The best tinted moisturizers for a natural-looking glow

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Introducing The Kit’s new editor-tested shopping awards, the Shop Smart Guide. The idea is simple: Every month, The Kit editors exhaustively test-drive items in desert-island categories — not the season’s exciting yet ephemeral trends but the evergreen essentials you’re most likely to buy now and wear or use forever. We’re talking mascara, jeans, retinol serum, red lipstick, white sneakers, etc. Our hope is that Shop Smart helps you reach that mythic shopping ideal: to buy less but better. Here, our guide to tinted moisturizer.

I hate foundation. I find it highlights, rather than disguises my “flaws,” like wrinkles and uneven texture. Sure, it covers dark spots and redness, but at the expense of your skin looking like … skin. But a moisturizer — a hydrating skincare product — that imparts a bit of colour to help even out my skin tone, maybe boost it with a bit of a tan-like glow? I’ll take that! Your skin but better: That’s the ideal, right? Since this testing exercise, I’ve come to view tinted moisturizers (with SPF) as one of the best cosmetic heavy-lifters and a desert island pick right after mascara (yes, I probably need SPF more on a desert island, but who’s giving up their best mascara?).

For this test drive, I looked for the tinted moisturizers with the most natural-looking results, not foundation-like coverage. I rated coverage level on a 1 to 5 scale, 1 being what I’d consider true tinted-moisturizer level (that skin-tone-smoothing but sheer veil). A 5 would be foundation. But full-coverage ones aren’t on here (though if you’re looking, Trinny London and Urban Decay fit that bill, both 5s in my opinion). I tested both SPF and non-SPF, though that’s a tricky subject between Canada and the U.S., as our sunscreen regulations are different, and some sunscreen products can’t be designated as such here, even though the formulas are the same as what’s sold as an SPF in the States. Those ones are noted. So peel away the opaque mask and read on for a smooth, slightly upgraded natural-looking complexion.

Bare Minerals Complexion Rescue Tinted Hydrating Gel Cream, $42,

Bare Minerals Complexion Rescue Tinted Hydrating Gel Cream, $42, SHOP HERE

The winner: BareMinerals tinted moisturizer

The cost: $42 for full size (35 ml), $25 for mini (15 ml)

The claim: Boost skin’s hydration by 215% in just 1 week, provides 24-hour hydration, the number 1 tinted moisturizer in the U.S.

The SPF: 30, mineral

The number of shades: 20

The review: BareMinerals tinted moisturizer wins in my books because it checks the most boxes. If I’m wearing a tinted moisturizer, it’s in the daytime, which means I want it to have an SPF factor. And if it has an SPF factor, I want it to be mineral, ideally. There is much to be said in defence of chemical sunscreens, and our beauty and lifestyle director, Katherine Lalancette, provided an excellent breakdown of chemical vs. mineral sunscreens here, that makes me feel much better about using chemical sunscreens when I do. That said, I’ll still take a mineral any day (bonus: Apparently tinted mineral sunscreens also protect even better than untinted). What also swayed me toward this one, is that of all the ones I tried, it feels the most like a moisturizer (like a gel-cream, to be precise), no doubt thanks to the hyaluronic acid and olive-derived squalane in the formula. It smooths easily, provides medium coverage and feels weightless. The finish is glowy, to the point that I’d use a bit of powder on my nose, but perfect for you glazed donut seekers out there. On the 1 to 5 scale, it’s a 1-2. It’s fragrance-free and 98 per cent natural. Another box it checks is that it’s a bit cheaper than most of the others on here. Buy it from Sephora, but do yourself a favour and pick your shade from the BareMinerals site itself. The depiction on of the warm, ambery shade I have looks like a strange pale pinky-mauve.

Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer Light Revealer Natural Skin Illuminator, $59,

Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer Light Revealer Natural Skin Illuminator, $59, SHOP HERE

For a radiant glow: Laura Mercier

The cost: $59

The claim: Attracts moisture to the skin, helps promote water retention

The SPF: Officially none but classified as SPF 25 in the States, chemical

The number of shades: 14

The review: The glow! Laura Mercier makes three types of tinted moisturizers, but I tried this one, which contains shade-specific “Complexion-boosting Pearl Blends.” They make for an exciting pearlescent finish that creates a beautiful gleam in all light scenarios, candlelight included (tested!). It’s subtle, but it’s not imperceptible, so if a bit extra luminescence is not on your wish list, I’d go for one of the others on this list. Though I am here to say that the glow is delightful, so don’t be shy. This one feels beautiful going on, smooth and moisturize-y. The finish (aside from the subtle gleam) is a good balance of not shiny, not matte, and the coverage is a 1.

