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Face primers have come a long way in recent years, with more and more people finally understanding their importance and place in the beauty world. And truly, their need can’t be underestimated. Think of face primers as a critical hinge-point, a bridge that spans the gap between your skincare and makeup routines. They do, of course, offer their most-often touted benefits, namely creating a smooth canvas for which your makeup to adhere to and ultimately boosting the staying power as a result. But make no mistake about it, the latest primer iterations could easily be considered skincare in their own right, offering a litany of complexion-perfecting benefits.
In short, they’re a product that pretty much anyone can benefit from, but, if you’re someone who is constantly dealing with makeup meltdown, and/or is trying to minimize the look of uneven skin texture or prominent pores, a primer is truly invaluable, says professional makeup artist Nydia Figueroa, a VaultBeauty member.
There’s a formula out there for everyone and every skin type, so to make things easy for you, we rounded up our favorites. Read on for the best face primers.
Best Overall: Tatcha The Silk Canvas Protective Primer
Infused with both silk extracts and silk powder, this velvety balm makes your skin feel, quite literally, smooth as silk. Ideal for all skin types, the multi-tasking formula, a top pick for Byrdie Senior Editor Hallie Gould, minimizes shine, offers a soft-focus finish, and even boasts natural active ingredients that combat pollution. Not to mention that it can be used on your face, eyes, and even lips.
Best Budget: The Ordinary High-Spreadability Fluid Primer
If you prefer to spend your hard-earned cash on things other than makeup, try this wallet-friendly option. The serum-like formula (it even comes with a serum-esque dropper applicator) is meant to enhance the spreadability of complexion products such as foundation, to help ensure the color stays nice and even. FYI, it is silicone-based, but if that’s not an issue for you, this is a great pick.
Best Drugstore: e.l.f. Cosmetics Hydrating Face Primer
Still not sold on the fact that you need a face primer? Nab this drugstore favorite and prepare to be convinced otherwise. While the texture goes on creamy, it dries down to a beautiful matte finish, all while delivering good-for-your-skin vitamins A, C, and E. It too leaves your complexion nice and smooth and is also vegan and cruelty-free.
Best for Minimalists: Glossier Priming Moisturizer Balance
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) giving them a plumping effect.
Those who prefer to keep their makeup and/or skincare routines simple and streamlined will appreciate this hybrid. It’s a moisturizer, yes, one that’s infused with hyaluronic acid and a soothing anti-redness complex and delivers buildable hydration. But on the primer side of things, it also minimizes the appearance of pores and smooths out texture, the perfect makeup prep step. Also nice: It comes in an oil-free gel variant, choice for anyone with slick skin, and a richer cream for those who crave intense hydration.
Best for Oily Skin: Fenty Beauty Pro Filt’r Instant Retouch Primer
Those with oily skin can benefit from using a primer even more so than most; pick the right formula and you can greatly cut down on the likelihood of unwanted slick spots cropping up mid-day. Speaking of the right formula, this one checks all the boxes. It’s oil-free, of course, and instantly tamps down shine, but never makes skin look or feel chalky. It also has a universally-flattering subtle peach tint that delivers a filter-like blurring effect.
Best for Dry Skin: Isla Face Base Priming Moisturizer
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. Byrdie Editorial Director Faith Xue loves this one, a lightweight lotion that plumps, hydrates, protects from blue light, and leaves your complexion smoother and more even.
Best for Large Pores: Benefit Cosmetics The POREfessional Face Primer
We’ll start with the bad news: There’s no way of *actually* changing the size of your pores. The good news? A good primer, like this one, can drastically minimize their appearance. (Hey, you have to take what you can get.) This clear and oil-free cream creates a smooth layer over the skin, instantly camouflaging the look of pores—and fine lines—in the process.
Best for Fine Lines: Pat McGrath Labs Skin Fetish Sublime Perfection Primer
The star of the show in this unique formula is an equally unique microsphere powder that simultaneously fills-in wrinkles and diffuses light. The result? Your skin looks totally line-less, and also feels perfectly smooth. Plus, there’s also hyaluronic acid in the mix, which offers lightweight hydration and makes your complexion appear nice and plump, too.
Best for City Dwellers: Grown Alchemist Anti-Pollution Primer
This is a team Byrdie favorite, even nabbing a Byrdie Eco Award this year. The gel is silicone-free, so rather than feeling super grippy or tacky, it instead melts when applied onto the skin, delivering a refreshing, cooling sensation. Peptides and Indian ginseng root extract shield skin from damaging blue light and pollution, hence why it’s a must for urbanites.
