Face primers bridge the gap between makeup and skincare routines by helping makeup adhere more easily to your skin. Designed to create a smooth canvas for makeup application, face primers boost the staying power of foundation, concealer, blush, and more, while preventing makeup creasing and slipping that can happen from extended wear. It’s super common nowadays for these products to boast a litany of complexion-enhancing benefits, making a case for them to be considered skincare, too.
To prove that point, we researched the best face primers on the market. Then, we put them to the test. We tried out 38 face primers at our lab in NYC on the basis of application, feel, and look — and we’re sharing our findings with you.
Keep reading to discover the best face primers.
Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Primer
Lightweight and hydrating
Extends wear of makeup
Can have a tacky finish
Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Primer is a must-have if you’re in the market for a primer that makes skin look like it's lit from within. The gel goes on completely invisible (despite the bottle having a greenish tint), and, according to our tester, smooths the look of skin right away — all you need is a pea-sized amount. What’s more, it grips any and all makeup you put on top of it for all day hold without sacrificing hydration.
The ingredients are equally as impressive; the formula contains blue agave extract, hyaluronic acid, cannabis seed extract, and niacinamide to provide long-lasting hydration and visibly smooth the appearance of your skin. Something to consider: It can feel tacky upon application, but it dries down pretty quickly. Dry skin folks might appreciate the dewy finish, but those looking for a matte finish might want to keep scrolling.
Price at time of publish: $36 for 1.52 fl oz
Key Ingredients: Blue agave extract, Hyaluronic acid, Cannabis seed extract, Niacinamide | Skin Type: All | Size: 0.33, 1.52 or 5.28 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes
What Our Testers Say
“My face looks amazingly smooth, with just the right hint of moisture. My foundation looks flawless on top of it.” —Stephanie Cartagena, Product Tester
NYX Professional Makeup Marshmellow Smoothing Primer
Shrinks look of pores
Has a subtle fragrance
You don’t have to spend a ton of money to get a quality face primer. Case in point: This creamy primer smoothes skin, giving it a soft focus finish for a little over 15 dollars. Not only does it work well under makeup, but it’s formulated with anti-inflammatory marshmallow root extract which makes it ideal for those who need a little extra skin soothing. Our tester was impressed with its quality, especially given the price. She especially liked its “even consistency” that left behind “no residue.” Plus, it absorbs into the skin completely after a few minutes, leaving behind hydrated, soft skin.
The primer has a subtle sweet scent. So if you’re sensitive to fragrance or just don’t love the concept of your primer having a smell, keep that in mind before buying.
Price at time of publish: $14
Finish: Matte | Shades: 23 | Size: 0.11 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes
What Our Testers Say
“The soft, whipped texture makes it easy to spread all across the face. When it dries, it’s undetectable under makeup and actually helps my makeup go on smoother.”— Maria Irigoyen, Tester
Honest Beauty Everything Primer Matte
Great for oily skin
Could be too drying for dry skin
For a primer that comes out creamy, it’s surprising how fast it dries down and mattifies oily skin. What’s even more shocking is that it’s really affordable. The applicator is a tube with a pump, which our tester found to be a “delightful surprise.” This feature allows for the right amount of product to come out every time, ensuring you don’t waste any product. The tester especially liked this feature as it helps the product last a long time. Two pumps covered her face perfectly, prepping her skin for makeup by taking away any excess shine. Although the tester didn’t seem to mind, the product does have a subtle fragrance.
It’s also important to keep in mind that since it’s mattifying, those with super dry skin might not like how it feels when it dries down. If this sounds like you, check out a more hydrating option instead.
