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There is a dizzying range of primer formulas on the market, all targeted toward different looks. There are hydrating options, as well as mattifying, luminizing, or blurring. It can be confusing to know which product is right for you. And while a primer may feel like one of those "do I really need it?" steps, trust us: the right product will support both your skincare routine and your makeup looks.
So, what is a primer?
The basics of primer are simple: it's a product that is applied after skincare, before makeup. But the specifics of the primers available on the market are varied.
Usually, the purpose of a primer is to address any skin concerns (such as oiliness, uneven skin tone, or visible pores) to help your base makeup go on smoothly. Primers often come with a creamy or gel-like consistency, but they can also come in a spray, stick, or serum. You can even get specific primers for your eyelids or lips to fully prep for bold makeup looks.
The appearance of a primer can vary, too. A hydrating primer may be translucent and milky, while a color-correcting primer may have a green tint to cancel out red tones in the skin. There are also now advanced primer formulas that can de-puff tired skin, tighten fine lines, and work to fight acne.
When it comes to coverage, most primers won't conceal any blemishes or pigmentation on their own. However, by color correcting or blurring pores, they will make the foundation and concealer that follows more effective. This means that you won't need to pack on as much product, your base won't look cakey, and your favorite makeup will last longer.
But hold on, is a primer just a fancy way of marketing moisturizer? Not quite.
While there are some priming moisturizers, most primers aren't effective as skincare on their own. Instead, primers are formulated with targeted ingredients such as hyaluronic acid for hydration, silicone to blur pores, or a mineral SPF to prep and protect.
How to apply primer
For most formulas, you will apply a primer after your skincare and before your makeup. The trick is to wait a few minutes after applying your serums and moisturizer to let them sink in. This will prevent all the products from mixing together on your face.
The best tool you can use to create a skin-like finish is your fingers, but a damp beauty blender will also help to work the product into the skin.
Apply your primer to areas that need targetting. Try a mattifying primer on an oily T-zone, for example, or a hydrating primer on a dry forehead. Try to apply primer sparingly, as too much can start to pill or move around under your makeup.
Just as you let your skincare dry down, make sure to let your primer set. This will ensure a smooth canvas for your foundation. (And a great makeup day for you!)
Before choosing a primer, take a look at your makeup and notice if there are any problem areas. Dry patches? A hydrating primer will help smooth and nourish your skin. Noticeable pores? A silicone-based primer will help achieve that filtered look. Makeup that moves around? Try a primer + setting spray combo to really lock that face into place.
Don't worry, we've done the research to find the best face primers out there. Whatever your makeup goals, these primers are tried and tested.
All of the products listed have been independently verified as cruelty-free by Cruelty Free Kitty. We want to see the beauty industry move beyond animal testing, and make it easy for you to spend consciously.
Best Primer For Acne:
Hydro Grip Primer
|Best for||All skin types|
If you're looking to lock in moisture while making your foundation last, this gel primer may be the one for you.
The silicone-free, oil-free formula contains hyaluronic acid, hemp seed extract, and niacinamide to help keep your skin calm and plump. This gel formula will help keep dry skin types stay hydrated, but is also suitable for combination, oily or sensitive skin.
This primer has a slight green tint in the bottle but goes on clear to help balance uneven skin tones. Apply it with your fingers to really work the formula into your skin texture, then either use your fingers or a damp beauty blender to achieve a natural, skin-like foundation application.
This budget-friendly primer is a great option for those who are wanting a long-lasting, natural makeup look. It is lightweight on the skin, though most silicone-based primers will have a distinct "slippy" feel.
Best Primer For Pores:
|Best for||All skin types|
Another silicone-based formula, this crowd favorite is a classic in the world of primers. Suitable for even oily skin, this clear gel primer can prevent your T-zone from becoming shiny throughout the day.
As soon as you apply it, you will see the instant pore-blurring effect on your skin. Your foundation will glide on smoother than ever, and last through any sweaty commutes or first dates that your day has in store.
Note that while most skin will be fine, some people find that silicone can start to cause breakouts with regular use. To avoid this, make sure to apply a lightweight moisturizer first and double cleanse at the end of the day.
Best Primer For Fine Lines:
Veil Mineral Primer
|Best for||All skin types|
Prep meets protection in this hardworking primer. The satiny cream works to conceal redness, minimize pores and wrinkles, and smooth the skin to create the perfect canvas for your makeup. Plus, your skin is protected from further sun damage with SPF15 mineral sunscreen ingredients. (But note, this isn't a replacement for regular SPF30+ sunscreen applications.)
This luxurious primer is a cult fave for a reason. Its unique texture really does help your makeup look its best.