Best Color-Correcting: Becca Cosmetics First Light Priming Filter Instant Complexion Refresh
Do as the pro makeup artists do and prep your complexion with a color-correcting product, then prepare to be amazed by how much less foundation and concealer you need. More specifically, make it this primer, another one of Xue’s favorites. Don’t be put off by the lavender hue; the tint quickly disappears but does work to instantly brighten and revive dull skin. Consider it a must-have when you need a quick pick-me-up on sleepy mornings.
Best for Dewy Skin: Touch in Sol Pretty Filter Glassy Skin Balm
Sure, to achieve that glassy, glowy skin everyone wants these days you could layer on highlighter after highlighter. But prepping your skin with a radiance-boosting primer can help you reach that goal way faster. Xue raves about this luminous formula, which is crazy creamy and hydrating, leaving your complexion fresh and glowy even before you apply any makeup whatsoever.
Best Mattifying: Sacha Cosmetics Mattifier & Face Primer
Just a light layer of this both instantly absorbs any excess oil and works to control shine for up to eight hours. AKA, no need to keep blotting papers on-hand throughout the day. Credit the addition of corn starch, rather than silicones, that tamps down shine. Use it under makeup for priming purposes, or solo to reap purely the oil-absorbing benefits.
Best Natural: Exa Beauty Jump Start Smoothing Primer
This new brand is the first private line from clean beauty juggernaut Credo, so you can feel confident knowing the formula is squeaky clean. To that point, there are no silicones to be found, but rather a laundry list of protective antioxidants that help shield your skin from everything from blue light to pollution. There are also quartz crystals (real ones) in the mix to deliver a gorgeous blurring effect that works perfectly with the semi-matte finish.
Best Splurge: Victoria Beckham Beauty Cell Rejuvenating Priming Moisturizer
What do you get when Posh Spice gets involved with one of the most beauty editor-beloved skincare brands out there? This luxurious, splurge-worthy moisturizer with plenty of priming benefits that Xue adores. It definitely skews more towards the skincare side of things, using the brand’s proprietary technology that helps skin stimulate its own repair and renewal. Inspired by Mrs. Beckham’s gorgeous glow, it has a similar radiance and smooths out pores, fine lines, and other imperfections while it does its hydrating and anti-aging thing.
Best Multi-Tasker: Lawless Beauty Set the Stage Hydrating Primer Serum
Truly defining a skincare-makeup hybrid, this is equal parts skin-soothing serum (thank you peptides and rosehip oil), hydrating moisturizer (hello, shea butter), and makeup-perfecting primer. Also noteworthy is the texture, which somehow manages to morph from serum to oil to a non-sticky gel. We’re also obsessed with the subtle lavender scent.
Tatcha The Silk Canvas Filter Finish Protective Primer is a favorite of both Byrdie editors and makeup artists alike, a foolproof pick that makes skin both look and feel flawless, and can be used on eyes and lips, too. A primer is even more of a makeup must-have if you’re dealing with oily skin; in that case, you’ll want to try the Fenty Pro Filt’r Instant Retouch Primer. On the flip side, if you have dry skin, go for the extra-hydrating Isla Face Base Priming Moisturizer (another team Byrdie fave). The aptly-named Benefit Cosmetics the POREfessional Face Primer is great for anyone trying to minimize the look of prominent pores, and if you’re looking for a silicone-free pick, the Exa Beauty Jump Start Smoothing Primer is one of our current clean-beauty obsession.
What to Look For In a Face Primer
Does it contain silicone?
Up until recently, any primer by definition contained silicone, one of the most effective ingredients for creating a smooth and even texture on the skin. That being said, it’s a no-go in the clean beauty world and can irritate sensitive skin. These days, there are plenty of non-silicone options out there, so it really is a matter of personal preference.
Dealing with oily skin? Seek out formulas labeled as “mattifying” or with a “velvet” finish, indications that they’ll help tamp down excess oil. Have a perpetually dry complexion? 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 the 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 onto your brush or ring finger and starting at the center of your face, blending the primer outward. Remember, primer goes on after moisturizer, but before any other makeup.
Can you use face primer on or under your eyes?
You can use it under your eyes, says Figueroa, though be careful not to work it too close to the lash line (you don’t want any to get into your eyes). For lids, she recommends a dedicated eye primer—they’re specially formulated for this delicate skin—but if you’re in a pinch, a tiny dab of your regular face primer will do the trick.
Why Trust Us
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. Even though her makeup routine is generally fairly minimal, a good primer always makes an appearance anytime she’s wearing foundation.
Meet the Expert
Nydia Figueroa is a beauty expert and professional makeup artist in the New York/New Jersey area, and the owner of Faces 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.