Price at time of publish: $13
Finish: Matte | Shades: 23 | Size: 0.11 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Too Faced Hangover Primer
Soothing, hydrating ingredients
Contains olive oil, which can clog pores
Primers aren’t just for the oily skin set; there are plenty of hydrating options out there that are ideal for adding extra moisture to dry skin. The Too Faced Hangover Primer, which is infused with nourishing and restorative ingredients like coconut water, glycerin, and probiotics is great for reviving dry skin. It has other benefits, too, like extending makeup wear and ensuring foundation stays fresher for longer. One thing we’re not crazy about is that it contains olive oil, which is known to clog pores for those prone to breakouts.
Price at time of publish: $20
Key Ingredients: Coconut water, probiotics | Skin Type: Dry, Combination | Size: 1.35 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes
What Our Testers Say
“The primer is lightweight, doesn’t feel sticky or glue-like, paired well with my foundation, and dried quickly.” —Rose Cirrincione, Product Tester
Tatcha The Silk Canvas Protective Primer
Soft focus that blurs skin
Natural ingredients that strengthen skin barrier
Has anti-inflammatory properties
It comes in a pot
Infused with both silk extracts and silk powder, this velvety balm makes your skin quite literally feel as smooth as silk. Ideal for all skin types, the multi-tasking formula (it can be used on eyes, lips, and face) is a top pick for Byrdie Editorial Director Hallie Gould. One scoop helps to minimize shine and offers a soft-focus finish that blurs the look of imperfections and fine lines. It also contains pollution-fighting natural actives meant to not only repair immediate damage, but also strengthen the skin barrier to protect against future damage.
Plus, it contains the brand’s signature Hadasei-3, a complex of youth-boosting ingredients, to leave skin soft and radiant. Our tester even lauded the fact that her skin looked flawless and more even. One thing we wish we could change: The pot. Although it's an adorable addition to any vanity, it’s not the most hygienic — use a scoop or be sure to wash your hands before using to avoid contamination.
Price at time of publish: $54
Key Ingredients: Silk, squalane | Skin Type: All | Size: 0.7 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes
What Our Testers Say
“One scoop covered my whole face, melting into my skin instantly. I love how silky it feels and how it makes my skin look smooth, even, and flawless.” —Jessika Noralez, Product Tester
Best for Large Pores
Tarte Cosmetics Poreless Mattifying Primer
Mattifying for 12 hours
Can be too drying for some skin types
If we’re being honest, there’s no way of changing the size of your pores. But, with a good primer, you can drastically minimize their appearance. The Poreless Mattifying Primer from Tarte is a great option if you’re looking to shrink the look of your pores and help makeup look its best, even when sweat or an unexpected rainstorm come into play. Thanks to matte-blur technology, the silky, invisible gel mattifies skin and erases the look of pores, uneven skin texture, scars, and dry patches for up to 12 hours.
According to our tester, it has a Vaseline-like consistency that doesn’t come across as too oily. In fact, she said it has the “perfect amount” of hydration. Take note that if you already have dry skin, this one may not be for you. Reviewers online have shared that although the primer succeeds in shrinking the look of pores, the mattifying properties left their dry skin irritated.
Price at time of publish: $32
Key Ingredients: Avocado oil, Echinacea root, Hibiscus flower, Rosemary leaf extract | Skin Type: Oily, Combination | Size: 1.00 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes
What Our Testers Say
“The primer felt soft on contact with my skin and made my makeup go on smoothly. Other testers kept complimenting my makeup after using the primer.” —Breanna Chase, Product Tester
Best for Oily Skin
Fenty Beauty Pro Filt'r Mattifying Primer
Mattifying formula blurs skin
Doesn’t aggravate acne-prone skin
Those with oily skin can benefit from using a primer even more so than most — just pick the right formula and you can greatly cut down on the likelihood of unwanted slick spots cropping up midday. This formula from Fenty Beauty is oil-free and instantly sops up shine without making skin look or feel chalky. Instead, it feels cushiony and soft, and delivers a filter-like blurring effect. Don’t be surprised if it’s slightly tinted when it comes out of the tube: The primer imparts a white tint that blends (cast-free) into all skin tones. Be warned that it is heavily scented, so if you’re easily irritated by fragrances in cosmetics, you may want to steer clear of this primer.
