightweight foundation

Why you can trust Woman & Home Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

The starting point for us was the texture—this is the best lightweight foundation guide after all—so every product included should feel, at best, completely invisible and at least, comfortable on the skin. The next consideration was finish, from sheer to soft matte, and how this lasted through the day. Every foundation here had its ingredients list thoroughly scrutinized, with skincare actives and base liquids assessed, then each was applied to the face and worn for at least a day, often several. Finally, a close eye was paid to packaging and value for money. Comparing a £60 foundation with one that costs £9.99 isn't apples for apples, so the cost-to-performance ratio was carefully considered.

The best lightweight foundation, as chosen by our experts

NARS Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturiser

(Image credit: NARS)

1. NARS Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturiser

The overall best lightweight foundation

Specifications

RRP: £33
Shades: 16
SPF: 30
Finish : Radiant

Reasons to buy

+
Great texture
+
Skincare ingredients 
+
Fresh, natural look

Reasons to avoid

-
Practical, not luxurious packaging

Don't get too hung up on the name— some of the best lightweight foundation buys come in the guise of tinted moisturizer and this one is pretty damn near faultless. 

Ingredients-wise the focus is as much on skincare as it is makeup, but neither area suffers as a result. Antioxidants, sun protection and hydrating glycerin mingle happily with light, buildable pigment and a water-silicone base that ensures it applies smoothly. The texture is slippy and soft, just as happy to be applied with fingers as it is a sponge or brush and sets down to a lasting, lightly radiant finish. 

You'll easily get the best part of a days wear out of this, it doesn't settle into lines or melt off at the first sniff of T-zone oil or perspiration, making it one of the best foundations for combination skin on our list. The shade range has recently been extended to 16, which isn't enormous but the sheer pigment means each shade is highly forgiving, so most will find a happy match. The light plastic tube makes this portable and perfect for travel, as do the wanderlust-inspired shade names. A justified classic, there is very little not to love here.  

Dior Forever Natural Nude Foundation

(Image credit: Dior)

2. Dior Forever Natural Nude Foundation

The best luxury lightweight foundation

Specifications

RRP: £39
Shades: 17
SPF: No
Finish : Dewy

Reasons to buy

+
Beautiful fresh finish
+
Long lasting
+
Sophisticated formula

Reasons to avoid

-
Fragranced

Dior's mega-selling Forever franchise spans the original long-wearing Forever Foundation, Matte and Glow versions, and now this, with a formula comprised of 96% natural origin ingredients, floral extracts and a fresh, dewy finish. 

This is luxury foundation doing what it does best, from the chic glass bottle, ultra-clean pump-action and silky texture. It feels a little thicker than some of our other picks but blends nicely with a firm brush then quickly and seamlessly sets into a light, flattering veil over the skin. No streaks, no dragging, and definitely no telltale tidemarks. 

The finish is grown up and lightly soft-focus, but still sheer enough for your complexion to show through. In short, this makes your skin look great, but still like skin. It's long-lasting too and didn't transfer onto a white collar on testing. It is fragranced, which may not suit everyone but this being Dior it's a quietly luxurious fragrance you'll probably love. 

best foundation, L'Oréal Paris skin paradise tinted moisturizer

(Image credit: L'Oréal Paris)

3. LOREAL PARIS Skin Paradise Tinted Water Cream SPF20

The best budget lightweight foundation

Specifications

RRP: £12
Shades: 12
SPF: 19
Finish : Radiant

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent value
+
Hydrating
+
Sun protection 

Reasons to avoid

-
Fragranced

We all know not to judge a book by its cover. In beauty, it's also a good move not to judge a product by its target market. 

With its pocket money price, Gen-Z pink packaging, and easy 'smudge it on in seconds' texture, you can bet L'Oreal had a young and peachy demographic in mind when they created this. But, overlook this excellent, budget-friendly base at your peril—it is a seriously good product, candyfloss-hued tube or not. The texture is slippery and quenching, with solid skincare ingredients like aloe vera, glycerin, and SPF, plus the finish is a light soft-focus glow that would perk up mature, dull, or dehydrated skin a treat. 

