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9 best lightweight foundations for sheer coverage and a natural glow

Our beauty expert has tried and tested the best lightweight foundations for everyone

Lucy Partington
Friday 05 April 2024 11:55
We tried to avoid doing any top-ups, to see how each of these formulas fared over time
We tried to avoid doing any top-ups, to see how each of these formulas fared over time (The Independent/Lucy Partington)
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There’s no denying that hunting out the perfect foundation isn’t the easiest of tasks. Not only do you need to take into account your skin type, but you also need to consider the sort of finish and the level of coverage you want – and that’s when things can start to get overwhelming.

The amount of different foundations available now has hugely increased over the past few years, and technology has come a long way. So, more often than not, it is actually possible to invest in one product that will fulfil all of your needs, that won’t look or feel heavy on your skin.

These formulas can be suitable for all occasions too, whether that’s for the times you don’t need or want much coverage, and for the times when you might want to dial things up a little bit.

But with so much choice, how can you start to narrow things down and work out what’s actually going to be suitable for you? Here, we’ve taken out some of the guesswork by trying and testing some of the newest formulas – all of which have one main thing in common: they promise to be lightweight.

Keep scrolling to discover the ones that we think are worth investing in.

How we tested the best lightweight foundations

We applied the formulas with a foundation brush (Lucy Partington)

Our tester is a big foundation wearer, and she really put these products through their paces. They were applied (using a foundation brush) each morning, taking into account how well the formula layered with skincare – which was an antioxidant serum and sunscreen – and how easy it was to blend, then she kept an eye on how it lasted through the day.

She also tried to avoid doing any top-ups, to see how each fared over time while taking note of cost and shade range. Each make-up look was finished with a misting of setting spray.

The best lightweight foundations for 2024 are:

  • Best lightweight foundation overall – It Cosmetics your skin but better CC+ nude glow: £30.40, Lookfantastic.com
  • Best budget lightweight foundation – Kiko insta moisture foundation: £18.22, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best for combination skin – Dr.Jart+ premium BB beauty balm SPF50: £37, Lookfantastic.com
  • Best for dry skin – Saie glowy super skin foundation: £34, Cultbeauty.co.uk
  • Best for oily skin – KVD Beauty good apple full coverage serum foundation: £27.20, Boots.com

It Cosmetics your skin but better CC+ nude glow

best lightweight foundation
  • Best: Lightweight foundation overall
  • Number of shades: 20
  • Size: 32ml
  • Why we love it
    • Provides a natural but healthy-looking glow
    • Hydrating on skin

Is this the best version of It Cosmetics’ iconic CC cream so far? Very possibly. It was instant love from the very first application for our tester, which came thanks to the natural but healthy-looking glow it gave.

Beyond effortless to apply, it blended in seamlessly using a foundation brush and was the perfect shade match. It feels fresh and hydrating on skin, which is down to the added hyaluronic acid, while green tea extracts offers antioxidant protection against environmental damage.

It lasted exceptionally well from morning until night, and it worked to even out overall skin tone, even on slightly drier areas. We also found it didn’t sit in creases under or around the eyes.

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Kiko insta moisture foundation

best lightweight foundation
  • Best: Budget lightweight foundation
  • Number of shades : 32
  • Size: 30ml
  • Why we love it
    • Easy to blend
    • Creates lawless canvas

Lightweight and easy to blend, this foundation created a flawless canvas super quickly and gave an impressive glow. It felt instantly hydrating, too, which comes thanks to raspberry extract and aloe vera. It has added SPF25 which is a nice bonus, but we’d always recommend wearing a separate sunscreen as well.

Our tester found that the hydration lasted and it didn’t go patchy in any areas that can often be prone to dryness as the day continues. It also felt lightweight and was easy to build up in areas requiring more coverage, too. Plus, it played well with the skincare applied underneath too, and applying both powder and cream products on top didn’t cause any issues with the final makeup looking flawless.

For the price, this product is extremely good and it is definitely on par with foundations that cost a lot more. In fact, we would recommend checking Kiko out generally as its price points across the board are very impressive and its products are of excellent quality.

