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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. For instance, many of the antioxidant benefits of vitamin C serums can be found in primers, too. They do, of course, offer their most 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, even sensitive skin types for whom silicones are a no-go. 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
Compact packaging is ideal for travel
Expensive per ounce
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 and offers a soft-focus finish. Not convinced? It also contains pollution-fighting natural actives that not only repair immediate damage, but also strengthen the skin barrier to protect against future damage. Plus, it contain's the brand's signature Hadasei-3, a complex of youth-boosting ingredients that leave the skin soft and radiant. Oh, and did we mention that it can be used on your face, eyes, and even lips?
Key Ingredients: Silk, squalane | Skin Type: All | Size: 0.7 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Budget: The Ordinary High-Spreadability Fluid Primer
Can be mixed with foundation
Silicone-heavy formula not for all skin types
If you prefer to spend your hard-earned cash on things other than makeup, try this wallet-friendly option. The ultralight serum-like formula (it even comes with a serum-esque dropper applicator) is meant to enhance the spreadability of complexion products such as foundation and concealer in order to help ensure the color stays nice and even. This means it'll also prevent your makeup from creasing or clumping over dry patches, which is a major plus. FYI, it is silicone-based, but if that’s not an issue for you, this is a great pick.
Key Ingredients: Hexamethyldisiloxane, cyclopentasiloxane | Skin Type: Balanced, dry | Size: 1 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Drugstore: e.l.f. Cosmetics Hydrating Face Primer
Gives makeup a smooth look
Helps boost makeup wear time
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. Plus, it contains grapeseed oil which works hard to calm finicky skin and even out skin tone. Expect this one to leave your complexion nice and smooth, and we love that the formula is also vegan and cruelty-free.
Key Ingredients: Dimethicone, grape seed oil | Skin Type: Balanced, dry | Size: 0.5 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
What Our Testers Say
"It gave my foundation a filter-like finish that I’m obsessed with." — Olivia Hancock, Product Tester
Best for Minimalists: Glossier Priming Moisturizer Balance
Doesn't make oily skin greasy
Contains pore-clearing extracts
Not super hydrating
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.
Key Ingredients: Apple fruit extract, niacinamide | Skin Type: Oily | Size: 1.7 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Oily Skin: Fenty Beauty Pro Filt’r Instant Retouch Primer
Doesn't aggravate acne-prone skin
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—instead, it's left feeling cushiony and super touchable. It also has a universally-flattering subtle peach tint that delivers a filter-like blurring effect.
Key Ingredients: Dimethicone, glycerin | Skin Type: All | Size: 0.5 / 1 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Dry Skin: Isla Face Base Priming Moisturizer
Contains nourishing ingredients
Has blue light protection
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. Former Byrdie Editorial Director Faith Xue is a fan of this one from Isla, a lightweight lotion that plumps and hydrates with hyaluronic acid, organic rose water, and glycerin. Thanks to a special HEV complex, it also offers protection from blue light while a hydrating blend of natural plant oils leaves the skin oh so smooth and supple.
Key Ingredients: Rose water, glycerin, hyaluronic acid | Skin Type: Balanced, dry | Size: 0.8 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Large Pores: Benefit Cosmetics The POREfessional Face Primer
Makes makeup apply smoothly
Mini and value sizes available
Not ideal for acne-prone skin
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 silky balm creates a smooth layer over the skin, instantly camouflaging the look of pores—and pesky fine lines—in the process. Even better? The formula also boasts vitamin E, offering antioxidant protection against free radical damage.
Key Ingredients: Cyclopentasiloxane, dimethicone | Skin Type: Oily | Size: 0.3 / 0.8 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
What Our Editors Say
"This was the first primer I fell in love with when I had more acne and needed something to lock down a fuller-coverage foundation. I return to this smoothing, silicone finish every time I go to a wedding or big event when I know I need my makeup to last through sweat, weather, and dancing." — Kathryn Vandervalk, Editorial & Strategy Director
Best for Fine Lines: Pat McGrath Labs Skin Fetish Sublime Perfection Primer
Evens out texture
Not the greatest value
Legendary makeup artist Pat McGrath can do no wrong, and this line-smoothing, youth-boosting primer is proof. 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 and ready for makeup application. Plus, there’s also hyaluronic acid in the mix, which offers lightweight hydration and makes your complexion appear nice and plump, too.
Key Ingredients: Glycerin, hyaluronic acid | Skin Type: Dry | Size: 1 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Brightening: LYS Beauty Secure Skin Gripping Serum Primer
Helps fade dark spots
May pill under certain foundations
Dealing with stubborn dark spots or acne scars? If so, this brightening primer from LYS Beauty is for you. This gripping serum not only works hard to keep makeup in place, but it’s brimming with texture and tone improving skincare benefits. A blend of fruit-derived AHAs visibly smooth out rough skin while vitamin C-rich grapefruit extract brightens the look of dark spots and hyperpigmentation. The formula also contains niacinamide, which reduces the appearance of large pores and helps tackle excess shine, making this a must for anyone with oily and acne-prone skin.
