Out of 38 Face Primers Tested, These 10 Keep Makeup Intact and Flawless All Day Long

Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Primer is the ultimate face base and makeup-skincare hybrid.

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Face Primers

InStyle / Jhett Thompson

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We’ll let you in on a little secret: Face primer is the key for makeup that lasts longer, applies smoother, and overall looks better. Without primer, your perfect, glowy face beat can turn into a melted, cakey mess in a matter of hours. 

With so many different primers out on the market, finding one to suit your skin’s needs may feel impossible. Luckily, with the help of our InStyle testers, we tested 38 top-rated formulas to find the best of the best. Keeping application, texture, and overall appearance top of mind, our testers narrowed down the pool to find the 10 best face primers that will keep your makeup looking flawless all day long. Overall, Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Primer was the clear winner thanks to its lightweight formula, easy application, and added skincare benefits.

Here are the best face primers of 2022, according to InStyle testers.

Best Overall: Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Primer

5
Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Primer

Sephora

What We Love: The hydrating formula doubles as a moisturizer.

What We Don’t Love: It can leave a sticky residue if you don’t wait for it to dry before applying makeup.

Consider Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Primer your secret weapon for creating a smooth, long-lasting look. While all primers act as a base for makeup, this one bridges the gap between skincare and makeup. Hemp-derived cannabis seed extract and blue agave help condition skin to leave you looking naturally more radiant, and hyaluronic acid helps to hydrate without making you look greasy — making it great to wear not only under makeup but also on its own as a moisturizer for your natural skin days. 

Milk Makeup has become a favorite among many beauty lovers for its vegan and cruelty-free formulas. This primer is a holy grail product for so many makeup artists and influencers (as well as myself), so it’s no surprise that our testers fell in love with it, too. "My face looks amazingly smooth and has just the right balance of moisture," our tester raves. "Just a pea-sized amount went a long way, and my foundation blended perfectly over top.”

Price at time of publish: $36

Size: 1.52 fl oz.|Skin Types All|Key Ingredients: Blue agave, Hyaluronic acid, Hemp-derived cannabis seed extract 

Best Budget: Honest Beauty Everything Primer Matte

5
Honest Beauty Everything Primer Matte

Amazon

What We Love: Beyond using this as a primer, you can also apply it on top of your makeup to control any unwanted shine. 

What We Don’t Love: It has a light, natural scent that might be irritating for some.

Honest Beauty Everything Primer Matte proves that you don’t have to break the bank to get a quality primer. Formulated without silicones, synthetic fragrances, or dyes, this primer blurs imperfections and controls shine. Because it’s designed with blemish-prone skin in mind, it can be applied prior to makeup for long-lasting results or used throughout the day on top of makeup to absorb excess oil. Pro tip: When applying it over makeup, be sure to tap, not rub, the product into skin so your makeup stays flawless. Aside from the formula itself, our tester really loves the pump dispenser because it’s easy to control the amount of product that comes out — you won’t experience any messy mishaps with this pick.

Price at time of publish: $19

Size: 1 fl oz.|Skin Type: All|Key Ingredients: Micronized bamboo powder

Best Splurge: Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer

4.7
Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer

Sephora

What We Love: This primer is great for mature skin.

What We Don’t Love: If you apply too much, it can leave a slight white cast.

As the name hints at, Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer casts a luminous veil over your skin, hiding any redness and blurring the appearance of pores and fine lines. The luxurious formula has a cloud-like texture that quickly sinks into your skin and creates a hydrated, smooth base for your foundation. It also contains SPF 15, which is great, but make sure to use an SPF of at least 30 under the primer to be fully protected. 

Despite normally struggling with cakey-ness around her smile lines, our tester had no issues when using this primer under her foundation. "My foundation has no cracks or patchiness," she says, adding that as the day went on her complexion remained velvety. On top of the formula inside, the packaging is so pretty you’ll want to display it front and center on your vanity, too. 

Note: Our tester originally applied too much of the product, which left her with a slight white cast. On her second attempt, she used three small pumps to cover her whole face and was able to achieve the perfect base.  

Price at time of publish: $56

Size: 1.01 fl oz.|Skin Types All|Key Ingredients: Zinc oxide

Best Smoothing: Tarte Cosmetics Poreless Mattifying Primer

5
Tarte Cosmetics Poreless Mattifying Primer

Sephora

What We Love: With this primer, your foundation can last for up to 12 hours. 

What We Don’t Love: There’s not much product in the bottle, so you’ll probably have to repurchase pretty often.

Struggle with the appearance of large pores? Tarte Poreless Mattifying Primer smoothes out the look of your skin in seconds, mattifying your face and making an excellent base for makeup. Our tester loves how the silky formula glides onto skin. “I couldn’t even feel it on my face!” she says. 

Containing nutrient-rich ingredients — like avocado, echinacea root, and rosemary leaf extract — this primer works well with foundation to create a smooth, flawless complexion. We also love that it’s waterproof, so you can take your look to the beach or pool without it becoming a melted mess.

