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6 Serum foundations for an effortless ‘no makeup’ look

When it comes to product lust-ability, there’s plenty to adore about serum. It’s lightweight, it absorbs quickly and it’s packed with effective ingredients. Plus, it often shows up in sleek dropper bottles that add a cool apothecary touch to your bathroom counter. Lately, there’s a whole new serum subset making the beauty scene — serum foundation.

Serum foundations got their start with the launch of Giorgio Armani’s much-raved-about Maestro, so we asked the brand’s Celebrity Face Designer Tim Quinn to weigh in on what they are and why you need one in your life.

It’s all about texture

So what’s so great about serum foundation? According to Quinn, serum formulas combine a high concentration of skin care ingredients with a sheer to medium coverage that’s easy to build. Many formulas also contain SPF, for added anti-aging protection.

But the first thing you’ll notice is the texture. Typically, serums offer the luxurious slip of an oil but without a greasy feel. But don’t let the oil comparison scare you. “Serum foundations are great for most complexions unless you’re extremely oily or very dry,” says Quinn. So don’t skip your daily moisturizer or mattifier.

More: How to make your own serum foundation for cheaper

How to apply

Their trademark silky texture means they blend easily into skin for a smooth, flawless look. One caveat: Dry patches can be emphasized with serum formulas, so you’ll want to hydrate and exfoliate as needed. Also, many brands use dropper bottles, which can take a little practice to master sans mess.

Quinn advises applying the way you would a skin care product: Dab it on with your fingertips, starting at the center of your face and blend outward. The warmth of your hands will help the product glide on even easier. For a sheerer, “no makeup” look, mix the formula with a spritz of mineral water or dot of moisturizer in your palm before applying and focus only on the areas you need coverage.

More: Why wearing foundation might be healthier than going makeup free

Serum foundations to try

1. YSL Youth Liberator Serum Foundation

YSL Youth Liberator Serum Foundation
Image: YSL

Every bottle contains a dose of YSL’s ultra-hydrating Forever Youth Liberator Serum. Other highlights: SPF 20, generous-yet-buildable coverage and a luxe texture. (, $69)

2. e.l.f. Foundation Serum

e.l.f. Foundation Serum
Image: Eyes Lip Face

This budget-friendly take on the trend features a light, silky formula and broad spectrum SPF 25. The drawback: It only comes in three shades. Although the sheer coverage allows for a little more versatility, those at the fairest and darker ends of the spectrum won’t find a match. (, $8)

3. Giorgio Armani Maestro Fusion Makeup

Giorgio Armani Maestro Fusion Makeup
Image: Giorgio Armani Beauty

The original serum foundation. With its luxe, super-velvety formula and beautiful coverage, it’s easy to see why so many makeup artists and beauty experts have been smitten. It racks up bonus points for essential oils like white lotus, which Quinn asserts is “very calming to the skin.” (, $64)

4. Diorskin Nude Air Serum

Diorskin Nude Air Serum
Image: Dior

As its name suggests, this formula delivers lighter coverage for a natural look that lets skin show through. But that doesn’t mean flaws get extra leeway — special pigments diffuse light for a radiant, soft-focus look. Other goodies include vitamins, minerals, “hyper-oxygenated oil” which is purported to let skin breathe and broad spectrum SPF 25. (, $53)

5. By Terry Densiliss Foundation

By Terry Densiliss Foundation
Image: Space NK apothecary

Part imperfection-erasing foundation, part anti-wrinkle serum, a few expertly blended dabs impart matte coverage with a hint of radiance. The effect is like your skin — as seen through a forgiving Instagram filter. (Space.NK.apothecary, $115)

6. Hourglass Primer Serum

Hourglass Primer Serum
Image: Hourglass cosmetics

This primer boasts 28 complexion-boosting ingredients, like essential oils, plant oils and vitamins A, B5, C and E. Intriguingly, the product information claims it does triple-duty as a night skin care serum or split-end sealer. (, $65)

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