Key Ingredients: Niacinamide, alpha hydroxy acids | Skin Type: Balanced, oily, combination | Size: 1 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for City Dwellers: Grown Alchemist Anti-Pollution Primer
Protects against blue light and pollution
Free of silicones
Not for dry skin
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. More importantly, it's packed with peptides and Indian ginseng root extract to shield skin from damaging blue light and pollution, hence why it’s a must for urbanites. It also contains a prebiotic peptide, which enhances your skin's microbiota (aka, all the inhabitants of your skin's microbiome) while helping to improve its barrier function, boost hydration, and keep it protected.
Key Ingredients: Sodium acrylates crosspolymer-2, acetyl heptapeptide-4 | Skin Type: Oily, combination | Size: 1.7 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Color-Correcting: Becca Cosmetics First Light Priming Filter Instant Complexion Refresh
Makes skin look radiant
Ideal for all skin types
Contains comedogenic ingredients
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. Packed with hyaluronic acid and vitamin E, the formula is ultra hydrating and softening, creating a perfect base for makeup application. 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.
Key Ingredients: Ethylhexyl palmitate, hyaluronic acid, vitamin E | Skin Type: Dry | Size: 0.5 / 1 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Dewy Skin: Touch in Sol Pretty Filter Glassy Skin Balm
Skin looks dewy
Not Byrdie Clean
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 dewy, even before you apply any makeup whatsoever. Thanks to skin-nourishing phytosqualane, five (!) different types of hyaluronic acid, and damask rose water, you can expect skin that's smooth, supple, and absolutely glowing, making for the perfect base for makeup.
Key Ingredients: Squalane, shea butter | Skin Type: Dry | Size: 1 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Mattifying: Beautycounter Countercontrol Matte Effect Gel Cream
Absorbs excess oil and reduces shine
Mattifies without drying
Doesn't blur pores
Looking to beat excess oil and shine? Look no further than this mattifying primer from Beautycounter. This lightweight gel keeps oil under control for up to eight hours—meaning there’s no need to keep blotting papers on-hand—while the addition corn starch, rather than silicones, helps to keep shine at bay throughout the day. It also features the brand’s signature SkinBalance complex, which uses wintergreen and rosebay willow to purify pores and reduce redness while keeping the skin balanced and happy. The oil-free formula is also supremely hydrating, softening the skin without leaving behind any greasy, pore-clogging residue.
Key Ingredients: Coconut alkanes, corn starch, aloe leaf juice | Skin Type: Oily, combination | Size: 1.7 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Natural: Exa Beauty Jump Start Smoothing Primer
Suitable for sensitive skin
Fragrance derived from essential oils
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 (see: cocoa fruit powder, CoQ10, and fatty acids derived from raspberry seed) that help shield your skin from all sorts of environmental aggressors, 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. As would be expected from Credo, the formula is also 97% natural, cruelty-free, gluten-free, and safe for sensitive skin.
Key Ingredients: Silica, raspberry seed oil | Skin Type: All | Size: 1.1 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Splurge: Victoria Beckham by Augustinus Bader Cell Rejuvenating Priming Moisturizer
Smooths lines and pores
Contains nourishing ingredients
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 (neat!). However, inspired by Mrs. Beckham’s signature gorgeous glow, it has a similar radiance and smooths out pores, fine lines, and other imperfections for to create the perfect base for makeup, all while it works its hydrating and anti-aging magic.
Key Ingredients: Black tea ferment, avocado oil | Skin Type: Dry, aging | Size: 1.7 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Multi-Tasker: Lawless Beauty Set the Stage Hydrating Primer Serum
Contains peptides and nourishing oils
A little expensive
Truly defining a skincare-makeup hybrid, this product is equal parts skin-soothing serum (thank you peptides and rosehip oil), hydrating moisturizer (hello, shea butter), and makeup-perfecting primer. It also contains skin-loving sea buckthorn oil, which is rich in antioxidants, carotenoids, and lycopene that protect your complexion from free radical damage. However, what’s truly noteworthy here is the texture, which somehow manages to morph from serum to oil to a non-sticky gel—plus, we love that it’s also free of silicone. Did we mention it also had the prettiest subtle lavender scent? Needless to say, we’re hooked.
Key Ingredients: Sea salt, shea butter | Skin Type: All | Size: 1.7 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
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.
Does it contain antioxidants?
When it comes to face primers, Figueroa recommends seeking out a formula that’s nourishing and packed with antioxidants. “This is beneficial for all skin types because it helps correct signs of aging and combat 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 longterm skin benefits, too.
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 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, like this one from Morphe, 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.
Can you use face primer on your eyelids?
When it comes to the eyelids, Figueroa says that, technically, you can use face primer, but it won’t do the same for your eyes as it will for your face. “A face primer is meant to provide a smooth surface for foundation, while an eye primer needs to be a bit tackier so that the eyeshadows stick to your lid," she says. So if you’re planning to apply a full eye look, reach for a dedicated eye primer instead—they’re also specially formulated for this delicate skin.
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.
Why Trust Byrdie
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. Despite the fact that she doesn’t wear a ton of makeup, she always likes to use a primer whenever she’s going to wear foundation; she especially loves hydrating, glowy formulas for her dry skin.