The 8 Best Primers to Act as a Base for a Flawless Makeup Look
Consider the best primers as your new secret weapon for longer-lasting makeup and a smooth complexion.
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We’ve all been there: A few hours after putting on a face full of makeup, we catch a glimpse of ourselves in a mirror and discover our formally flawless face is flaky, cakey and smeared. It’s certainly less than ideal. After all, if you’ve gone to the trouble of learning how to apply foundation, the last thing you want is for it to look dry or to slide right off the skin. That’s where primer comes in. The best primer can seriously change your makeup game.
Applying this miracle product before one of the best foundations and best concealers ensures makeup glides on smoothly and stays put. “Primer can help even out the texture of the skin, control oil or dryness and help makeup grip to the skin so it lasts all day,” says Jamie Greenberg, a Los Angeles–based celebrity makeup artist.
Whether you like to buy products one at a time or make a big list for savings events (we’re looking at you, Sephora sale), a primer is definitely something worth adding to your cart. We’ve done the hard work, consulting with top makeup artists and sorting through hundreds of products to find the ones with lots of five-star ratings from real-life users.
The best primers
- Best overall: Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Hydrating Primer
- Best budget: e.l.f. Cosmetics Hydrating Face Primer
- Best for blurring pores: Rare Beauty Pore Diffusing Primer
- Best lightweight formula: Tatcha The Liquid Silk Canvas Featherweight Protective Primer
- Best editor-tested: e.l.f. Cosmetics Poreless Putty Primer
- Best for oily skin: It Cosmetics Your Skin But Better Makeup Primer+
- Best dewy finish: Saie Glowy Super Gel Lightweight Dewy Highlighter
- Best matte finish: Smashbox Photo Finish Control Mattifying Face Primer
Best overall primer
Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Hydrating Primer
Who doesn’t want makeup tips from professionals? Well, Milk Makeup’s Hydro Grip Primer comes recommended to us as one of the best primers by multiple makeup artists. “It’s one of my absolute favorites,” says Beck Wainner, a celebrity makeup artist in Nashville. “It helps the skin look smoother while gripping the makeup applied for a long-wear finish.”
The gel formula goes on smoothly and contains hyaluronic acid to infuse moisture into the skin. If you’re unsure about taking the plunge with the 1.52-ounce bottle, you can start off slow with the 0.33-ounce option. And if you really love it, the 5.28-ounce bottle is sure to last for months to come.
- Provides a long-lasting finish
- Hydrates the skin
- Smooth, gel formula
- Available at Amazon and Sephora
Slightly sticky feel until it dries
Best budget primer
e.l.f. Cosmetics Hydrating Face Primer
Quality makeup doesn’t have to come with a hefty price tag. From moisturizers with SPF to the best makeup brushes, there are plenty of affordable products out there—and the same is true when it comes to finding the best primers. Enter e.l.f. Cosmetics Hydrating Face Primer. This hydrating option is infused with vitamins A, C and E, and dries with a matte finish.
“When you apply your foundation over it, you can see how much smoother it is, and the difference in coverage immediately,” writes five-star reviewer, Lacy P. “The best thing though, is that when you go to take off your makeup, you can really tell that it created that barrier, and your pores aren’t clogged!”
- Affordable price point
- Infused with vitamins A, C and E
- Designed with all skin types in mind
- Available at Amazon, Ulta and e.l.f. Cosmetics
Takes a few minutes to completely dry on the skin
Best primer for blurring pores
Rare Beauty Pore Diffusing Primer
This gel formula from Selena Gomez’s Rare Beauty line is lightweight enough that it doesn’t feel heavy when it goes on, but substantial enough to make large pores invisible. “It’s hydrating and works to blur the signs of pores and fine lines,” says Manuel Espinoza, a makeup artist with StyleSeat. “It also includes key ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid, green tea extract and vitamin E, that all work to soothe, hydrate and protect the skin.”
This best primer was designed for normal, oily, dry and combination skin, and requires just one or two pumps for wow-worthy results. Pro tip: To keep the complexion looking flawless, dust the face with one of the best setting powders after applying foundation and concealer.
- Diminishes the appearance of pores
- Has a matte finish
- Hydrating formula
- Available at Amazon and Sephora
The pump only dispenses a little at a time
Best lightweight primer
Tatcha The Liquid Silk Canvas Featherweight Protective Primer
Made with silk powder, Tatcha’s Liquid Silk Canvas feels light and airy on the face. “This liquid primer is weightless,” says Espinoza. “But that’s not all. It’s made with a unique blend of botanical extracts that works to prevent breakouts and helps skin look luminous.”
Best of all, Tatcha is a clean beauty brand, so you know the products are free of bad-for-you ingredients. That’s right, this primer is free from parabens, synthetic fragrances, mineral oil, sulfate detergents, phthalates, urea, diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA).
- Has a weightless formula
- Reduces the appearance of redness and dullness
- Clean beauty brand
- Available at Amazon, Tatcha and Sephora
- On the pricier side
Best editor-tested primer
e.l.f. Cosmetics Poreless Putty Primer
An internet favorite, e.l.f. Cosmetics Poreless Putty Primer wins for its affordable price point and full coverage protection. It boasts more than 23,000 five-star ratings on Amazon, so we put this primer to the test to see how it holds up to sweat, wind and all-day wear. Upon first use, we’re impressed with how smoothly it glides onto the skin and mixes with full-coverage foundation, bronzer and blush. But what keeps us coming back is the long-lasting formula that protects makeup from becoming an oily mess due to sweat and all-day wear. Plus, it contains squalene, making it feel more like skin care than makeup.
