The Final Word on Dewy vs. Matte Foundation

Dewy or matte foundation...what’s better?! It’s one of the most common makeup questions I get asked as a beauty writer...and the answer is, well, complicated. A dewy foundation will have you looking glowy as hell and serving up serious sheen in selfies, while a good matte foundation will give you that full-coverage, shine-free look that stays put from morning to night. Basically, both dewy and matte foundations can be MVPs in your makeup bag, as long as you’re using them in the right situations and with proper foundation application.

To help break it all down, I reached out to makeup artists Sara Talias and Tobi Henney along with cosmetic chemist Ginger King. Below are their favorite dewy and matte foundations along with the pros and cons of using both types of formulas in your makeup routine.

What is dewy foundation?

“A dewy foundation is perfect when you want a very natural makeup look,” says Talias. The light-reflecting finish creates a soft shine on the skin for an ultra-glowy, your-skin-but-better appearance, says Talias, adding, “I always recommend dewy foundation for someone who wants a minimal makeup look, with an emphasis on skin.”

Like your favorite face moisturizer, most dewy foundations contain ingredients that help hydrate skin and lock in moisture. To see if a formula will leave a dewy finish, King says to skim the label for water-attracting humectants (like glycerin and hyaluronic acid) and water-retaining emollients like squalane, oils, and esters. Henney adds that dewy foundations are typically produced in a liquid or serum form, meaning you can skip the powder foundation section entirely when shopping for a dewy foundation.

To get a super-glowy makeup look using your dewy foundation, Talias says to apply a liquid highlighter on the high points of the face (aka the tip of the nose, the center of the chin, brow bones, and cheekbones) first. Then you can go in with your dewy foundation, blending it into your skin using a foundation brush. Once you’re all blended, Talias recommends misting your face with a setting spray to lock everything into place.

What are the pros of dewy foundation?

  • Easy to blend and build

  • Lightweight, second-skin feel

  • Coverage ranges from sheer to full

  • Reflects and adds light

  • Can help minimize the appearance of discoloration

What are the cons of dewy foundation?

  • Needs touched up throughout the day with powder or blotting papers

  • Can look greasy on oily skin due to excess shine

  • May draw attention to breakouts

What is matte foundation?

“Matte foundation can be magic for a client that wants more coverage on the skin,” Talias says. Thanks to the thicker, more opaque formulation, matte foundations are great at hiding acne, pores, hyperpigmentation, redness, and tattoos. “They are also great for clients with oily skin who have complaints about their foundation not lasting as long,” Talias says. “Matte foundations keep excess shine at bay with nonreflective and oil-absorbing silica, silicone elastomer, rice powder, and minerals,” says King. A major benefit if your face starts to resemble an oil slick by midday.

Matte formulas are also available in more forms than dewy foundations are, including powder, liquid, and cream. With all of these options, it may feel overwhelming to comb through every single label. To make it easier, keep your eyes peeled in the beauty aisle for product description keywords like “matte,” “mattifying,” “full-coverage,” “longwear,” and “blurring.”

To prevent your matte foundation from looking cakey, it’s important to properly hydrate the your skin with moisturizer and primer before applying any face makeup. Once your skin is nice and moisturized, Talias recommends applying your choice of matte foundation with a makeup brush and going over it again with a damp beauty sponge to create a seamlessly blended effect. For the final touch, Talias says to set your matte foundation with a tiny bit of loose setting powder to ensure your skin stays fully shine-free all day long.

What are the pros of matte foundation?

  • Long-lasting wear

  • Easily covers acne, redness, and dark spots

  • Help prevents excess oil and shine

  • Come in liquid, cream, and powder formulas

  • Many formulas are oil-free

What are the cons of matte foundation?

  • Can settle into pores and fine lines

  • Not as lightweight and easy to blend

  • May look heavy and dry on some skin types

Is dewy or matte foundation better?

Traditionally, “dewy is better for a more radiant, fresh-faced makeup look; matte is better for a more full-coverage look,” says Henney. But at the end of the day, it’s your own personal preference that matters most.

It’s all about finding a formula and finish that feels good on your skin type and makes you feel confident with your look. If you’re unsure which finish you like best, test out both types (shout-out to Sephora and Ulta samples). Some people find that they like matte and dewy options and choose to wear the two formulas based on the occasion and season. Others find their holy grail formula and wear that type for the rest of their life. There truly is no right or wrong in makeup, so choose a foundation (or two or three) that works for you.

Meet the experts:

  • Sara Talias is an editorial and bridal makeup artist who has more than 15 years of experience. Talias’s work has been featured in Harper’s Bazaar, Grazia, and Pump Magazine.

  • Tobi Henney is a seasoned makeup artist who was previously the L’Oréal Paris makeup director for Australia. Henney is known for creating red carpet looks for Megan Fox, Ashley Graham, Ellie Goulding, Sara Bareilles, Barbara Palvin, and more.

  • Ginger King is a cosmetic chemist and founder of Grace Kingdom Beauty, a cosmetic product development consulting firm in New Jersey.

Why trust Cosmopolitan?

Abby Dupes is a beauty writer and editor whose work has appeared in Seventeen, Elle, and Town and Country. Abby is an authority on all makeup categories but is an expert when it comes to dewy and matte foundations. She regularly works with the industry’s top makeup artists and cosmetic chemists to assess to new foundation formulas and brands.

You Might Also Like