The perfect face primer has long been my beauty unicorn. I'd estimate my combination skin to be somewhere in the ballpark of 70% dry and 30% oily, so finding a primer that keeps my T-zone matte, without stripping my skin of all moisture, has always eluded me. What's more, if I'm going to add an extra step to my morning routine, it better be fast, smell good, and make makeup application that much easier, which hasn't exactly been my experience.
If you're anything like me, hearing a friend or co-worker gush about their godsend primer always ends with one thought:
What am I missing here?! To get to the bottom of this question, I dedicated time and resources to put some of the popular tubes I keep hearing about to the test.
Throughout this experiment I employed the same foundation —
Smashbox's new Studio Skin Foundation Stick applied with a brush — and forewent all setting spray and powder to ensure that the playing field was even. Ahead, I break down eight primers, ranging from drugstore to prestige, and provide my unfiltered thoughts on their performance...or lack thereof.
Flower Beauty In Your Prime Pore-Minimizing Primer, $13, available at
The latest addition to Drew Barrymore's Flower Beauty line aims to erase pores and wrinkles, leaving skin with a soft, matte finish.
Before I have areas of intense redness around my nose, so this primer's green, color-correcting tint immediately made me feel confident in its skin-prepping abilities. I thought it was a little odd that it didn't claim to diminish redness, instead just touting pore-filling properties and mattifying abilities, but I loved the added benefit. In terms of application, the product had a nice slip, evened out some of my skin texture, and my foundation layered really nicely over it. After applying my foundation, I did, in fact, notice that the redness that usually peaks through around my nose was pretty scarce. Bonus!
After This primer really kept my makeup intact through the day and offset the redness around my nose, which it covered better than most other primers I tried. Final Verdict: My face looked airbrushed and fairly matte at the end of the day, as evidenced by this photo, so overall, this product is definitely worth it for the drugstore price. Rating: 8/10
Hourglass Mineral Veil Primer, $54, available at
: This primer aims to reduce the size of pores — and diffuse redness and wrinkles — by providing a smooth, airy makeup application. It also contains SPF 15.
Before My initial reaction to this primer was that it was very white and smelled a little strange. The scent is not bad by any means, but it wasn't my favorite. The former (and perhaps the latter, too) is likely from the physical sunscreens, so I didn't mind too much, especially since I regularly forget to apply SPF. As far as the application goes, I had to massage the product into my skin a bit more than usual to ensure there was no white cast, and had to wait a minute or so for it to set. Despite my initial trepidation, this product worked well as a canvas to layer products over, and my skin looked quite nice.
After My makeup was definitely still set at the end of the day, but my skin was a bit too oily for my taste. However, my skin looked really healthy as I left the office for the night, and this primer didn't exacerbate my dry patches at all. With a light dusting of setting powder, I think this primer would've been the winner. Final Verdict: I'll definitely keep this in my kit for days where I'll be in the sun, but at $54, I wouldn't say this is the most utilitarian primer for year-round use, unless you don't mind powdering as needed. Rating: 6/10
Nyx HD Studio Priming Base, $16.99, available at
: A water-based primer that's designed to minimize fine lines and pores so foundation can glide on smoothly and evenly.
Before I'm a big fan of Nyx, especially its brow pencils and lippies, so I was excited to take the brand's HD primer for a test drive. However, when I started applying this primer, it felt a bit greasy and didn't melt into my skin as quickly as I would've liked. My foundation west on pretty well once I let the primer sink in fully, although it did feel pretty heavy.
After I had to take this primer off at 4 pm because my face was a grease ball. I just felt the overwhelming urge to wash my face...so I did just that. Final Verdict: I don't think this primer is bad by any means, I just think it would be best suited for dry skin or as preparation for a full face of glam makeup with all the baking and powder that comes with the popular look. If you're oily or even slightly combo, I'd steer clear. Nyx, I love you, but this primer didn't love my combination skin back. Rating: 3/10
Becca Velvet Blur Perfecting Base, $34, available at
A liquid-to-powder primer that leaves the skin looking airbrushed and minimizes the appearance of pores.
Before I fell in love with this Becca primer as soon as it hit my skin. The color, a light salmon, was a bit offsetting at first, as was the runny texture, but the product was easy to apply and melted into my skin instantly. It was the quickest setting primer I'd ever tried and it made my face feel like literal velvet. Tip: A little goes a long way. My foundation went on smoothly and the product definitely lived up to its claim of an airbrushed look. Overall, I was really happy with the look and feel of this primer at the start of the day.
