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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-boosting benefits.
Top-of-the-line face primers—like Tatcha's The Silk Canvas Protective Primer, our best overall pick—will leave your face feeling silky smooth while strengthening your natural skin barrier. But don't sleep on the best budget options, either, like The Ordinary's High-Spreadability Fluid Primer, which provides a great base for foundation while enhancing your natural complexion.
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 compiled a list of the very for every budget, skin type, and concern. We tested out some top-rated primers—rating the formula’s texture, ingredient list, and overall performance—and combined these results with our own research of fan-favorite products. We also included some of team Byrdie’s tried-and-true favorites.
Read on for the best face primers out there.
Best Overall: Tatcha The Silk Canvas Protective Primer
Compact packaging is ideal for travel
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 Associate Editorial Director Hallie Gould, minimizes shine and offers a soft-focus finish. Not convinced? It also contains pollution-fighting natural actives meant to not only repair immediate damage but also strengthen the skin barrier to protect against future damage. Plus, it contains the brand's signature Hadasei-3, a complex of youth-boosting ingredients that leave the skin soft and radiant, according to the brand. 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 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Budget: The Ordinary High-Spreadability Fluid Primer
Can be mixed with foundation
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 fluid ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Drugstore: PYT Beauty Baby Got Base Face Primer
Clean, cruelty-free, and sustainable
May be too heavy for oily skin
Still not sold on the fact that you need a face primer? Nab this drugstore option and prepare to be convinced otherwise. It’s cruelty-free, vegan, and clean—a lengthy list of credentials, especially given the affordable price. It’s definitely more of a moisturizing formula, with an ingredient list chock-full of things such as jojoba oil, coconut oil, and hyaluronic acid. Still, it dries down quickly without any greasy after-feel—bonus points for the fact that the packaging is made from 29% recycled plastic.
Key Ingredients: Jojoba oil, coconut oil, hyaluronic acid | Skin Type: Balanced, dry | Size: 1 ounce | 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 subtle peach tint that delivers a filter-like blurring effect.
Key Ingredients: Dimethicone, glycerin | Skin Type: All | Size: 0.5 or 1 fluid ounce | 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 and glycerin. Thanks to a special HEV complex, it also promises 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 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Runner-Up, Best for Dry Skin: RMS Beauty “Re” Evolve Radiance Locking Primer
Clean and cruelty-free
Another top choice for those with drier skin, this newbie is not only packed with hydrating squalane and hyaluronic acid but also is specially formulated to keep all the hydration locked in for up to 24 hours. The gel formula also boasts excellent makeup-gripping prowess; in a brand-backed consumer study, users found that it helped their makeup stay put for eight hours. Oh, and it’s squeaky clean, too, and touts super unique, refillable packaging.
Key Ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, squalane | Skin Type: Balanced, dry | Size: 1 ounce | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Acne-Prone Skin: Bare Minerals Blemish Rescue Anti-Redness Mattifying Primer
True makeup-skincare hybrid
Clean and cruelty-free
We get it, if you’re prone to breakouts, you may tend to keep your makeup routine more on the streamlined side, but this is one product that’s totally worth adding. Honestly, think of it more as a skincare product than anything else. The gel-lotion is hydrating enough that it can easily double as your moisturizer, and it’s packed with ingredients that are ideal for oily, acne-prone, irritated skin. We’re talking things such as salicylic acid to minimize oil, zit-zapping sulfur and zinc, mattifying kaolin clay, calming chamomile… the list really does go on and on.
Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid, kaolin clay, zinc, sulfur | Skin Type: Oily, acne-prone | Size: 1 ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Large Pores: Benefit Cosmetics The POREfessional Face Primer
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 or 0.8 fluid ounces | 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 very 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 fluid ounce | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Runner-Up, Best for Fine Lines: Dermalogica Hydrablur Primer
Subtle tint works on all skin tones
True to its name, this formula excels at both hydrating—a boon for more mature skin, which tends to be drier—and blurring away the appearance of any fine lines or other texture. Top tip: Apply it with a damp makeup sponge or foundation brush to further up the blurring effect. It also has a subtle, neutral-toned tint, which makes this ideal to wear solo on days when you want to go makeup-free.
Key Ingredients: Glycerin, dimethicone | Skin Type: Dry, mature | Size: 0.75 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Brightening: LYS Beauty Secure Skin Gripping Serum Primer
Helps fade dark spots
Clean and cruelty-free
May pill under certain foundations
Dealing with stubborn dark spots or acne scars? If so, this 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 smoothes out rough skin while vitamin C-rich grapefruit extract fades the look of dark spots and hyperpigmentation. The formula also contains niacinamide, which reduces sebum, 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 fluid ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Dewy Skin: Armani Beauty Luminous Silk Hydrating Makeup Primer
Subtle tint works on all skin tones
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, like this luminous formula, can help you reach that goal way faster. It’s super creamy and hydrating, leaving your complexion fresh and dewy even before you apply any makeup whatsoever, thanks to a combo of glycerin, shea butter, and rice bran. Expect skin that's smooth, supple, and absolutely glowing, making for the best base for makeup.
Key Ingredients: Shea butter, glycerin, rice bran | Skin Type: Balanced, dry | Size: 1 ounce | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Natural: Exa Beauty Jump Start Smoothing Primer
Clean and cruelty-free
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 meant to 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 well 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 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Multi-Tasker: Lawless Beauty Set the Stage Hydrating Primer Serum
Contains peptides and nourishing oils
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 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 fluid ounces | 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 smooth, 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.
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.
What to Look for in a Face Primer
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 the skin barrier. These days, there are plenty of non-silicone options out there, so it really is a matter of personal preference.
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 combats 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 long-term 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 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.
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. Even though 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. (The Exa and Dermalogica products featured on this list are two of her current favorites.)
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