If you’re looking for a primer with major longevity, this is the one to grab because it can make your foundation last for up to 12 hours, shine-free. “This primer is a game changer,” our teaser says. “I'm going to include it in my makeup routine everyday.”

Price at time of publish: $32

Size: 0.75 fl oz.|Skin Types All|Key Ingredients: Avocado, Echinacea root, Rosemary leaf extract

Best for Large Pores: Benefit Cosmetics The POREfessional Face Primer

4.7
Benefit Cosmetics The POREfessional Face Primer

Ulta

What We Love: Though the product is slightly tinted, it complements all skin tones.

What We Don’t Love: Its matte finish can leave skin looking slightly dry.

You can say goodbye to your pores when you apply Benefit Cosmetics POREfessional Pro Balm Face Primer. This primer will instantly blur your skin, and although you can’t actually erase pores, it softens their appearance and leaves your skin looking airbrushed. With ingredients like vitamin E, shea butter extract, and hyaluronic acid, it creates what our tester describes as a “silky, lightweight formula” that applies so smoothly. While the natural tint skews light, it blends well on every skin tone. Talk about pore-fection! 

Price at time of publish: $29

Size: 0.75 fl oz.|Skin Types All|Key Ingredients: Vitamin E, Shea butter extract, Hyaluronic acid

Best Mattifying: Fenty Beauty Pro Filt'r Mattifying Primer

5
Fenty Beauty Pro Filt'r Mattifying Primer

Sephora

What We Love: While most matte primers are stiff, this was easy to blend. 

What We Don’t Love: The formula can be drying, so it may not be the best pick for those with dry skin.

This primer is a blurring filter in a bottle. A great pick for those who tend to get shiny, Fenty Beauty by Rihanna Pro Filt’r Mattifying Primer instantly absorbs any oils without leaving your complexion looking dry. The lightweight formula mattifies skin and makes a flawless base for any makeup application. Though it initially dispenses white, it immediately becomes translucent when it comes in contact with skin, and disappears as it’s blended — which our tester says is extremely easy to do.  “Sometimes primers can feel really stiff, especially when they are matte, but this one only required two pumps and was easy to spread,” she says.

Price at time of publish: $35

Size: 1 fl oz.|Skin Types Normal, Combination, and Oily|Key Ingredients: Blue agave extract

Best Illuminating: MAC Studio Radiance Illuminating Primer

5
Mac Studio Radiance Primer

Amazon

What We Love: It leaves your skin looking radiant and plump. 

What We Don’t Love: It’s not great for those with oily skin.

The secret to achieving dewy, glowing skin starts with your skincare, but the primer you use also plays a big role. If a radiant complexion is your makeup goal, there’s no better way to prep your skin than with MAC Studio Radiance Illuminating Primer. Made with hyaluronic acid, olive oil, jojoba oil, and vitamin E, it helps to revitalize your skin and give it a golden hour glow all day long. Our tester raves about its silky smooth, hydrating texture. “I would recommend this to all my friends as a must-have,” our tester says. “It feels wonderful on my face and keeps my foundation radiant and natural looking.”

Price at time of publish: $34

Size: 1 fl oz.|Skin Types Normal, Dry, and Combination |Key Ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, Olive oil, Jojoba oil, Vitamin E oil

Best Vegan: NYX Professional Makeup Marshmellow Smoothing Primer

5
NYX Marshmellow Soothing Primer

Ulta

What We Love: It's non-comedogenic, so it won’t cause any breakouts. 

What We Don’t Love: If you use a silicone-based foundation, this primer won’t work for you because it will cause the foundation to pill. 

Want smooth, plump skin? NYX Professional Makeup The Marshmellow Smoothing Primer works to soften the appearance of pores, fine lines, and uneven skin texture, while also extending the wear of your makeup. The unique, fluffy texture reminds us of a marshmallow and helps hydrate the skin, leaving your complexion hydrated and makeup-ready. Our tester explains that her foundation has never applied better, saying “the whipped, cream-like consistency makes my foundation apply smoothly ,and diminishes the appearance of pores.” Just be sure to pair it with a water-based foundation (like Charlotte Tilbury Charlotte’s Beautiful Skin Foundation), otherwise makeup can become congealed and start to pill. 

Price at time of publish: $15

Size: 1.01 fl oz.|Skin Types All|Key Ingredients: Marshmallow root extract

Best for Oily Skin: Smashbox Photo Finish Smooth and Blur Oil Free Foundation Primer

4.7
Smashbox Photo Finish Hydrating Foundation Primer

Sephora

What We Love: It acts like a sponge to soak up any excess oil throughout the day. 

What We Don’t Love: It can cause breakouts if you have extremely sensitive skin.

Dealing with excess oil throughout the day? If so, this primer from Smashbox is for you. Lightweight and oil-free, it works to reduce shine, minimizes the appearance of fine lines and pores, and protects skin from environmental stressors like pollution. The silicone-based formula is clear and invisibly glides over the skin, creating a photo-ready finish that keeps your complexion smooth and makeup intact all day. While it does work impeccably well for those with oily skin, be wary if your skin is also sensitive as it’s been known to sometimes cause breakouts. 

