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Makeup primers were once positioned simply as a foundation prep step, a way to up the staying power of your base and any other makeup you apply. And indeed, primers are excellent and necessary for that purpose. But it’s time to shatter the misconception that that’s all they can do. The right primer can do so much more, mattifying or brightening, smoothing away the look of lines and wrinkles, and blurring imperfections.
In short, a primer is much more of a necessity than you may think. The other misconception we’d like to do away with is that you have to shell out big bucks for a good primer. The drugstore is a treasure trove of great options, with choices for every skin type and complexion concern (not to mention every area of your face because primers aren’t just for your skin).
Read on for the best drugstore primers.
Best Overall: Maybelline New York Baby Skin Instant Pore Eraser Primer
This universal fan favorite has been dubbed “Photoshop in a bottle” for good reason. The ultra-silky texture works on all skin types, leaving oily skin perfectly mattified and dry skin hydrated and smooth. Apply a few drops on your bare face or mix it straight in with your foundation if you’re looking to streamline your routine; either way, you’ll reap the complexion-perfecting benefits.
Best Mattifying: Rimmel Stay Matte Mattifying Primer
The right primer can work wonders when it comes to keeping skin matte and tamping down sheen all day. This particular shine-controlling option does just that (for up to eight hours, we should add), but without ever feeling too dry or creating a cakey appearance.
Best for Large Pores: COVERGIRL Trublend Base Business Pore Minimizing Skin Primer
The bad news? There’s no product or treatment out there that will change the actual size of your pores. The good news? There are ways that you can make them appear smaller, like using a primer such as this one. The oil-free formula smooths away the look of prominent pores and has a subtle lilac tint that delivers overall brightness and generally makes skin look that much better.
Best for All Skin Types: Revlon Photoready Perfecting Primer
There are three variants of this primer available—Brightening, Perfecting, and Pore Reducing— so you can choose whichever one sounds like the best fit for you. Each has some slightly different features; the Brightening has a pearlescent finish, the Perfecting a tone-enhancing pink tint, while the Pore Reducing also mattifies. But what they all have common is a topnotch ability to smooth skin and keep makeup locked in place.
Best for Dry Skin: E.l.f. Jelly Pop Dew Primer
Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring polysaccharide found in the human body. It acts as a cushioning and lubrication agent for our joints, nerves, hair, skin, and eyes. When used in skincare, it acts as a moisture binder, which means that it will attach itself to the water in the cells (while also attracting and holding water from the air) making them plump.
Serum, moisturizer, hydrating primer—consider that your go-to product trifecta if your skin feels perpetually parched. More specifically, make sure it’s this primer, which has an ingredient list that really reads more like skincare than a makeup product. We’re talking a hefty dose of hyaluronic acid, soothing, brightening, and hydrating niacinamide, plus plenty of antioxidants. Bonus points for the refreshing and moisturizing gel texture and the way it leaves your complexion looking naturally dewy and oh-so-fresh.
Best for Dull Skin: Neutrogena Hydro Boost Glow Primer & Serum
If your complexion is looking dull, lackluster, and generally blah, consider using this skincare-makeup hybrid. Part serum, part primer, it delivers a big ole dose of hydration via hyaluronic acid (always a surefire way to boost radiance), leaving skin plump, smooth, and refreshed. And per the primer part of things, it also helps keep your makeup on lock.
Best for Oily Skin: BLK/OPL Invisible Oil Blocking Gel Primer
Those with oily skin are excellent candidates for using a primer; think of it as falling more in the skincare category, another way to help mattify your complexion. This featherweight gel option is especially choice, drying down to an undetectable matte finish and boasting a natural astringent to help stop oil in its tracks. Use it all over or just on areas prone to excess sheen, like your T-zone.