After I noticed absolutely zero oil build up on my face throughout the day, as you can see in this 5 pm photo — which is, as you're probably gathering, a small miracle. Even eight hours after application my makeup remained perfectly in place, save for the foundation I applied over a zit between my brows. My face felt velvety and smooth the entire day, despite touching my face every few hours to ensure that it was still matte. Final Verdict: This was my favorite of the bunch I tested. I think it would work on a wide range of skin types, from oily to dry, and for the totally reasonable price of $34, I think I found my go-to. Rating: 10/10
Sisley Double Tenseur Primer, $192, available at
This "ultra-sensorial fresh gel" doubles as a skin-firming agent and second-skin-like barrier for easy foundation application.
This primer is nearly $200. I'll take a moment to let that sink in. I realize it is an obscene amount of money for most of us to pay for primer, but I needed to see what all the
-fueled fuss was about.
The gel texture of this product made it easy to apply and smooth over the skin, and I really like the way it sunk in quickly. It felt great and my makeup went on perfectly. So far so good.
After The day I used this primer was probably my most successful makeup day of this whole experiment — everything stayed in place and looked great. I had a bit of skin flaking off around my nose, which contributed to foundation wearing off in that area, but it was no fault of the primer (my skin was having a day). Final Verdict: My skin looked really healthy and glowing at 7 pm, a full 10 hours after application, which left me pretty speechless. Honestly, I was anticipating saying that this primer wasn't anything special, but it is. A whole $192 worth of special? Not for me, but if you've got the extra cash, you have my blessing to treat yo self. Rating: 9/10
Soap & Glory One Heck Of A Blot Primer, $14, available at
This primer is infused with "pore shrink technology" that promises to smooth skin and keep oils at bay for 12 hours.
Before Soap & Glory is one of my favorite drugstore brands. Its body butter is my all-time favorite moisturizer and the brand's products generally agree with my skin, so I had high hopes for this primer. I liked the texture of the product upon initial application and my skin felt even and matte. My foundation also glided on smooth. However, this primer had a very silicone-y feel, so you might want to steer clear if thats not your jam.
After Some of the foundation around my chin had definitely worn off by the end of the day, exposing a zit I'd been trying to hide. Having said that, the rest of my foundation looked nice, although there was a bit of oil starting to creep in by 7 p.m. Final Verdict: I think this primer is really solid for making pores look smaller and priming the T-zone, but I wouldn't recommend it for application over a breakout. Rating: 7/10
Rimmel Stay Matte Primer, $6.99, available at
A lightweight, water-based primer that controls oil for up to eight hours and decreases the look of pores.
Before This primer was one of the most affordable options I tested, so I was excited to see how it stacked up to the more expensive formulas. I liked the texture and how wonderfully lightweight it felt on my skin. The product went on nicely and my foundation looked airbrushed and really even, so I was very optimistic.
After My skin looked great after a long workday, save for a little shine. It didn't have the same heavy feel as the Nyx option and my foundation definitely stayed in place like a champ — but I would have preferred something a bit more mattifying. Final Verdict: This product definitely decreased the appearance of my pores and helped my skin maintain an airbrushed appearance throughout the day, but it wasn't my top pick. Rating: 7/10
Model's Own Mattifying Face Base Primer, $14.99, available at
Ulta The Claims:
This dimethicone-based primer is meant to keep oils at bay, enhance the appearance of makeup, and increase product wear-time.
Before This product immediately reminded me of the Sisley primer, which made me hopeful that I'd found a potential dupe. After applying, I realized they were quite different — the Model's Own primer had much more slip to it and was less tacky than the Sisley gel. Also, the Model's Own primer didn't smell great when I applied it to my face, a bit like plastic. However, in a wild twist of fate, the application and feel of the product on the face was really nice, the smell faded quickly, and my foundation glided really nicely over top.
After My makeup was in place at the end of a long day and oily spots were few and far between. I liked that this product was silicone based and simultaneously felt like it was one with my skin, instead of an annoying barrier between my face and the foundation. Other products really rested nicely upon it, too. Final Verdict: I really enjoyed this product, and it was definitely my favorite drugstore option I tested. It didn't provide the same benefits as the Sisley option, but I'll definitely be keeping this baby for fall and winter. Rating: 9/10
Illustrated by Mary Gallloway.
At the end of this experiment I realized that face primer makes a really, really big difference in the performance of my makeup and its wear-time. As you can easily see through the selfies I took of myself, some made a bigger difference than others. So which ones am I putting on repeat?
Drumroll, please.... Becca's Velvet Matte primer was the big winner here for me, and for drugstore options, the Model's Own and Flower Beauty made my skin feel the most matte and airbrushed. For very special occasions (like, say, my wedding day) I'd reach for the Sisley Double Tenseur. I know, I know, $192 is a lot, but that shit is good.
appearance by Mi-Anne Chan.
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appearance by Mi-Anne Chan.