Price at time of publish: $42

Size: 1 fl oz.|Skin Types Oily |Ingredients: Vitamins A and E

Best for Dry Skin: Too Faced Hangover Primer

5
Too Faced Hangover Primer

Too Faced

What We Love: Skin instantly looks more hydrated once applying this primer. 

What We Don’t Love: It has a slight coconut scent that may bother some people.

Just like a tall glass of water after a long night out, Too Faced Hangover Replenishing Face Primer revives your skin, making it feel instantly hydrated. Formulated with coconut water and probiotics, it works to lock in moisture and brighten your skin, helping you look and feel more refreshed. “The lightweight, moisturizing formula is easy to blend into the skin,” our tester shares. “It doesn’t feel sticky or glue-like like some other primers.” One thing to note: The primer does have a slight coconut scent (due to the coconut water in the formula), so if you have a coconut allergy it’s best to avoid this pick. 

Price at time of publish: $37

Size: 1.35 fl oz.|Skin Types Dry and Combination|Ingredients: Coconut water and Probiotics

Our Testing Process

To start, we researched the top rated primers on the market. After conducting some online investigation, we were able to come up with a list of  38 top-rated primers. Our testers then tried out each formula and rated them on a scale of 1 to 5 in three most categories: Application, feel, and overall appearance under makeup. Once all the testers provided their feedback, we were able to pull together the results and narrow down the list to the 10 best primers of 2022. 

What to Keep in Mind

Finish

Primers come in many different finishes, so it is important to keep your skin’s needs and overall desired look in mind when selecting one. First, it’s important to take your skin type into account.  For those with oily skin, matte primers (like Fenty Beauty by Rihanna Pro Filt’r Mattifying Primer) are a great option as they absorb excess oil while still delivering a flawless base for foundation application. If you struggle with dryness, a hydrating or illuminating primer (like MAC Studio Radiance Illuminating Primer) is the way to go because they usually contain ingredients that keep moisture locked in throughout the day.

Ingredients

In such a saturated market, primer ingredients can get lost in all the noise. A lot of formulations are silicone-based, consisting of cyclomethicone or dimethicone which aim to help smooth the surface of your skin. Water-based primers are made primarily of water or glycerin, leaving your skin hydrated and with a natural finish. That said, it’s important to look beyond whether a product is water- or silicone-based, and look for high quality ingredients that can improve your skin. “My favorite primers contain skincare ingredients such as hyaluronic acid or sqaulane, and are lightweight enough so I can apply my makeup products without a worry,” shares Brittany Lo, professional makeup artist and founder of Beia Beauty. One of our favorite makeup-skincare hybrid picks is our best overall winner Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Primer

Foundation 

When choosing your primer, you also need  to keep your foundation in mind. You can’t mix a silicone-based primer with a water-based foundation or vice versa. Doing so will cause the product to coagulate and pill on your skin — and no one wants that. Finding a primer that is compatible with your makeup products is crucial to prepping your skin. For a good water-based primer try NYX Professional Makeup The Marshmellow Smoothing Primer; and as for silicone-based, try Smashbox Photo Finish Smooth and Blur Oil Free Foundation Primer.

Your Questions, Answered

What does face primer do? 

According to Lo, “face primers help smooth out the skin and fill in any fine lines or dry spots to help makeup lie evenly on your skin.” Primers also work to extend the longevity of your makeup, keeping all your products in place and enhancing the overall appearance of your final look. They can also have added skincare benefits, which can help target any skin concerns like dryness or large pores. 

How do you apply face primer? 

Primer should be the last step of your skincare routine and first step of your makeup routine — essentially bridging the gap between makeup and skincare. Primer can be applied with a brush, fingers, or makeup sponge depending on your preference. Note that when using a sponge, your primer may not apply as concentrated as you need, so Lo recommends applying primer with a brush and then using your fingertips to smooth it out. Doing so avoids applying too much, which could cause some piling. Pro tip: Make sure your primer is fully dry before applying your foundation to avoid any pilling. 

Can you use face primer on the eyes? 

“Since eyelids tend to get oily, you could get away with using a face primer for oily skin on your lids. However, I compare face primer and eyeshadow primers to face cream and eye cream - you can use them interchangeably, but you will not get the most out of them,” advises Lo.  

What Is InStyle Picks?

Did you notice the InStyle Picks seal of approval at the top of this story? That means our team of testers has reviewed every product on this list using a unique methodology to ensure it's really worth your time, money, and attention. We may get samples for free to try but we never promise positive (or any!) coverage in exchange. Put simply: InStyle picks are products we love, and we've put them to the test to be sure you will too.

Why Shop With Us

Amanda Rosenthal is a commerce writer for InStyle. Amanda has experience researching and testing different makeup products and has tried tons of different primers. With additional knowledge from professional makeup artists and first-hand experience trying out numerous primers, she rounded up the top picks for this story. Amanda has tried out tons of different primers including ones from this story like the Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Primer, Benefit Cosmetics POREfessional Pro Balm Face Primer, and Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer. 

Want more product recommendations? From best-in-class concealer to the black pants you need for work, check out all of our InStyle Picks content.

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