The shade range is adequate if not exemplary, but due to the sheer pigment, each shade can span a good few skin tones with ne'er a tidemark. It is lightly fragranced, so if you have very easily irritated skin you might want to go carefully. The juicy finish is the right side of off-puttingly shiny for those with oily skin, I found it just radiant enough on my combination complexion. All in all, this is a very good base full stop, but an absolutely outstanding one for the price. 

See our full L'Oréal Paris Skin Paradise review    

Estée Lauder Double Wear Sheer Long-Wear makeup

(Image credit: Estée Lauder)

4. Estée Lauder Double Wear Sheer Long-Wear Makeup

The best lightweight foundation for hydration

Specifications

RRP: £35.50
Shades: 27
SPF: 20
Finish : Satin

Reasons to buy

+
Very hydrating
+
Super sheer
+
Easy to apply 

Reasons to avoid

-
You might want more coverage

If your idea of the best lightweight foundation is something you can squeeze out of the tube, slap on with your fingers—ideally without the aid of a mirror—then crack on with your day, this could be the one. 

Estée Lauder's Double Wear Sheer Long-Wear Makeup is about as easygoing as bases get. It's supremely sheer, providing the lightest wash of satin pigment over skin without covering anything much. The watermelon extract and hyaluronic acid-infused formula make it feel more like a serum than makeup, and it will gently smooth fine lines and quench thirsty areas. 

It's humidity resistant and the handy tube is perfect for a handbag or travel kit, as is SPF20 sun protection, a rarity is rare in textures this light. This all adds up to a great all-rounder base for lazy days when applying one product is all you can manage. In fact, the only thing not to like about this is the coverage, which although sheer and buildable, might not be for those looking for some camouflage. 

Charlotte Tilbury Hollywood Flawless Filter

(Image credit: Charlotte Tilbury)

5. Charlotte Tilbury Hollywood Flawless Filter

The best lightweight foundation for glow

Specifications

RRP: £34
Shades: 12
SPF: No
Finish : Glowing

Reasons to buy

+
Very radiant
+
Sheer cover
+
Highly versatile 

Reasons to avoid

-
Will be too shiny for some 

Technically this isn't a light foundation at all— It's a glow booster, says Charlotte Tilbury. No apologies for including it here, though, as this could be the most flattering low coverage base you've ever tried. 

This radiant cream sits somewhere between a liquid highlighter and a sheer, sheeny base. It's designed to be used in numerous ways. You could spread across the face alone for a hit of radiance and light wash of color, under makeup to add believable glow to a more polished makeup look or dab it on specific areas as you would highlighter for an expensive-looking gleam. All three are great options, and the luxurious skincare-infused formula blends away beautifully in each scenario. 

It comes in 12 shades, all fairly adaptable although at the risk of sounding fixated on shade ranges we could use a few more at the deeper end of the spectrum. This won't suit those looking for a mattifying or high-coverage foundation finish, but as a glamorous way to perk up dull skin and versatile radiance booster it's definitely worth a try. 

Pat McGrath SKIN FETISH: SUBLIME PERFECTION FOUNDATION

(Image credit: Pat McGrath )

6. Pat McGrath SKIN FETISH: SUBLIME PERFECTION FOUNDATION

The best buildable lightweight foundation

Specifications

RRP: £61
Shades: 36
SPF: No
Finish : Satin

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent shade range
+
Luxurious texture
+
Polished look 
+
Long lasting

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive

Warning: If you try Pat McGrath Skin Fetish you'll probably wish you didn't like it as much as you do. Obviously getting hooked on a £60 foundation isn't ideal for anyone on a budget. If that's you, move along nownothing to see here. 

That said, it wouldn't feel right not to include this, because providing the financial outlay isn't prohibitive, it really is excellent. Naturally, the packaging is beautiful and happily, the shade range is extensive, particularly so in its offering for deeper skin tones which is as nuanced as the lighter options (not always a given, sadly) But where this foundation, the first from iconic makeup artist McGrath, really stands out is texture and finish. 

This is a true make-up artist's formula, much loved by pros and it's easy to see why. The texture is surprisingly thin, like a light milky fluid that offers bags of spreadability, slip, and time to buff it in for a polished, seamless finish. It is infinitely buildable, meaning one pump gives the sheerest wash of pigment, two a light-to-medium look then you can keep on building from there without appearing caked or overdone. The finish is a classy semi-sheeny satin, while skincare like hyaluronic acid and ceramides plump and hydrate for a natural, lasting glow. 