  1. £18 from Amazon.co.uk
Prices may vary
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Dr.Jart+ premium BB beauty balm SPF50

best lightweight foundation
  • Best: For combination skin
  • Number of shades: Four
  • Size: 40ml
  • Why we love it
    • Formula contains SPF50
    • Skincare and make-up hybrid

As the originator of BB creams, it’s only right that Dr.Jart+ leads the way in next generation products. Despite only being available in four shades, the brand claims that it will stretch across a broad range of skin tones, making it more inclusive than it may initially seem. The formula itself combines skincare, makeup and sunscreen in one incredibly pleasing product. A joy to apply with either fingers or a brush, it blends quickly and feels both nourishing and moisturising.

The SPF50 is a welcome addition for our tester (although she did wear her regular sunscreen underneath as well), and the two per cent niacinamide and five per cent glycerin mean this really is an over-achiever in every sense. It lasted well, played nicely with our tester’s other make-up and it was the product that received the most compliments out of all of the ones tested.

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Saie glowy super skin foundation

best lightweight foundation
  • Best: For dry skin
  • Number of shades : 36
  • Size: 30ml
  • Why we love it
    • Impressive shade range
    • Contains hydration-boosting skincare ingredients

Our tester was sold on this thanks to its name alone – what’s not to love about the sound of a “glowy super skin” product, right? Formulated with an impressive blend of hydration-boosting skincare ingredients, including hyaluronic acid, polyglutamic acid and glycerin, it offers medium-weight coverage that can easily be layered up if required. We wore it on one of the few sunny days we had last month and the lit-from-within glow was real – the perfect summer formula.

It feels incredibly lightweight, and we found it wore well throughout the day too. It worked better when we exclusively applied cream products over the top of it rather than powder, but it buffed into skin really nicely. The shade range is impressive too, with an equal amount of lighter and deeper shades across a good spectrum.

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Ilia super serum skin tint SPF30

best lightweight foundation
  • Best: For sheer coverage
  • Number of shades : 30
  • Size: 30ml
  • Why we love it
    • Covers blemishes with minimal effort
  • Take note
    • Patchiness around the nose appeared after a few hours

The excitement around the launch of Ilia in the UK last year was unlike anything our tester has ever experienced before, and it was this product that was at the centre of the hype. Luckily, that hype is justified and this serum-like skin tint is one of the greats.

While it does have an odd smell upon application, it dissipates quickly, so don’t let it put you off. It’s light but not watery like a traditional serum, and our tester found it actually applied better with fingers than a brush. It’s loaded with “active levels” of skincare, including two per cent niacinamide and seven per cent squalane, plus it offers antioxidant protection and has an SPF of 30.

It covered a couple of blemishes our tester had with minimal effort, and it wore well throughout the day. We did notice a little bit of patchiness around the nose after a few hours, but it easily blended out again.

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Makeup by Mario SurrealSkin foundation

best lightweight foundation
  • Best: Natural-looking finish
  • Number of shades: 30
  • Size: Not specified
  • Why we love it
    • Lightweight but entirely buildable
    • Long-lasting
  • Take note
    • Blends flawlessly and seamlessly

In essence, this foundation is incredible. It was a long time coming from the namesake brand of Kim K’s makeup artist Mario Dedivanovic, but so worth it.

Lightweight but entirely buildable, skin remains looking and feeling like, well, your skin – just so much better. It blends flawlessly and seamlessly, and it really lasts well. You can just tell it’s been created by somebody who understands makeup, skin and what consumers want and need.

Our tester had it on from 8am until around midnight and it pretty much looked as good in the evening as it did when first applied. It’s hydrating and works just as well with creams as it does powders (we used powder bronzer followed by cream blusher) and we didn’t notice that it oxidised.

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Maybelline SuperStay hybrid powder foundation

best lightweight foundation
  • Best: For full coverage
  • Number of shades : 10
  • Size : 9g
  • Why we love it
    • Comfortable and lightweight
    • Soft matte finish isn’t flat
  • Take note
    • We found it needed a couple of touch-ups throughout the day
    • Not a great shade range on offer

If you’re a full-coverage foundation wearer, listen up – and don’t dismiss this before you’ve tried it. The idea of a powder foundation feels a little bit retro, we know, but this modern formula isn’t like the sorts of products you might have tried previously. Incredibly comfortable and lightweight, it provides a full coverage finish almost instantly. It did take our tester a few attempts to apply it successfully and eventually realised it was best used when her skin was thoroughly hydrated, and she found it best using the sponge applicator that it comes with.