Price at time of publish: $34 for 1 fl oz
Key Ingredients: Dimethicone, Glycerin | Skin Type: All | Size: 0.5 or 1.00 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes
What Our Testers Say
“After applying one and a half pumps of the primer to my skin, I loved how it turned from white to translucent, especially as a darker-skinned person.” —Chantia Murphy, Product Tester
Best for Dry Skin
Youthforia Pregame Primer
Soft, radiant finish
Protects against pollution
Contains skincare actives
You might be tempted to sleep in it
Those with dry skin understand the struggle that is dry patches. Thankfully, with this primer from Youthforia, you won’t have to worry about those wreaking havoc on your makeup. Because the brand believes makeup is an extension of skincare, all of the products are formulated to be skin-loving enough to sleep in (yes, really). Created with a hydrating blend of glycerin and plant extracts — like olive leaf, apple, tea tree, willow, melon, fig, and more — dry skin is made to feel at ease. So much so that our tester went as far as saying the primer gave her skin much-needed radiance and hydration.
Price at time of publish: $38
Key Ingredients: Glycerin, Plant extracts | Skin Type: All | Size: 1.00 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Dull Skin
MAC Studio Radiance Illuminating Primer
Brightens dull skin
Some ingredients might cause breakouts
To achieve glassy, glowy skin, prep your base with a radiance-boosting primer, like this illuminating formula. It’s creamy and skin-conditioning, thanks to a blend of hyaluronic acid, glycerin, olive oil, jojoba and vitamin E. Our tester confirmed that it feels wonderful to the touch and keeps her foundation hydrated with a natural-looking glow. All you have to do is apply a pea-sized amount (or two) to your fingertips and blend it into your skin.
Price at time of publish: $34
Key Ingredients: Jojoba seed oil, Glycerin, Hyaluronic acid, Vitamin E | Skin Type: All | Size: 1.00 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No
Best with SPF
Charlotte Tilbury Invisible UV Flawless Primer SPF 50
Contains SPF 50
Formulated with vitamins C and E
It contains talc
We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: Sunscreen is a must. Be sure to use an adequate amount to get full protection benefits or layer it over a dedicated sunscreen. The Invisible UV Flawless Primer SPF 50 from Charlotte Tilbury is exactly what it sounds like — a clear blurring primer that contains SPF 50. Despite the fact that it comes out of the package in a “watery consistency,” our tester couldn’t get enough of it. Upon contact with the skin, she noted that it felt like a light moisturizer. Though you may want to let it sit on the skin before topping it off with concealer and foundation, it creates a smooth base for makeup. Best of all, it doesn’t pill, so you can layer on as much as you’d like. Something to keep in mind is that the formula contains talc, which is a controversial ingredient that some people prefer to avoid altogether.
Price at time of publish: $55
Key Ingredients: SPF 50, Vitamins C and E, Hyaluronic acid | Skin Type: Oily, Combination | Size: 1.00 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Here’s the deal: If you want your pores to look smaller, skin more balanced, and makeup to stay put all day, a primer should be high on your list of items to buy. You can’t go wrong with the Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Primer or the NYX Professional The Marshmellow Smoothing Primer, each of which is a favorite of Byrdie editors, testers, and pro makeup artists alike. For those who want a primer to mattify the look of shine, the Fenty Beauty Pro Filt'r Mattifying Primer is a solid choice. The Charlotte Tilbury Invisible UV Flawless Primer SPF 50 is a great pick for those looking for some extra sun protection in their makeup routine.
How We Tested
Byrdie editors did extensive research on popular face primers, taking expert recommendations and consumer reviews into account before choosing 38 bestsellers to test out first-hand. Our testers assessed each one based on application, feel, and look before deciding on a rating from one to five. Those with the highest scores made the list. All tests were performed in The Lab, our Manhattan product testing facility.
