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I’ve really learned the value of makeup primers. When I was younger, I wanted them so my makeup wouldn’t melt away after a night dancing or day in the sun and humidity. While I still appreciate that aspect of primers, I find primers to be beneficial in multiple ways, especially with my over-40 skin.
Primers do not have to be partnered with foundation; as primers have improved over the years they have become stand-alone products that improve the look of skin without any added color. When used with a foundation or BB cream, primers help reduce those products from settling into fine lines and enlarged pores. And then the long-wearing feature – who doesn’t want their makeup to stay in place until they take it off?
NARS Radiance Primer
I saw this primer by NARS that had an SPF of 50 and was psyched. An ex-tanaholic who got her first age spot at 29, I’m always happy to find products that have sunscreen. As someone who often goes sans foundation, it’s nice to find an all-over face product with SPF to layer over moisturizer for extra protection. However, this was sold out and I ended up selling myself on NARS’ Radiance Primer.
NARS Radiance Primer has an SPF of 35 but also, in the words of the Nordstrom site (where I bought but didn't link because it too is now out of stock) it contains, “Radiance Boosting Complex, which works instantly to revive dull, fatigued skin and help add long-term vitality to your complexion while prolonging the wear of makeup and enhancing its effect. Encapsulated sunscreen beads release on contact for luxuriously fresh broad-spectrum protection, while the plant extract evodia rutaecarpa promotes microcirculation for improved skin vitality.” It’s oil free, and made in the USA.
A little goes a long way, just a pea sized amount will cover your whole face and onto your neck. It has a subtle smell of sunscreen, which is to be expected. It blends easily, and disappears. No feeling of dryness, oiliness, or silicone. While many illuminating products make me look like a disco ball or if I coated myself in pig grease, this does not. It makes me skin just look a tad bit more refreshed, more glowy, but not shiny and no shimmer.
I’ve used it with just concealer, on its own, with a BB cream, and with a heavier foundation and it performs beautifully with all of them. While this is no Skindinavia that will pretty much glue your makeup to your face, it does make my foundation last enough that I can head out to dinner after work and not have to redo my face. Come spring when this tube runs out, I’ll likely switch it for the SPF 50 one because I’d want the extra SPF and thanks to the sun, I won’t need quite as much radiance.
Smashbox Photo Finish Foundation Primer
This is the OG of foundation primers, and one I swore by for YEARS. It’s silicone based – goes on silky, dries to a powder finish. Completely clear. Especially with heavier foundations, this stuff is amazing for creating a smooth canvas where makeup is applied evenly, and sticks around a bit longer.
It claims to make skin look great even without foundation, but I haven’t had such an experience. As I got older, I found Photo Finish to make my skin look drier, less luminous, and more needing of product. In fact, Photo Finish is what had me stop using foundation for a while, thinking it was making my skin look older. I switched to a BB Cream and no primer and was thrilled with the results. When winter came, I wanted something a bit heavier to cover my vampire pallor and tried some without Photo Finish and liked it. Tried with Photo Finish and suddenly the foundation looked obvious and my skin looked older.
This is not a bad product, it’s the OG for good reason. However, if you’ve been using it for a decade without trying alternatives because you think it’s so great, consider trying a different version. You may like the results. (FYI, some say this Monistat anti-chafing gel works just as well for far less).
bareMinerals Prime Time Original Foundation Primer
I can’t really tell the difference between this primer and Smashbox. I think this one is a hair more liquidy, but the pump stopped working after two weeks and I had to apply it by unscrewing the cap and tapping it on my face with the tube for the pump. Then when that no longer got the job done, I had to shake it into my hand which wasted so much product. All that, and this stuff wasn’t revolutionary. However, this is paraben-free, sulfate-free, phthalate-free, synthetic fragrance-free synthetic dye-free, petrochemical-free, and made in the USA which is quite appealing. And while Smashbox is cruelty-free, it doesn’t claim it’s free of all these other nasty ingredients.
Laura Geller Beauty Spackle Under Make-Up Primer
Every time I can pick three samples with an online beauty purchase, this primer seems to be one of the options. So I decided to choose it a few times and some friends gave me their testers so I could try a few times without having to purchase.
I do not like this stuff. It’s thick and sticky and heavy. I’ve read many who use it like spackle to fill in holes from pock marks, scars, and such to create a more even canvas; I can see how it would work for that. But as a base layer for foundation or just to improve skin’s appearance I didn’t like it because I could feel it on my skin.
MILK Makeup Blur Stick
Like Glossier, MILK is a trendy new cosmetics brand getting a lot of hype. And like Glossier, I bought into that hype. MILK’s Blur Stick supposedly minimizes the appearance of pores and fine lines on every skintone for an invisible, smooth, matte finish. Unlike many primers, Blur Stick free of silicone. It is also vegan, cruelty-free, free of parabens, sulfates, phthalates, dimethicone, oil, and gluten.
I was underwhelmed by MILK Blur Stick. It comes in beautiful packaging, the product is a peachy-beige color that is a bit iridescent. You twist up the product like a deodorant or giant lip balm. It’s a very hard product, doesn’t glide on the skin, and like deodorant leaves a couple flakes in its wake. To apply, you rub on your face like a stick of deodorant, then blend with fingers. Better have warm fingers and well-hydrated skin, because this stuff doesn’t easily blend. Once blended and covering my face… I saw no improvement. I applied more to my nose which was shiny and had visible pores and… nothing. I put my makeup on over it, and you could see that I missed a few spots with my rubbing/blending because my skin looked uneven – some places had good coverage but looked dry, other places looked normal. When I used more on skin just moisturized and with warm hands, it covered better but it still didn’t do much to hide pores, blur fine lines, or keep my foundation in place during the day.
