For most other beauty products I've found it difficult to narrow it down to my top 5, but when it comes to primers I wanted to only share the ones that I feel strongly about, so even though I've tried a lot of primers in my time (including a LOT of minis & samples), not many of them make the cut. I've become a bit disenchanted, mostly because there are so many different types and it can be hard to get a gauge on which ones actually perform. In fact a lot of people don't bother using them at all because they can seem like they're a bit of a waste of time.
I find them to be a really confusing area of beauty and one where I don't have a lot of faith in the claims that brands make. Some say they're a 7 in one miracle product and other brands release 7 different primers that each do one thing. These days there are primers for smoothing, colour correcting, oil absorbing, acne fighting, pore filling, brightening and hydrating your skin - surely one product could do several of these things at the same time, but probably not all of them. So I wanted to put down some of my thoughts about primers in case it all feels a bit too much like hard work for you as well, and if you have oily skin like me I'm also going to talk about the 4 primers that I find actually help my makeup last noticeably longer.
When I think of this type of primer the first one that comes to mind for me is the Benefit Pore-Fessional, along with similar products with a thick silicone cream texture like the Smashbox Oil Free Pore Minimising Primer and the L'oreal Miracle Blur. I’m also going to group in the clear silicone gel primers like the NYX Shine Killer, Too Faced Primed & Poreless and Bare Minerals Prime Time.
To be honest I have never found a primer with either of these textures that I really like (luckily almost all of the above were samples). I think they do a good job of filling in pores and smoothing the surface of the skin, but they often come with oil-absorbing claims that they don’t live up to (e.g. the samples I’ve tried of the Becca Ever Matte & Makeup Forever Mattifying Primers, neither of which worked for me). To be clear, I don't necessarily want my skin to look matte, I just don't want to look super shiny. I've also found that a lot of primers of this type that can control oil also make my foundation difficult to blend and my skin too matte and makeup-y looking instead of looking natural and skin-like, which is my preference. I think if you have a normal skin type and no other real issues you’d like a primer to help with outside of smoothing & pore-filling, then these could be all you need, but for my oily skin they just don’t cut it and if a primer has either of these textures I'm probably not going to buy it.
I’d also like to point out that I have no beef with silicones in my makeup and I don’t really understand when people make a big deal out of products being silicone free. Aside from not liking the texture, unless your skin has an actual reaction to silicones or you don’t take the time to remove your makeup properly, they’re probably not breaking you out. Especially because if you look at the ingredients list of probably every foundation and concealer you own you’ll find silicones within the first few ingredients, so there's no need to be concerned about them.
With my oily skin I’m now fully aware that these primers aren’t made for me and are not the best option on the market. Most people with dry, or especially with mature skin would probably be happy with something along the lines of the Guerlain Meteorites Pearl Primer, L’Oreal Lumi Magique or the NARS Pro-Prime Light Optimising Primer to help boost hydration, smooth the surface of the skin and in some cases add a pearly sheen/glow.
Colour Correcting & Acne Fighting Primers
To be honest, I think primers like these are a bit of a gimmick. I’m always going to rely on my skincare to fight acne far more than any makeup products, and I just don’t think colour correcting primers are going to make too much of a difference. Especially because your face is made up of many different colours so putting a green primer all over doesn’t make much sense to me. If you’re into colour correcting I’d say concealer is the way to go.
My Favourite Primers
I would assume that no matter what skin type you have, the point of a primer is to help your makeup last longer, apply more smoothly and look better on the skin. Maybe some of the primers I've mentioned have done that for you or maybe our skin types and preferences are different, but I've found primers that do the above and actually combat my oils and help my makeup stay in place to be a rare and elusive thing. Many primers that make oil control claims don't seem to do much for me, and it's also important to note that just because something claims to be oil free that doesn't necessarily mean it'll be oil absorbing. These are the only four primers I've tried that I can confidently say do a lot for me and that I rely on when I need my makeup to last all day and night.
First up is the Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer. You've probably heard a lot about this one already, it's outrageously expensive for a full size, but this primer means business. If you're skeptical about whether any primers do anything at all, start with a mini of this and you'll see what a difference a good primer can make. It has a thin, silky texture with an almost powdery finish. It's very difficult to describe, but it smooths over imperfections, fills in pores, brightens the skin and most importantly, helps your makeup last longer.
I've mentioned the Clarins Beauty Flash Balm several times before and even though you would never think from the name or product description that it would work for oily skin, it definitely does for me. It sounds like a gimmick, but it's made using technology that temporarily firms and tightens your skin. According to Queen Lisa Eldridge it's most effective when you don't overwork the product, but let it form a film over your skin. I really do find that my makeup goes on beautifully afterwards and looks a lot better at the end of the day than it does without this. It's been around for years and years (a lot longer than other primers) and it's something of a skincare/makeup hybrid, so while I think there are definitely more exciting skincare options out there, as a primer I can't think of anyone that wouldn't enjoy it.
A bit of a wildcard is the Paula's Choice Shine Stopper which I don't think I've ever heard anyone talk about. I have a lot I could say about Paula's Choice but I'll sum it up by saying I look at their Beautypedia a lot but I take everything with a grain of salt. I first made a purchase from Paula's Choice because with a referral link you get $15 off your first purchase of more than $30. They offer sample sizes of almost every product and regularly have sales and free shipping offers, so I thought for about $15 I'd try out a few things. I picked up 2-3 samples of each product I was interested in so I'd get a good idea of what the product was all about, and the first one I absolutely loved was the Shine Stopper. I decant my samples into little pots from Mecca/Sephora and the couple of foil packets I had of this primer lasted me ages because I would only use a small amount right in my t-zone and then go in with another primer like Clarins' BFB on the rest of my face, this really works to keep shine at bay without making me look super matte or making my foundation patchy. No one I read or watch seems to talk about Paula's Choice much (is it cynical to say maybe it's because they don't send out PR packages?) But this is seriously a hidden gem. As a side-note, everyone who has an account with PC gets a referral code, I'm not affiliated with them in any way, but total transparency: if you want to use my link to try out a bunch of samples like I did you'll get your $15 off and I'll get $15 too.
I felt like I was just about done with trying new primers because so many of them are disappointing, and at $31.95AU the Max Factor Facefinity All Day Primer isn't cheap for a drugstore option, but I picked it up during one of Priceline's 40% off sales and am so surprised at how much I love this primer. It really does help your makeup last longer but still definitely keeps your skin looking natural and fresh, just the way I like it. This is definitely one of my go-to primers and although texture-wise it's not as luxurious, it's the closest thing I've seen to a more affordable alternative to the Hourglass Mineral Veil and for me it performs a lot better than most high end primers I've tried.
* Side note: I did a lot of testing over several months to try and work out which primers were working for me and a good way to do it is to apply primer to only one side of your face and compare the two sides at the end of the day. I also like testing primers with the same foundation & powder combination so you get a more accurate idea of how the primer is performing compared to others you're testing.