Experts provide a complete breakdown of what makes each of these products unique—and suggest a few products from each category to try now.
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If you've ever wondered about what differentiates a skin tint, tinted moisturizer, and hydrating foundation—three of the most popular complexion products currently on the market—you're not alone. Ultimately, these products are similar, but selecting the correct option for you depends on the look you are attempting to achieve. To help you better understand each formula type, and choose the best iteration of each, we asked beauty experts to dig into these product categories.

What Is a Skin Tint?

A skin tint is the lightest-possible complexion makeup product that gives you more of a radiant glow, as opposed to coverage. "It is similar to a serum, but has a sheer colored tint to add a glow and help even out skin tone without being cakey or heavy on the face," says Naseeha Khan, professional makeup artist and cofounder and product development lead of CTZN Cosmetics. "Skin tints also tend to be less greasy than tinted moisturizers. Their serum-like formulation offers all of the hydration without looking oily, which is perfect for achieving a dewy glow." 

Keri Blair, MAC cosmetic senior national artist, agrees and adds that skin tints have a hybrid of color and skin-benefiting ingredients. "With the texture of a serum, skin tints create a glass-like skin finish with a hint of color," she says.

Khan recommends skin tints for those new to base makeup or to those with dry or sensitive skin because of their light coverage and foolproof usage. But anyone can use this formula type if you're looking for a dewy aesthetic. "It's truly a personal preference of how you like your skin to look and feel," says Blair. If you're looking to enhance your skin's texture and moisture level, a skin tint may be a great choice for you."

If you're looking for a flawless finish, Khan recommends using a makeup brush or a sponge. Blair says you can use a dual-fiber brush like the MAC #159 Brush ($38, maccosmetics.com) or use your fingers for blending and melting the product into your skin.

The Best Skin Tint

Looking for a skin tint to try? Khan recommends Fenty Beauty by Rihanna Eaze Drop Blurring Skin Tint ($32, sephora.com). "It's perfect for oily skin types and gives a little more of a matte finish on the complexion," she says. "I also love the fact that it comes in a wide range of shades."

What Is a Tinted Moisturizer?

Aptly named, a tinted moisturizer is a moisturizer that has a colored tint to match your skin tone. Blair says that it offers hydration while providing color to balance redness and discoloration. It offers sheer coverage, which means that you see more of your skin than you would with a foundation. This is the product that you should use if you want to create a "better version" of your complexion, says Blair.

"My best analogy for explaining coverage is nylons versus tights. When you wear tights, you only see the material on your legs—they fully cover your skin," Blair says, noting that foundation falls into the "tights" category. "When you wear nylons [which corresponds to tinted moisturizer], you can see the skin through the material; it creates a veil to blur imperfections."

Khan says that a tinted moisturizer is a great alternative for those who want to wear foundation every day and is especially beneficial to those who are always on the go and have an active lifestyle. A lot of tinted moisturizers have added SPF, which makes them particularly effective in the summer, when you want a lightweight coverage option and extra sun protection.

Both Khan and Blair say that a tinted moisturizer can be applied with your fingers. "It's the best way to melt and blend product into your skin without any streaks," says Khan.

The Best Tinted Moisturizer with SPF

For a radiant tinted moisturizer formula, Kahn says to look to Tarte's BB Tinted Treatment ($39, ulta.com). "It has SPF 30 and gives an amazing, healthy glow," she says.

What Is a Hydrating Foundation?

In general, foundation provides more coverage and pigment than a skin tint and a tinted moisturizer. According to Khan, a hydrating foundation offers moisturizing benefits and is typically made with ingredients like hyaluronic acid to give you a dewy, illuminating finish. She says those with dry or combination skin could benefit from using this foundation type because of its moisturizing properties and recommends using a foundation if you want fuller coverage—or want to look a bit more "done."

Blair says the best way to apply any foundation is to use a soft brush with a medium-sized head. Khan likes to use a makeup sponge for a seamless finish.

The Best Hydrating Foundation

Blair's pick for best hydrating foundation is MAC Cosmetics' Studio Water Weight SPF 30 Foundation ($38, ulta.com). She says it has an "elastic, gel-like serum texture" that is made of a moisture infusion complex to hydrate skin; it offers buildable coverage with SPF 30 protection.

Khan likes the Kosas Revealer Skin-Improving Foundation SPF 25 with Hyaluronic Acid and Niacinamide ($42, sephora.com) because it contains nourishing skin ingredients and gives you a natural-looking finish. "It pretty much doubles as skin care," she says.

As for our editor-approved pick? We're partial to the Jones Road What the Foundation ($44, jonesroadbeauty.com), a hydrating foundation that delivers intense moisture thanks to jojoba oil and sodium hyaluronate, and the very best version of your skin via its buildable light-to-medium coverage.

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