Nars Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer, $58,

Nars Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer, $58, SHOP HERE

For buildable coverage: Nars

The cost: $58

The claim: Protects against environmental aggressors and evens out skin tone in four weeks thanks to vitamin C

The SPF: Officially none but classified as SPF 30 in the States, chemical and mineral

The number of shades: 19 on, 16 on

The review: My original point-form note on this tinted moisturizer, the first one I tried, is “perfect glowy finish but not shiny,” and it’s true. I would powder my nose and forehead with this maybe, but I’m not of the glossy-face generation. I kept staring at the finish turning my face this way and that to see if what I perceived as a slight iridescence is really there, and I think it is: a pale whitish-pinky-mauve one. But it’s so subtle I couldn’t tell if it was my imagination, and it’s only where the light bounces off your cheekbones or forehead. It provides a very pretty ethereal highlight. On first application Nars is a 5 verging on a 6 but builds quickly into a foundation, if that’s what you want. If you’re looking for versatile, buildable coverage, this is a great option. It has a slight but lovely scent and a nice smooth, texture. Only downside: I can feel it a bit on my face.

Smashbox Halo Healthy Glow Tinted Moisturizer, $49,

Smashbox Halo Healthy Glow Tinted Moisturizer, $49, SHOP HERE

For expert approval: Smashbox Halo

The cost: $49

The claim: Moisturizes for 24 hours

The SPF: 25, mineral and chemical

The number of shades: 20

The review: Like a few of the products on this list, Smashbox’s tinted moisturizer makes regular appearances on many “best tinted moisturizer” lists. Our beauty and lifestyle director gave it a place in her scrupulously tested Beauty Disrupters Awards last year, and makeup pro Sheri Stroh named it one of her favourite tinted moisturizers in a recent Kit interview. This is a very my-skin-but-better product. It has a slight shine but just enough to be considered a glow. The “but better” also comes from what I would say is a 2 on the coverage scale. It’s similar to both BareMinerals and Laura Mercier, but is a bit more makeup-y, and it may “moisturize for 24 hours,” but I don’t find it super moisturizing in comparison to those two. Picking the right shade in a face makeup product is a total gamble online, but Smashbox has really big before and after pics of people of different skin tones wearing the product, and it gives you a very clear sense of the shades.

Wet n Wild Bare Focus Tinted Hydrator, $9,

Wet n Wild Bare Focus Tinted Hydrator, $9, SHOP HERE

For a solid bargain: Wet n Wild

The cost: $9

The claim: Intensely hydrating

The SPF: None

The number of shades: 11

The review: This tinted moisturizer isn’t great just because it’s $9 — it’s just great. It’s lightweight, blends easily and has a very natural semi-matte finish. It claims to be intensely hydrating, and does have hyaluronic acid and squalane, but I’d call it light in the moisture department, especially compared to others on this list. This one would be perfect for someone with oilier skin who wants something to smooth out their complexion (I’d call it a 2), tone down shine and provide a light hit of hydration. If that’s all you’re after and you don’t care about SPF, I don’t see any reason to look further than this under $10 bargain.

Hermès Plein Air Complexion balm, $115,

Hermès Plein Air Complexion balm, $115, SHOP HERE

If you’re into luxe: Hermès

The cost: $115

The claim: A radiant natural finish that lasts for eight hours

The SPF: None (technically 30, mineral)

The number of shades: 12

The review: This one is for people who love a bit of luxe in their life, and what’s more luxe than Hermès? In keeping with its haute-ness, the Hermès tinted moisturizer has the loveliest most subtle golden glow. I thought I was maybe imagining it the first time because it’s very subtle, but trying it again after multiple tests of other products, I noticed it each time I tried this one again. What stands out for me in this TM (getting tired of hearing myself say “tinted moisturizer”) is that the finish is the most skin-like of all I tried. The balance of matte/shine could not be more natural — it’s quite notable. Unfortunately, for me, what’s also notable is the prominent scent, that lingers after blending. But if luxe is your thing, maybe scent is, too, as the two have traditionally gone hand in hand. I’m sure it would be a selling point to my mother and her scent-loving generation. The coverage is a 2-3.

When you make a purchase through the links in this article, we may earn a small commission. Our journalism is independent and not influenced by advertising. Learn more.

Eden Boileau is the managing editor of The Kit, based in Toronto. She writes about women and culture. Reach her via email: [email protected]


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