Benefit The POREfessional Face Primer
I haven’t used the POREfessional by Benefit, but I am considering it after my friend texted me a photo of her face with only this on it. She’s only a few months younger than I, has battled adult acne though now has it at bay, and has skin sensitivity. She loved how it looked on its own – just improving skin tone, evening the skin, minimizing pores and such. It looked so good in the photo it’s on my wishlist to try in the future. Have any of you tried it?
If you have a primer you love that isn’t mentioned, please share in the comments! We all have different skin colors, textures, issues, and needs and I know I and many other readers benefit from your suggestions!
Jennifer Savage says
Does anyone else feel like you have to switch up your primers after a while b/c your skin acts like a virus & builds up a tolerance to their blurring properties?
Alison Gary says
I haven’t never stuck with the same primer long enough, which says something about me not the primers! :). Since writing this I use Dr. Jart’s Cicapair as a primer or on its own and I am almost at the bottom of a large jar. First time I’ve ever gotten that far with a single product!
Another vote for Clinique’s super primer. I got it as a ‘gift with purchase’ but I’d repurchase ‘cos it goes on easily, has a nice light texture and smooths out my skin. I particularly like it for lightening under eye circles and keeping my nose matt with less obvious pores. You have the Body Shop in the US, right? The Body Shop’s Instablur primer is cheap and works brilliantly. An odd thick texture, but it smooths out on the skin.
Love Love Porefessional. I use it with powder on days I don’t feel like foundation (which is most of the time) I have been trying to get through my tube of Lancome 1 minute blur so I can get another tube of the Benefit. I think I’ll try the tip to add some That Gal, since my skin is getting dull between the winter, and getting older.
Oh, and I had tried Spackle in the matte finish, but ended up tossing after using less then a third of it when it separated 🙁
Katie R says
I feel like I have been using primer wrong! I wear it periodically under my BB cream (Dr. Jart black label) and I feel like it makes no difference. I’ve tried Porefessional, Smashbox Photo Finish, Dr Brandt Pores no More, and a few Makeup Forever primers. Argh!
Porefessional is my primer of choice (38, acne scars, skin is both oily and dry at the same time (WTF MY SKIN)), and while I rarely wear it alone, I find it does wonders with even the lightest coverage.
I used to use the Clinique superprimer a lot when i used regularly liquid makeup. No i mainly try to get by with concealer and some powder ( benefit – hellow flawless or a loose one from clinique) . It really is good for controlling oil but not making super dry. silky , water based . really nice for me . works alone also but more like a moisturizer 🙂
I haven’t tried it, but a couple of my friends swear by the Bare Minerals primer!
I love poreprofessional. I wear it on its own and occasionally under foundation and have been very pleased with it. My (subjective) opinion is that my skin looks smoother, and yet not overly made-up.
I really like Tarte’s BB Primer. I generally use it alone but it also works really well under other makeup.
I recently tried Benefit Porefessional, and I love it. Much more staying power than the Lancome La Base I’d been using. I didn’t care for Laura Gellar Spackle either … that was the one product I threw out when it was still basically full.
I also loved Hard Candy Undercover Agent “brightener” for looking glowy and well-rested on minimal-makeup days. I don’t think they make it anymore, so I’m going to try Soap & Glory Hocus Focus instead.
Kathryn Braun Fenner says
My “primer” is Cotz for Faces in the natural tinted version. It’s matte, but I don’t find it overly aging, especially if I moisturize well underneath, it doesn’t irritate my supersensitive skin, has non-chemical SPF, is as close to sweatproof as I have found–I walk my dogs in the summer with it on–sweat beads over it, and can be dabbed off, without disturbing it. It blurs imperfections, and I can add a bit of coverage with the Colorstay Whipped Allie *used* to recommend….and it’s under $20 a tube on Amazon–I get it Subscribe and Save, or my Ulta carries it, in the sunscreen section.
try DHC velvet skin coat 🙂 I’m 49.67 and it is my favorite!
Great post! I’m surprised you didn’t add Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer. I have very oily skin and this stuff seems to give me a much more matte look under my makeup. Plus, it really gives my foundation some staying power.
Morgan Rudder says
I have tried Poreffesional and wasn’t a fan. I liked the effect it gave ok but it made my sensitive-ish skin break out longer than the normal “I’m trying a new product” small time break outs on the chin/jaw line. Maybe it was just my skin, but I was pretty meh on it. I actually like Tarte Timeless Smoothing Primer. And on the note of Laura Gellar Spackle…have you ever used the lip version? It is really the only thing I can use to not make red lipstick turn pink on me. I will say…it feels AWFUL when you first put it on, but then it warms to your body and actually feels ok, or at least not noticeable. And I can really tell a difference with it keeping your lipstick on. I’m a reluctant fan of the stuff.
Elizabeth Fitzsimmons says
The Laura Mercier Radiance primer is the best – makes your makeup go on smoothly and last and gives that little something that has your friends and co-workers commenting how rested and refreshed you look. Highly recommend!
I LOVE Benefit Porefessional! One tip for the oily/large-pored ladies in the audience: if you don’t seem to be getting the smooth finish you’d like under your makeup, try applying it OVER your foundation/concealer. Pores magically disappear! I find that my makeup stays on whether I use it under or over makeup.
Cyndi Salbego says
The girls at benefit recommended ‘that girl’ mixed with poreproffessional. Mix in your hand and apply. It’s a smooth finish and I like it way better then just Pore alone.
Allie at Wardrobe Oxygen says
Ooh great tip! I’ve used and liked That Girl, that combo makes sense!
Good to know about MILK. Their packaging is always catching my eye.
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