The powder itself is finely milled and feels light, and the soft matte finish isn’t flat at all. It did wear well but we found it needed a couple of touch-ups throughout the day around the hairline. While it’s not one that our tester would usually use day-to-day (mostly because she prefers a more glowy finish), she did find that it doubles up well as a setting powder.

  1. £8 from Amazon.co.uk
Prices may vary
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KVD Beauty good apple full coverage serum foundation

best lightweight foundation
  • Best: For oily skin
  • Number of shades: 40
  • Size: 30ml
  • Why we love it
    • Impressive shade range
  • Take note
    • Can cling to dry patches
    • Not quite as long-lasting as others tested

A new iteration of the viral KVD foundation balm that took TikTok by storm in 2021, this liquid version also offers a full coverage finish but, in our tester’s opinion, is much easier to apply and wear. Available in an impressive 40 shades spanning a full spectrum of light to dark skin tones, it’s non-comedogenic so we didn’t have to worry about it clogging pores despite the heavy coverage.

Take this as your warning though: a little goes a seriously long way, so pump less than you think you’ll need because – as the age-old saying goes – it’s easier to add more than to take it away. We found less than half a pump was enough to cover our face, making the cost per wear pretty impressive, although it’s worth noting that we found that it dried down to more of a soft matte finish – something we didn’t expect from a serum foundation.

Our tester found that it wasn’t quite as long-lasting as some of the others tested, and if you’re somebody with naturally dry skin, it’s probably best avoided. The first time our tester tried it, she had some dryness and it clung a little bit to those patches. However, on second use we focused on hydrating skin prior to application and didn’t have any issues with dry patchiness.

  1. £27 from Boots.com
Prices may vary
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Laura Mercier real flawless weightless perfecting foundation

best lightweight foundation
  • Best: Long-lasting lightweight foundation
  • Number of shades: 25
  • Size: 30ml
  • Why we love it
    • Weightless on the skin
    • Didn’t require any touch-ups throughout the day
  • Take note
    • Shade range could be improved

It’s been a while since our tester has used a Laura Mercier foundation (for a long time her go-to was the iconic tinted moisturiser) but this one didn’t disappoint. We needed around five pumps to cover our whole face, and while it blended nicely, it did need a few minutes to dry down – we found it to be a little streaky so it’s better to stipple it into skin rather than brushing it. However, the colour match was pretty perfect, it felt velvety (but crucially, not like silicone) and it gave a subtle, healthy-looking glow.

As its name suggests, it really is weightless and it covered a couple of blemishes our tester had well without needing concealer. It was long-lasting, too, and didn’t require any touch-ups throughout the day, and the colour stayed true. However, in the future, we would like to see more darker shade options as there seems to be a disproportionately small amount on that end of the spectrum compared to the lighter ones.

Read the full Laura Mercier real flawless weightless perfecting foundation review

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Lightweight foundations FAQs

How to apply lightweight foundation

MUAs recommend applying lightweight foundations first to the back of your hand, to warm it up. From there, you can use either a foundation brush or a beauty blender to apply the product evenly across your face. Some might find that lightweight foundations with a serum or moisturiser texture can be applied more easily using your fingertips. Some products, such as Maybelline’s powder foundation, might come with their own applicators.

How to find the best lightweight foundation for you

Finding the right lightweight foundation for you is dependent on whether you have dry, oily or combination skin. Those with oily skin should explore powder-based foundations or serum formulas that offer fuller coverage. If you’re prone to dry skin, look for a hydrating formula that gives a dewy finish. Hero ingredients should include hydration-boosting hyaluronic acid, soothing vitamin E and brightening vitamin C.

The verdict: Lightweight foundations

The foundation market is so strong at the minute, and this selection is a testament to that. Our favourite was definitely It Cosmetics’s as it delivers on every level. However, the Makeup By Mario (despite the expensive shipping cost) and Dr Jart’s BB cream offerings are up there with the best in glowy, easy-to-wear options.

For the oily-skinned among us, KVD Beauty’s lightweight but full coverage option is a good choice, and don’t dismiss Maybelline’s long-lasting powder foundation either – it might just surprise you.

For more barely there make-up, try our edit of the best BB creams that give glowy, lightweight coverage

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