- Silky, smooth texture and finish
- Reduces the appearance of pores
- Contains squalene for optimal hydration
- Available on Amazon, e.l.f. Cosmetics and Ulta
- Needs thorough rubbing into the skin for the best results
Best primer for oily skin
It Cosmetics Your Skin But Better Makeup Primer+
If your skin produces a lot of oil, you’ve probably spent lots of time looking for things like the best foundations for oily skin and the best moisturizers for oily skin. Since adding more oil is a no-go, this It Cosmetics oil-free primer is an ideal pick. But just because it’s oil-free doesn’t mean it won’t hydrate the skin—which is a good thing. When skin is oily and deprived of moisture, the oil glands produce even more oil to make up for it. In fact, even if you don’t plan on wearing makeup one day, It Cosmetics says you can still wear this primer for a boost of hydration.
- Oil-free formula
- Reduces the appearance of dry patches and uneven texture
- Contains glycerin to moisturize
- Available on It Cosmetics, Sephora, Ulta and Macy’s
On the pricier side
Best primer for a dewy finish
Saie Glowy Super Gel Lightweight Dewy Highlighter
To achieve that “glassy skin effect,” the Saie Glowy Super Gel Highlighter gets the job done. Plus, it’s versatile, so you really get a good bang for your buck. Made from 75% water, it goes on before makeup for a dewy look and helps products last longer. It also acts as a highlighter when dabbed onto cheek bones, making them pop after applying the best blush for your skin tone.
“Best primer I’ve used in a long time,” writes verified purchaser, Keeley B. “Can be used with or without makeup, and even without makeup it provides a polished appearance of skin and pores. Great for no-makeup days!”
- Vitamin-rich ingredients give skin a dewy finish
- Doubles as a highlighter
- Free of silicones
- Available on Amazon, Saie and Sephora
Comes in two shades, which will work for most but not all
Best primer for matte finish
Smashbox Photo Finish Control Mattifying Face Primer
Whether your skin has a tendency to get greasy as the day goes on or you prefer a more velvety complexion, Smashbox’s Photo Finish Control Mattifying Primer is definitely worth consideration. It contains zinc and salicylic acid to mop up oil, so you won’t have to apply powder throughout the day. This best primer works to blur imperfections and minimize the look of pores, and Smashbox says it’ll keep skin matte for up to 12 hours. What else could you possibly need?
- Provides a matte finish for up to 12 hours
- Oil-absorbing formula
- Available on Amazon Sephora, Ulta, Smashbox and Walmart
- Salicylic acid may irritate skin that’s prone to redness
What to look for when buying a primer
When buying the best primers, consider a few different factors to ensure you are getting a product that will meet your specific needs:
- Skin type: If you have oily skin, opt for an oil-free primer. Alternatively, if you have dry skin, look for a hydrating primer with moisturizing ingredients, like glycerin and hyaluronic acid. “If you’re oily in the T-zone, look for a mattifying primer. Or there are options that address large pores, aging skin and redness,” says Wainner.
- Texture: If you prefer a lightweight feel, choose a primer with a face serum-like consistency. For a more substantial feel, consider a primer with a thicker texture.
- Finish: The finish of a primer affects the final result of the makeup look. If you want a radiant and dewy look, look for a primer with a luminous finish. For a matte finish, choose a primer that specifically says it dries down matte on the skin.
- Ingredients: Look for a primer that contains skin-loving ingredients to nourish and protect the skin underneath the makeup. Opt for a primer with ingredients like antioxidants, vitamins and SPF.
- Compatibility with foundation: If you have a preferred foundation, choose a primer that’s compatible with the texture and finish of the foundation. Otherwise, you may end up with a messy makeup look.
How we found the best primers
As shopping experts, our only job is to help you find a winning product. We start with the research and reporting basics—what products are made of, what they look like and how much they cost—to ensure that we’re only recommending the buys that are worth your time and money. Then, we research the features that speak to the product’s quality, taking advice from industry insiders and subject matter experts on what makes a product a smart value (or worthy of a splurge). Finally, we do the work of combing through user reviews to see how real people interact with the product, and if it stands up to the test.
How do you apply primer to your face?
“Smooth primer onto the skin after your normal skin care routine, but before applying face makeup,” says Espinoza. You need about a dime-sized amount for the entire face, and either use your fingers or a makeup sponge to spread it.
How often can you wear primer?
You can wear primer every day under makeup, but you may not need to. “I do not think a traditional primer is necessary for everyday use. If the skin is hydrated, exfoliated and your products are packed with nourishing, skin-loving ingredients, it will not need one because the products will sit well on the skin,” says Stevie Rose, a professional makeup artist and the director of education for Saie. “With that said, I recommend a primer for special occasions where you have more time to spend on a routine, and you need the makeup to last longer.”
- Jamie Greenberg, celebrity makeup artist in Los Angeles
- Stevie Rose, professional makeup artist and director of education for Saie
- Beck Wainner, celebrity makeup artist in Nashville
- Manuel Espinoza, makeup artist with StyleSeat
- Sara Lau, makeup artist in Vancouver, Canada
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