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Formulas don’t have to be high-end to be effective. Many of our favorite beauty products can be found at the drugstore, including some of the best eyeshadow primers you’ll ever use.
But first things first: Are eyeshadow primers a must in your beauty routine? “Most people don’t typically use eyeshadow primer every day,” says Latisha Rankin, a celebrity makeup artist based in New York. “However, they're helpful for those with lifestyles where its benefits are needed.” This means that if you’re a cycling fanatic, work long hours, or are hustling 24/7, an eyeshadow primer could be the extra ammunition you need to help your makeup last all day long.
With all these tips in mind, explore the best eyeshadow primers you can find at the drugstore.
Best Overall: NYX Professional Makeup Proof It! Waterproof Eyeshadow Primer
Looking for an eyeshadow primer that stays put? Here it is. Not only is it waterproof—perfect for long days or working out—but it’s also transparent and amplifies the color that sits on top of it. And a plethora of reviewers agree; they call this primer a holy grail product with a long-lasting formula.
Best Budget: Essence I Love Stage Eyeshadow Base
This Essence primer is a great base at a truly great price. With this product, you’ll get all the benefits of its counterparts—it glides on and makes eyeshadow pop—without going over budget. Reviewers rave that it doesn’t crease and keeps your color vibrant for hours.
When picking the right primer, Rankin suggests choosing a translucent or flesh-tone shade, so it doesn’t affect the final color payoff. Going for an even bolder look? Opt for a white eyeshadow primer to really make the color on top really pop.
Best for Oily Lids: Maybelline New York Master Prime Long-Lasting Eyeshadow Base, Prime + Smooth
Whether you had a late night or early morning, one swipe of this luminescent formula will instantly perk up tired eyes. The pinky-champagne hue is super flattering, with just the right amount of radiance to brighten your eyes without veering into full-on glitter territory. It’s so pretty that you can totally get away with using it solo, no shadow topper required.
Best for Dry Lids: No7 Stay Perfect Eye Primer
The silky texture of this primer does a great job of keeping dryness at bay and prepping the lid for eyeshadow. Shake the tube well so the formula disperses evenly.
Best for Sensitive Lids: Physicians Formula #InstaReady Eye Primer Duo
There’s nothing quite like a two-in-one. Included in this kit are two primers: One with a matte finish and the other with a shimmery finish. Depending on the occasion—or your mood—you get to choose. Plus, it’s paraben-free, gluten-free, and dermatologist-approved.
As far as applying, Rankin prefers to use her fingers to warm up the product, making it easier and smoother to blend. “I also find it helps the product really penetrate the skin,” she adds.
Best Clear: Milani Eyeshadow Primer
While this goes on nude (in a shade that’s surprisingly flattering on a wide array of skin tones), it dries down completely clear, ideal for anyone who wants their primer not to be so prominent. Dab it on with your fingertip or a small, flat brush; either way, it glides on seamlessly without tugging or pulling on delicate skin.
Best Multi-Use: Revlon Eye Primer & Brightening Stick
Now’s the time to give your eyes that soft-focus look. Infused with photochromatic pigments, this brightening primer reflects light in all the right places. Reviewers love the lightweight gel texture—which would feel great if left in the fridge overnight—and how the formula reduces the appearance of fine lines. Use under eyeshadow or alone for a vibrant, minimalistic look.
Best Vegan: Wet n Wild Photo Focus Eyeshadow Primer
Oily lids can be a recipe for shadow disaster, almost instantly causing any formula, powder or cream, to cake and crease. But not with this mattifying option, which acts as a buffer between lids and color, ensuring shadow stays put without budging. While it dries clear, it also has a subtle brightening effect. And we’ll never say no to that.
Best Quick Drying: e.l.f. Cosmetics Putty Eye Primer
“I absolutely love this primer,” says Rankin. “It reminds me of the NARS Soft Cream Primer, except this one is reasonably priced.” Apart from being super easy to blend—thanks to the creamy consistency—it can also be applied with your fingers for a quick and simple routine.
Best Long-Lasting: NYX Professional Makeup Eyeshadow Base
To amp up the intensity of your favorite shadow hue, apply the white version of this creamy primer beforehand; it promises to boost the color up to 100 times. Or, use either the white pearl or skin-tone options solo to subtly even out and enhance the skin around your eyes. There’s even a black shade to layer under dark shadow colors.
Best for Glitter: Covergirl Lid Lock Up Eyeshadow Primer
When you’re in a rush, reach for this affordable option. It dries and sets within seconds, ideal when you need a super speedy eye makeup routine. It lasts and resists creases all day, and the formula also happens to be cruelty-free, too.
We’ve got to give it to NYX's Professional Makeup Proof It! Waterproof Eyeshadow Primer, a waterproof formula that lasts and lasts, followed by the mighty CoverGirl Lid Lock Up Eyeshadow Primer that continues to keep your eyeshadow looking vibrant. If you're looking for a super-quick application, snag e.l.f. Cosmetics' Putty Eye Primer—its creamy texture helps with optimal blending and also dries in a snap.
What to Look for in an Eyeshadow Primer
Much of an eyeshadow’s primer lies in its ability to stay on without slipping or cracking. When choosing an eyeshadow primer, take note of the length of wear. “I like to look for primers with 24-hour wear,” says Rankin. The longer the wear, the tougher it might be to remove, so always keep your cleansing oil handy.
“An eyeshadow primer that's easily blendable is important,” says Rankin. If you can use the product with a tool or your fingers in a way that’s effortless, you’ve got a winner. Just keep in mind that most heavy-duty eyeshadow primers have a timeframe after application—after a few seconds, the formula can set, so make sure to apply your color immediately after.
Why Trust Us
Byrdie contributor Syden Abrenica has years of experience in the editorial beauty industry. She’s written for magazines like Health, Good Housekeeping, Family Circle, and more. When she’s not raving about an eyeshadow primer’s staying power, she’s renovating her century-old home and watching Disney movies with her husband, son, and three rescue dogs.