MAC STUDIO RADIANCE FACE AND BODY RADIANT SHEER FOUNDATION 

(Image credit: MAC)

7. MAC STUDIO RADIANCE FACE AND BODY RADIANT SHEER FOUNDATION

Best lightweight foundation for versatility

Specifications

RRP: £27
Shades: 30
SPF: No
Finish : Radiant

Reasons to buy

+
Very buildable
+
Good shade range 
+
Long wearing 

Reasons to avoid

-
Lacks active skincare

If you've ever worked with a makeup artist, had your face professionally applied for a big day, or even watched very closely when a makeup pro is on TV, you can almost guarantee this would be in their kit. 

Why? Because this sheer, buildable, long-wearing yet light and fresh-looking base is unbelievably versatile. It works just as beautifully as a drop or two rubbed into a bare face as it does buffed into the skin in careful layers to form the base of a polished face of makeup. It's just as at home on limbs as it is cheeks, never transfers and resists a rainshower with ease. The light, squeezy bottle is as convenient as they come, with a slim dropper-like top that makes light work of applying anywhere—with or without brushes.

Another reason this is one of the best lightweight foundations buys around is the shade range, which pays close attention to undertones for a true spot-on match. Once you've found your shade and got a bottle of this in your kit you'll wonder how you ever lived without it. 

Rimmel Kind & Free Moisturising Skin Tint

(Image credit: Rimmel)

8. Rimmel Kind & Free Moisturising Skin Tint

The best vegan lightweight foundation

Specifications

RRP: £9.49
Shades: 12
SPF: No
Finish : Dewy

Reasons to buy

+
Budget-friendly
+
A little goes a long way
+
Wears very well

Reasons to avoid

-
Low coverage

This modestly priced tinted moisturizer style foundation has plenty going for it. It comes in a nice spectrum of shades and a light, travel-friendly bottle that's great for your handbag. It also boasts a vegan, cruelty-free formula that includes nourishing aloe vera and leaves out lots of other things people worry about like parabens, sulfates and dyes. 

It performs well too—a little goes a very long way, a small squeeze is enough for a sheer look, add more and it offers a more 'done' look.  It takes a little more work than expected to blend, so use a brush or sponge for ease. Once it's set the finish is fresh, dewy-looking, and flattering, particularly so on dry skins. One of the most impressive things about this is how well it wears for a budget base. Several hours and one humid bus journey after application it remained steadfastly unmelted and uncreased. 

L’Oreal Paris Infallible Freshwear Powder

(Image credit: L'Oreal)

9. L’Oreal Paris Infallible Freshwear Powder

Best lightweight foundation powder

Specifications

RRP: £12.99
Shades:
SPF: No
Finish : Soft matte

Reasons to buy

+
Very finely milled
+
Skincare ingredients 
+
Handy for reapplication

Reasons to avoid

-
Shade range could be extended
-
Won't suit dry skin

Can a pressed powder ever rival the best lightweight foundation in liquid form? Yes, with a few caveats. Obviously even the best powder foundation is not, and will never will be, the right choice for anyone with dry or dehydrated skin. It's also unlikely to last as long as your typical liquid, but with that in mind there is a lot to like about L’Oreal Paris Infallible Freshwear Powder. 

Unlike your classic pancake-y powder, which is generally used to create an invisible mattifying layer over foundation, this finely milled, pigment-packed powder is designed as a one-stop-shop base. In many ways, it succeeds. The texture is very fine, so blends with an ease rarely seen in dry formulas. The inclusion of skincare ingredients such as antioxidant-rich algae brings this in line with what we expect of liquid foundation, and, for oily and combination skins the finish is impressively skin-like while being long-lasting and just the right side of totally matte. 

Naturally being a compact it's both portable and handbag friendly, so if you're someone who likes to top up their makeup on public transport (no judgment) this could be a great option. As ever with powders the little sponge included is no great shakes, a firm kabuki-style brush would be better for buffing. More shades on the deeper end of the spectrum wouldn't go amiss too.