Makeup primers are a relatively new addition to my makeup bag. I’ve heard of their magical powers, but hadn’t fully explored their world yet. And to be completely honest, I had been a bit skeptical. What are they? Do they really work? Which brand is the best? Here’s where the LIY team comes in. We decided to dive in [face first] and test six popular primers on four different skin types. You know, answering all of life’s big questions. Here’s how we did it, which products we compared and of course – the results!
Here’s What You Need to Know
A primer is used [you guessed it] before applying your makeup. It helps hold makeup in place all day while simultaneously minimizing pores, smoothing fine lines, and controlling oil. Magical powers, remember? Simply apply as the first step of your makeup routine – after moisturizing for me! Be sure to cover your entire face or anywhere you’ll be applying makeup. You can use your fingers or a handy dandy makeup sponge. For extra hold, finish it all off with a setting spray. You can check out our setting spray review here and find ALL of our other comparison posts here.
The Lineup [Products We Tested]
- ELF Cosmetics – Poreless Face Primer
- NYX – HD Studio Photogenic Primer Base
- Benefit Cosmetics – The POREfessional Face Primer
- Too Faced – Hangover Replenishing Face Primer
- Urban Decay – Optical Illusion Complexion Primer
- smashbox – Photo Finish Smooth & Blur Primer
How We Tested
The process was simple really. We each tried all six primers, photographed every morning and then rephotographed ourselves at the end of the work day to see how well our makeup truly held up. As we used each product, we took notes and rated them on how each individual makeup primer worked in these categories:
- Oil Control or Dryness [Does it do what I need it to do for my skin type?]
- Longevity [How well did my makeup hold up?]
- Creasing [Is it reducing fine lines and creases?]
Team Member Skin Types
To help you get the most out of this comparison, we thought it would be helpful to give you an idea on the skin type of each of the team members who tested.
- Erin: Normal to oily, not sensitive
- Becca: Very dry skin, and unfortunately a hopeless face toucher
- Cassidy: Oily, sensitive
- Claire: Combination to oily, sensitive
The Results – Favorites by Skin Type
For All Skin Types – Benefit Cosmetics – The POREfessional Face Primer
It wasn’t a huge surprise that the Benefit Cosmetics POREfessional Face Primer performed so well. It came in 1st place for Erin and Claire and took 2nd according to Becca and Cassidy. If your skin type is somewhere in the middle [not overly dry, not overly oily] we’re guessing you won’t be disappointed with this one. Here’s what we had to say about it:
- Erin “Hands down the BEST one I used! My makeup looked flawless after applying and continued to look flawless even at the end of the day! It really helped with shine control as well. Highly recommend!”
- Claire “LOVED this primer. It helped with oil control and smoothed any patchy dry areas of my skin. I was so impressed with how nice my makeup looked by the end of the day. Flawless and essentially oil free. I will be purchasing this one for myself!”
For Oily Skin – Urban Decay – Optical Illusion Complexion Primer
Once again, I wasn’t shocked to see Urban Decay Optical Illusion Complexion Primer rated so highly. We love just about any UD product that comes our way, but agreed this primer works best for those with skin on the oily side. If your skin is on the dry side, steer clear and keep scrolling – you’re up next.
- Cassidy “I was so pleased with the results of this primer! Having oily skin makes it impossible to keep makeup on all day, but this comes pretty dang close!”
- Becca “Too matte for my dry skin! It definitely made my makeup look extra flaky by the end of the day and I don’t even know if I liked the look immediately after applying. Strong no for me!”
For Dry Skin – Too Faced – Hangover Replenishing Face Primer
If you struggle with dry skin, Too Faced Hangover Replenishing Face Primer is for you. While some of us oily gals weren’t sold, this primer worked wonders for Becca. Hey, we can’t blame a primer for doing its job. With that being said, if you have oily skin, we’re guessing you won’t love this one.
- Becca “This one was great! Friends even said my face looked “dewy” which has never been a word to describe my desert-dry skin before! Definitely more hydrating than other primers, I am a fan!”
- Claire “This primer is specifically designed to hydrate and moisturize. While definitely does its job, it made my already-oily skin even shinier. It’s a no for me!”
The Bad News
We weren’t overly impressed with smashbox Photo Finish Smooth & Blur Primer. It didn’t rank high for any of our skin types and for the price, we favored some of the other options!
- Cassidy “My face felt oily to the touch, and overall wasn’t super happy with my results at the end of the day. It wasn’t terrible–I have definitely had worse, but I wasn’t wowed!”
- Becca “I had flakes of foundation at the end of the day. Definitely not a fan of this one.”
While we generally love NYX products [anyone else love their liquid lipstick?] we weren’t sold on the HD Studio Photogenic Primer Base. We struggled with the creamy texture which was unlike the majority of the gel bases we had tested. Sorry NYX, but we’re nixing this one.
- Cassidy “I didn’t love this one, despite loving NYX products. To me, it applied weird, perhaps the texture was just not for me. I could tell by the end of the day that I definitely sweat all of my make up off!”
- Erin “This one left a white film on my face when applied like sunscreen, very runny. Makeup went on very well and looked good on! I did get greasy during the day which didn’t help much with shine control!”
I had high, high hopes for the ELF Cosmetics Poreless Face Primer after hearing and seeing it recommended so often. At only $10, this was the most budget-friendly option of the bunch. We wanted to love it, but the heart wants what the heart wants – and this wasn’t it.
- Becca “Not a fan. For my dry skin, I need major moisturization from a primer, and I did not find this one to be hydrating at all.”
- Claire “Hate is a strong word, but I absolutely hated this product. I felt it amped up my oil rather than control it. My makeup was pretty much nonexistent by the end of the day. It also had a perfumed scent [which smelled good] but I don’t generally prefer when it comes to cosmetic products. Couldn’t wait to wash my face by 5 pm!”
And that’s a wrap, friends! We hope you’re feeling a little more prepped and primed than you were when you arrived here today. We would love to hear which products you’re using and loving. Let us know your tried and true favorites in the comments below!
Shop the lineup here-
Founder and creator of LIY, Erin turned her dream of a hobby blog into a full-time career which she now runs alongside the LIY team! When not in front of her computer screen [with a La Croix or wine in hand] or in front of a mirror taking mirror selfies, you can find Erin spending time on the water, cuddled up with her two pups and husband most likely watching the latest Shark Tank episode, or getting lost in an easy beach read.