Thursday, June 12, 2014

Silicone based VS Water based airbrush makeup: which is better?

Silicone based or water based? This is one of the most pressing questions facing anyone approaching airbrush makeup for the first time. Let me just start by saying that I am glad that I writing this post now, three years into my airbrush experience. Had I not waited, I might have ended up like many other bloggers, fuelling a controversy that like most such squabbles is based on a lot of misunderstanding, and even bigger lot of rushed assumptions. Thankfully, after three years since my "radical conversion" to airbrushing, and after a whole lot of experimenting, researching and polling among my students, I am confident stating the following: you can achieve extraordinary results with both kinds of product. They both have significant unique strengths, and they both have some limitations. Your perception of either will depend on a few factors, mainly what brand you use, how much experience you have and what kind of training you received. That said, there will always be a blogger, a makeup artist and of course many a manufacturer ready to swear on the superiority of one over the other, and so the only thing we can do is state some objective facts.

FACT: Silicone based products are more viscous (i.e. thicker) than water based ones
WHAT THIS MEANS: Silicone based products require higher pressure (5-15 PSI) to be atomized efficiently. By efficiently I mean producing a very fine mist that will not cake on fine wrinkles and large pores. Imperfections will be highlighted rather than concealed if the application is not correct. When applied correctly silicone will be undetectable on the skin, producing a truly flawless finish. This takes practice. For the same reason they are best applied with a larger nozzle (ideally .3 to .4), and you will need a slightly larger quantity of product to cover the same area. In short: working with silicone implies a higher learning curve.
Water based products work at lower pressures (2-12 PSI). Generally the application is sheerer, so spot concealing and the use of creme correctors is somewhat more frequent. Learning how to do a viable application can therefore be a faster process.

FACT: Water based products are easier to clean from your airbrush.
WHAT THIS MEANS: No complete cleanup or dis assembly is required with either type of makeup when you are simply changing colours  (a false myth that is amazingly still being kept alive by some teachers). However, silicone requires a specific cleaner and a very thorough check up at the end of each session. Pros will need a complete dis assembly and clean regardless of the type of product used, but water based are far more soluble and therefore faster to deal with.

FACT: Silicone based products are highly water resistant, water based products are not.
WHAT THIS MEANS: Silicone based products will not be impacted by water. Not even a large quantity. We demonstrate this in our classes very empirically (and somewhat comically) by pouring  a half a cup of water on a silicone made up student's face: no change. Of course this does not mean "completely friction resistant", which no makeup is. Water based products may streak if they come in contact with large amounts of water, however this does NOT mean that the makeup is ruined, at least not with most pro brands, because the streaks will disappear as soon as the water dries, and the makeup will look perfect again.

FACT: Silicone foundations are generally more "movable" than water based products.
WHAT THIS MEANS: Once the makeup is applied, a foundation can be still moved on the skin and re blended after a few minutes, if necessary. This makes silicone more similar to traditional makeup. Most water based products will dry almost on contact, however some brands still allow for some movement. Of course in both cases the real question should be why move it at all, thus compromising the airbrushed finish, which is what you should be after in the first place.

FACT: Silicone is a very big molecule. 
WHAT THIS MEANS: Silicone is not absorbed into the skin. It rests on top of it, sealing it from outside agents. This can also be read as "preventing it from breathing", but remember: the airbrush application allows for gaps between atomized particles, so a silicone airbrush application can still be "healthier" for your skin than coated traditional makeup. Regarding health issues with silicone in aerosol form, there is still no conclusive report that states categorically that it is safe to breath silicone particles. In fact, quite the opposite, as you can read on this report. However as far as makeup is concerned, the particles hopefully fall in the category of "too big to pass the nasopharyngeal region barrier" (meaning they will not reach your lungs), and then again exposure and quantities during makeup are extremely minimal. 

FACT: Water based products are generally less allergenic.
WHAT THIS MEANS: Although the ingredient list can vary significantly for each brand, it is a statistical truth that water based products are extremely well tolerated even by the most sensitive types of skin.

So, have you made up your mind yet? I hope not. I mean it. I hope you get to appreciate both, as I do. In our airbrush makeup courses, which are not "sponsored" by any particular brand, I like my students to experience both types of makeup. I actually have gone as far as devising a full makeup  comparison (including eyes) of the two by using silicone on one side of a student's face and water based on the other, of course choosing similar colours. Their preferences and comments have been very varied, but the comments I heard most often, and with no derogatory intent,  were that silicone looks like beautiful makeup, while water based looks like beautiful skin. There are perfectly good reasons why on different occasions you may want to achieve both the former and the latter.

Water Based Vs Silicone Based airbrush makeup: applied on our student Melania


  1. Bella notizia ,non lo sapevo che il silicone era così resistente... :)

  2. tendenzialmente preferirei quello ad acqua per la leggerezza e per lasciar più liberi i pori. O nel caso avessi la fortuna di farmi truccare spesso con questo metodo(magari). Altrimenti per un'occasione speciale dove magari si richiede un trucco perfetto,come una cerimonia, direi quello siliconico

  3. For a major event would be ideal ..

  4. are both excellent products .. but I prefer to water

  5. Does the silicone based foundation need setting? Is it better to apply concealer before or after airbrush? thanks!

    1. Hello Sabrina, sorry for the delayed reply! Setting is generally not indispensable with Silicone based products, much depends on the brand. I sometimes use a light dusting of HD powder over a silicone application. As for the concealer, definitely better before, so that the airbrushed finish won't be affected and it will look perfect. :)

  6. Can I put SB in my luminess sprayer?

    1. Hello Niece, sorry it took so long to get back to you, somehow google did not notify your question to us! The Luminess stylus is a .4 nozzle, so in theory it could work with silicone, but that depends mainly on your compressor. If you have a one speed compressor then I would say don't try it. If you have a three speed then go ahead, it should work fine with the second or third speed. Also remember though: if you are not confident with taking your airbrush apart to clean it, and you don't have the proper cleaner for silicone base, it's best not to try. If your system is still under warranty also remember that by Luminess rules your warranty would be voided if you use any other brand with their system. Hope this helped :)