Best Primer For Dry Skin:
|Best for||Dry skin|
The rules aren't hard and fast when it comes to primers. Rather than a pore-filling gel, this hydrating spray is infused with coconut water and probiotics to hydrate and support the skin.
Spray it as the last step in your skincare routine as a primer, as the final touch to your makeup look as a setting spray, or any time throughout the day your skin needs a glowy boost.
Perfect for those with dry skin or those in dry climates, this multi-tasker blurs the boundaries between skincare and makeup. (In all the right ways!)
Best Budget Primer:
|Best for||All skin types, mattifying|
The Ordinary is known for its simple, affordable products that make the most of individual ingredients. This is its version of a silicone-based primer and it's a classic example of the category.
A blend of silicones glides over the surface of the skin to mattify, hydrate, and blur. Your skin will look airbrushed and prepped for makeup, fine lines and pores will be filled, and shine will be kept at bay for longer. As always, a little goes a long way.
Best Luxury Primer:
The Liquid Silk Canvas
|Ethics||Cruelty-free, clean beauty|
|Best for||All skin types|
The name doesn't lie. This primer literally contains silk proteins to help protect your skin from environmental stressors. This lightweight, luxurious primer is formulated to create a protective barrier between the skin and makeup, shield against pollutants, and prevent acne-causing clogs.
This oil-free liquid has a slight pearlescent quality to help brighten the skin tone and will help prep and blur your skin for a smooth foundation application. Lighter than Tatcha's putty primer formula, this is a great option for those looking for comfortable, daily wear with a skincare feel.
Poreless Face Primer
|Best for||Visible pores|
Silicone is the "classic" ingredient that you may associate with primers, and this one from elf is a great example of a silicone-based primer.
Silicone is able to level out any uneven texture in the skin, provide a lubricated surface for foundation to glide over, and act as a moisture barrier on the skin. For you, this means that pores are filled, the appearance of fine lines is reduced, and the skin has an overall "airbrush" effect.
|Best for||All skin types, long-lasting wear|
|Application type||Liquid gel|
|Finish||Matte, long-lasting makeup wear|
This primer really lives up to its name - it will help keep your makeup locked in place, no matter what the day throws at you. The sheer, lightweight formula is so good that you may even want to skip the foundation altogether and just let your smoothed-out skin do the talking.
Doing everything you need it to do, this liquid gel will help to smooth and hydrate while helping your foundation to grip. It's even buildable, so you can really work it onto those areas on your face that are particularly shiny or have more noticeable pores.
|Best for||All skin types, visible pores|
When it comes to applying this primer, less is more. Even a small amount will help to fill pores and keep away shine while giving your foundation a satin-smooth canvas.
If you're noticing a white cast, you may be using too much. Try tapping it into the areas that need a little extra prep, like around your nose and forehead, using your fingers to really work the product into the skin.
|Best for||All skin types, long-lasting makeup|
|Finish||Natural, long-lasting makeup wear|
While a spray may not feel like a natural choice for a mattifying product, your skin will be left matte and prepped for makeup after this priming spray dries down. Use it as a primer, makeup setter, or refreshing spray throughout the day to keep your look locked.
This multi-tasker is suitable for all skin types and it's ideal for those special occasion days when you want your makeup to last into the night. Pro tip: dampen your beauty blender with this primer spray, and use it to work your foundation into the skin for an ultra-long-lasting application.
|Best for||All skin types, hydrating|
Hydrated, plump skin is the perfect canvas for a flawless foundation application. Honestly, this primer is like giving your skin a drink. Infused with hyaluronic acid molecules that can hold up to 1000 times their weight in water, this primer will attract hydration below the surface of your skin.
While this formula is perfect for dry skin, it's also a great option for those with combination skin. Hydrated skin actually produces less oil, meaning that shine will be reduced for longer. Wear it under foundation, tinted moisturizer, or just on its own. This primer will help you achieve a natural dewy look.
The Final Verdict
When it comes to primers, there is no one size fits all. Your favorite product will depend on factors such as your skin type, the climate, the type of makeup you wear, and your overall makeup goals. That being said, there are so many different options on the market and there is a cruelty-free primer option out there for everyone.
To recap, these are some of our favorite primers on the market right now:
- Best for acne: Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Primer
- Best for pores: Smashbox The Original Photo Finish Smooth & Blur Oil-Free Primer
- Best for fine lines: Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer
- Best for dry skin: Too Faced Hangover 3-in-1 Replenishing Primer & Setting Spray
- Best budget: The Ordinary High-Adherence Silicone Primer
- Best luxury: Tatcha The Liquid Silk Canvas
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