I Tried Lots of Drugstore Tinted Moisturizers. These Are My 6 Favorites.

Like my naked skin… but better.

9 min read
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For most of my life, applying makeup was part of my daily routine. I did it without thinking, the same way I brushed my teeth. And then in April 2020, I had a baby. The whole world went into lockdown, and I stopped wearing makeup.

As life slowly started to resume, I found that I didn’t miss makeup. I was a new parent juggling work and life, and saving a few minutes every day felt precious. But now out of the new baby fog, and I’ve recently been wanting to feel more like myself — and a bit more put together. A full face of foundation feels like too much for my freelance writer life (usually the only people who see me are the preschool teachers at drop-off and my local barista). Still, I want to wear something. I discovered tinted moisturizer because it usually has SPF, and therefore I could protect my skin while also feeling a little more presentable.

What is tinted moisturizer? And how to use it like a pro.

Tinted moisturizers are workhorses: moisturizer, coverage, and sun protection in one convenient bottle. “Think of tinted moisturizer as the lightest option for foundation,” says Jamie Greenberg, celebrity makeup artist and founder of Jamie Makeup. “It evens out your skin tone a bit, hydrates, but lets your natural skin shine through.”

BB Cream (“blemish balm” or “beauty balm”) and CC cream (“color control” or “color correcting”) are versions of tinted moisturizer that offer different benefits. “[BB cream] is great for balancing out your complexion,” Greenberg says. “It usually has antioxidants, SPF, hydrating ingredients and brightening ingredients like vitamin C.” CC cream is BB cream’s more serious older sister, and offers heavier coverage. “[CC cream] also has SPF and antioxidants, but it usually targets signs of aging with skin-firming ingredients,” Greenberg says. 

Lauren Cosenza, founder of Lauren Cosenza Beauty LLC, likes tinted moisturizer because it creates what she calls a “veil of hydrating sheer coverage.” She says, “Tinted moisturizer leaves a glowy, dewy finish, and allows for a kiss of coverage for anyone who wants an everyday, natural look.”

To apply tinted moisturizer, think simple. Start by using your fingers or a sponge to dab the moisturizer on your skin. Then, follow Cosenza’s directions: “Make sure the application is even, then press with your fingers to fuse the product with your skin, especially around the nose, corners of the mouth, under the eyes and any areas with enlarged pores. Spot conceal after if you want more coverage. Dust a light layer of powder over if you want to set or subtly mattify.” If the product is right for your face, you’ll look fresh-faced and feel gorgeous.

“Everyone’s skin is different, so you do have to do some trial and error,” Greenberg says. “Know your general skin tone — there are less options for tinted moisturizer because it’s so sheer — and try brands you love.” 

With this advice, I ordered a long lineup of well-reviewed tinted moisturizers from DoorDash and dabbed them on, testing for the ones that made my skin look subtly bright and effortlessly smooth. Most brands I researched offer a dozen or more color options across a spectrum of shades. Here are four tinted moisturizers, one BB cream, and one CC cream — all available on DoorDash — that are going into my daily rotation. 

Clinique Moisture Surge™ Sheertint Hydrator Broad Spectrum SPF 25

This super moisturizing product started off a little greasy, but in a few minutes settled into pleasantly dewy. It’s a great choice if your skin errs on the dry side. For me, this tinted moisturizer made my skin look even and radiant, it didn’t have a weird fragrance, and it lasted beautifully throughout the day. I wish the SPF was higher, but it still works well on most days. It’s light, too, so I add a second layer and a dab of powder to feel more made up.

bareMinerals COMPLEXION RESCUE Tinted Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30

I like this moisturizer’s smooth gel texture, which sits lightly on my skin. It has an easy-breezy feel that makes this one a great option for hot, sticky days. It won’t clog pores or suffocate your skin, and it doesn’t have that heavier lotion feel of some of the other products. Sheer with a satiny finish, this is my vacation day go-to.

ColourPop Pretty Fresh Hyaluronic Acid Tinted Moisturizer

Made with hyaluronic acid and coconut water to hydrate, this tinted moisturizer delivers on the blurring effect, like an excellent Instagram filter. I found it too sheer to obscure dark spots, but a dab of concealer on top did the trick. This is a win for a “no-makeup makeup” look that lasts all day. It also contains fruit extract, which brightens and evens skin and reverses sun damage with Vitamin C. This is the only tinted moisturizer without SPF, so apply sunscreen separately.

Morphe Glowstunner Moisturizer SPF 30

My skin felt fresh and glowy with Morphe, and it stayed that way after a busy day. It’s a skincare-makeup hybrid with lots of perks. Vitamin E and citric acid offer antioxidant protection, humectants glycerin and hyaluronic acid plump the skin with moisture, and lactic acid helps even and brighten your complexion. I love how easily this went on and how breathable it felt. My only complaint was its slightly funky odor (sweaty beach day?), but I couldn’t smell anything after I rubbed it in.

Maybelline New York Dream Fresh Skin Hydrating BB Cream

This silky smooth BB cream had a natural, slightly matte look, and evened out the redness around my nose and the dark circles under my eyes. The cream claims to hydrate skin with glycerin and lock in moisture with lecithin. It even includes antioxidants like pomegranate extract to prevent UV-induced collagen damage and chamomile to soothe tired skin. This one feels luxurious and soft on my skin, which is especially impressive given its reasonable price. While most of these tinted moisturizers come in a wide variety of colors, this BB cream only spans five, from light to deep.

e.l.f. Camo CC Cream

This full coverage CC cream is a great swap for more traditional foundation if you’re looking for something with SPF. Bonus points for being easy to blend with your fingers, with a finish somewhere between dewy and matte. I reach for this CC cream when I want to cover a pre-period pimple or undereye circles after a particularly taxing toddler night. It’s a little thicker and more pigmented, but it doesn’t feel heavy or cakey on my face all day.

No matter which product is best for you, tinted moisturizer is a great choice for all kinds of skin. “You never know when your skin is going to need a break from makeup, but still want a little help,” says Greenberg. “Your natural skin is beautiful, and summer is the perfect time to let it shine through.”

PHOTO CREDIT: Courtsey by Hannah Howard