When it comes to makeup primers, our thought has always kind of been “...great, but do you really need one?” And not in the “I don’t need this because it’s a luxury item,” way (because, let’s face it, we’re kind of all about the occasional luxury pick-me-up). Rather, it's because, in between all the cleansing/clarifying/moisturizing skin-centric good times we already perform on a daily basis, we just weren’t sure an extra step, another layer, was necessary, especially since most of us don’t regularly wear foundation. But then last November, the New York Times wrote about “appearance-conscious women” and their increasing devotion to primers, calling the products “The Spanx of cosmetics.” Are they trying to trick us? We wondered, They know we love Spanx—the “they,” in this case, is The Man. We decided to delve deep and friends, we don’t think they are.
Consider the act of painting a wall or canvas: you prime that sucker with a layer of thin white liquid (some sort of paint mixture or gesso, for those art-school grads) before you go in with the real stuff, so as to make sure the color is uniform, surfaces are even and non-porous, and you don't get any weird patches. Makeup primers essentially do the same thing: they even out your skintone, mask pores, help your makeup stick longer, and create a barrier between your foundation and your skin. (Plus, most of them offer additional bells and whistles than your regular moisturizer, as you shall soon see below.) So, whether you wear foundation all-day/every day or never do/never want to: we’ve got primers for everyone, should you be so inclined to test the waters. Because all of you deserve to have perfect canvases, if you want to get your paintin' on.
Feast your eyes on our picks:
Do you want to look airbrushed? Like, Kardashian-makeup-airbrushed? Because then it's a tie between L'Oréal's new Revitalift MiracleBlur (which advertises itself as 'More Than a Primer' and actually, we're not even kidding, leaves you looking like you travel with Oprah's lighting team thanks to something called Opti-Blur Technology, and Sephora's regularly-best-selling Perfekt Skin Perfection Gel in Translucent. Both products offer essentially the same effect: like you've got a re-toucher not only on speed dial but, you know, magically working their skills on you in real life. They're transparent, slightly gelatinous (Perfekt) or waxy (L'Oréal), thicker than most of the other primers, and mattifying, for a silky finish. You'll be camera-ready no doubt, but might look a little intense to your officemates. These don't conceal blemishes, but they do seem to make pores less visible, and our makeup went on smoothly afterwards, though one would have to be careful not to veer too far towards "cakey." The silicone-based MiracleBlur's aim is to replace your moisturizers and your serums and your anti-aging treatments (and it has SPF 30, the highest out of this group), but the most remarkable thing about it is how actually blurry it makes your skin look, like someone has smeared vaseline over the lens of the world (soft focus!) and you're Greta Garbo. Or something. You'll notice a difference right away, but you can definitely feel it on your skin.Perfekt is also packed with antioxidants and vitamins, and is oil-, fragrance-, and paraben-free—though the air-pump takes a little time to figure out. Both keep your foundation fresh for longer and are worth a look if you're feeling serious about the whole affair. Perfekt comes in tints, too, if you'd like to replace the foundation step altogether, though concealer w0uld still be required for spots and blemishes.
Do you want big results with little effort? Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer is one of those products that, if we didn't include, everyone would be asking us, "Why not?!" because it's that good. It's also free of oil, fragrance, and parabens, has SPF 15, and is extremely lightweight and works for all skin types (oily, dry, you name it). It absorbed the color of our foundation beautifully with a dewy, natural finish, and we found that if we used it bare-faced under strategic concealer, it held the cover-up in place all day and left us looking rather well-slept (lies! Beautiful lies!). It absorbs in a flash and there's no greasy after-feel, only silky, good ol' great skin.
Are you more of a skincare-type, but want to try something slightly different? Clarins Instant Smooth Perfecting Touch is a makeup base and a primer in a little red tub that feels thicker than our other picks, but goes on creamily, melting into your skin and helping conceal unevenness in skin texture or otherwise prominent pores. Skin feels fresh, smooth, soft. To the touch, it's more like a balm and less like a lotion.
Do you have dry skin? Laura Mercier Hydrating Foundation Primer is moisture-rich and conditioning, non-comedogenic and very nourishing (vitamins A, C, and E, don'tcha know). They advise keeping it in the fridge for a refreshing, puffiness-reducing jolt. We concur.
Are you concerned about skin discolorations? Dermablend SkinPerfector Pigment Correcting Primer is professional-grade stuff (they're known for their tattoo-concealing makeup) but gentle enough for everyday use, employing something called "Ceramide White with LHA," which targets excess melanin (sunspots, etc.). And, it's hydrating, to boot. It helps your makeup stay put for longer (they know a thing or two about long-term coverage, ahem, check out one of their spokesmen, Zombie Boy aka Rick Genest), but requires an extra minute to dry, compared to the other formulas.
Would you define your skin as 'mature?' No shame in it. Urban Decay's classic Complexion Primer Potion (now targeted at "Brightening & Tightening") not only brings us back to our Delia's-lovin' days of the '90s—that bottle! That brand! Our scrunchies are in a twist—but it packs a pretty serious, skin-prepping wallop. It's lightweight, doesn't feel greasy, and reduces the appearance of wrinkles using something called Matrixyl 3000, which would worry us (robot?), except it works pretty damn well. Ideal for mature skin. Or immature skin, really.
Are you terrified about the day you're going to have to describe your skin as 'mature?' Smashbox is on it with their Photo Finish Foundation Primer SPF 15. It's been a longtime favorite, and now comes with antioxidants, vitamins, and sun protection. Smashbox makes a lot of primers, but this one was our favorite of the bunch: it took makeup (foundation) like a champ, and pores, lines, and creases seemed less noticeable, and our skin seemed softer.
Lest you think we’re neglecting your more specific needs—or you’re only really interested in priming in pieces: Urban Decay makes a slightly tacky-feeling (as in sticky) Lip Primer Potion that prevents your lipstick from feathering or bleeding out and keeps it bright and in fine fighting form. Professional-grade brand Kryolan (their makeup was used to transform Hallie Berry into multiple characters/races/genders in Cloud Atlas) has an Eye Shadow Primer that works wonders if you don't like your shadow creasing and fading. With a swipe of the primer on each lid, bright powders blend easily, last long, and appear more vibrant. Totally worth it if you’re going to mess around with a serious eye.
Need we say more? Welcome to prime time.
Photos by Elizabeth Brockway.