Best With SPF: NYX Professional Makeup Bare With Me Cannabis Sativa Daily Moisturizing Primer SPF 30
Anyone who’s constantly searching for ways to streamline their morning routine (insert hand-raising emoji here) will appreciate this multi-tasker. Indeed, it acts as a primer to smooth skin and prolong makeup wear but the benefits don’t stop there. Cannabis sativa seed oil works to impart long-lasting hydration while also soothing skin, and there’s also your daily dose of SPF 30 in the mix, too. As our girl Ina Garten would say, how easy is that?
Best Brightening: Milani Prime Light Strobing & Pore Minimizing Face Primer
To score that coveted, lit-from-within glow that everyone craves, sure, you could load on tones of highlighter as the final step in your makeup routine. Or, you could start by prepping the skin with this primer and create an even more natural-looking luminescence. Soft focus pigments instantly brighten and revive your complexion; use the formula under makeup or even alone on days when you want more of a bare-faced look.
Best for Redness: Neutrogena Healthy Skin Prep + Correct Primer
Don’t be freaked by the pale green color of this primer—it’s the secret weapon for minimizing unwanted redness. (Green neutralizes red because the two colors fall opposite one another on the color wheel.) The color-correcting pick is ideal for anyone dealing with rosacea or blemishes, perfecting and evening out your complexion even before you reach for foundation and concealer.
Best for Lids: Wet n Wild Photo Focus Eyeshadow Primer
If you’re constantly dealing with eyeshadow that cakes and creases, consider prepping lids with a shadow primer (this one) beforehand. This mattifying one absorbs oil and acts as a buffer between skin and shadow—be it cream or powder—to keep it looking smooth and even. It dries clear but does also have a subtle brightening effect, never a bad thing in our book.
Best for Lips: NYX Professional Makeup Lip Primer
Just like a good primer can ensure your foundation stays put, so too can a lip primer help lock lipstick in place. Simply line and fill in your pout with this creamy pencil; it creates the perfect canvas, helping lip color glide on smoothly and preventing it from ever bleeding or feathering. Don’t tell anyone, but it’s our little secret prep step anytime we’re sporting a bold lip.
Best for Lashes: L'Oréal Voluminous Lash Primer
Believe it, your lashes can also benefit from a primer. This particular pick makes fringe look extra-long and extra-thick, all while acting as a mascara magnet to ward off the potential for mid-day flakes or smudges. FYI, it goes on white, but that cast disappears once you layer on mascara.
For the best results, carefully comb through lashes as you apply it (mascara primers are notoriously goopy) and let it dry for about 30 seconds before topping with mascara.
Having a primer is a crucial step in your makeup routine as it’s not only a base for makeup, but a way to ensure your makeup stays on all day while addressing some skin concerns— like brightening, smoothing, blurring, and more. With all of the available drugstore primers, finding the right one can be quite a challenge. Our overall favorite, Maybelline New York Baby Skin Instant Pore Eraser Primer is ultra-silky upon application and leaves your skin with a Photoshop-like blurring effect. If you’re looking to conceal your pores, try COVERGIRL Trublend Base Business Pore Minimizing Skin Primer as its oil-free formula smooths away the look of prominent pores while brightening due to its lilac tint. Lastly, if you’re looking for a primer to hide redness, try Neutrogena Healthy Skin Prep + Correct Primer for its peel green color that expertly neutralizes redness.
What to Look For in a Primer
If you see silicone on the back of the label, explains Kelli J. Bartlett, NYC-based makeup artist, put it back down. She recommends opting for silica instead—it can help absorb oil naturally without drying skin out.
Primers are typically made to address one chief concern. Therefore, explains Bartlett, you should stick to only your top needs to get the most out of your primer.
Based on the season or temperature, you’ll need a primer for different concerns. During winter months you might need a primer for dry skin that lets you apply more makeup seamlessly, notes Bartlett. “In summer, you might be looking for a radiant primer that lets your skin shine with SPF,” says Bartlett.
How we test drugstore primers:
Our team works hard to be transparent about why we recommend certain products; you can read more about our product review methodology here.
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find enough drugstore primers from Black-owned and/or Black-founded businesses to meet this percentage. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will evaluate the product ASAP.