Other Options We Tested
Benefit Cosmetics The POREfessional Face Primer
While our tester loved the pore-smoothing, silky finish of this popular primer, she took issue with its packaging. It wasn’t as functional as it could be, especially when it comes to size and the lack of a pump.
Estee Lauder The Mattifier Shine Control Perfecting Primer + Finisher
Although our tester noticed a difference in the look of her pores after applying the luxury primer, she didn’t like how it made combination skin feel super dry.
Glossier Priming Moisturizer
Initially impressed by the full-coverage offered by this primer-meets-moisturizer, our tester was let down by the fact that it didn’t change the look of her pores.
Meet the Expert
Nydia Figueroa is a beauty expert and professional makeup artist in the New York/New Jersey area and owns Faced By Nydia Makeup Studio. Her work has appeared frequently in editorial shoots as well as major fashion shows. She’s a member of VaultBeauty, an app that helps connect makeup artists with clients.
What to Look For in a Primer
Up until recently, any primer by definition contained silicone, one of the most effective ingredients for creating a smooth, even texture on the skin. As cosmetic chemist Julie Pefferman explains, silicones are water-resistant and offer a “smooth glide” that helps makeup go on more flawlessly and stick better. That aside, it’s a no-go in the clean beauty world and has been some evidence to suggest it irritates the skin barrier. These days, there are plenty of non-silicone options out there, so it really is a matter of personal preference. Pefferman recommends the Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Primer as it’s silicone-free but isn’t lacking in the silkiness department.
When it comes to face primers, Figueroa recommends seeking a formula that’s nourishing and packed with antioxidants. “This is beneficial for all skin types because it corrects signs of aging and combats free radical damage,” she says. While primer may technically be the first step of your makeup application, you can also think of it as the last step of your skincare routine—you’ll want it to have some long-term skin benefits, too. Youthforia Pregame Primer, which contains natural plant-based ingredients, is a great antioxidant-packed primer.
Dealing with oily skin? Seek out formulas labeled as “mattifying” or with a “velvet” finish, indications that they’ll help combat excess oil. Choosing a primer with a luminous or radiant finish is a great way to help impart an added glow to your skin from the very outset of your makeup routine.
What does face primer do?
“A face primer acts as a barrier between makeup and your skin,” explains Figueroa. It works like double-sided tape, locking in your moisturizer and helping your foundation adhere better for a smooth and polished finish while also minimizing the look of pores in the process, she says.
How do you apply face primer?
Figueroa suggests applying a small amount, either onto your brush or ring finger, and starting at the center of your face, blending the primer outward. While she personally likes using her fingers to apply, she notes that there are natural oils on your fingertips that can add oil to your face. "Using a flat foundation brush will give an even application and help your foundation go on much smoother since there will be the slip of primer on it already," she says. Remember, primer goes on after moisturizer but before any other makeup.
Can you use face primer under your eyes?
Yes, according to Figueroa, you can use face primer under your eyes. However, she warns you should be careful not to work it too close to the lash line, as you don’t want any to get into your eyes.
What Is Byrdie Verified?
Did you notice the Byrdie Verified seal of approval at the top of this story? This seal means that our team has researched and tested every product on this list using a unique methodology that’s designed to focus on what our readers really want to know—and to deliver insights that you can’t find anywhere else. Occasionally, beauty brands and PR agencies will send us samples for coverage consideration, but our thoughts and opinions are fully our own. If you visit links within our content, we may receive commissions from your purchases, but we never receive any compensation or consideration for the content of our recommendations. In short, the Byrdie Verified seal stands for product recommendations you can trust.
Why Trust Byrdie
Caitlyn Martyn is an experienced writer in the beauty industry and product tester specializing in cosmetics. She has tested dozens of concealers — including several on this list. Caitlyn has been a writer at Byrdie since 2022, where she covers all things beauty.