I don’t know a huge amount about makeup application. I know what makes a really great product, of course, but when it comes to tips and tricks for application, I’m just as wise as the next person. You would have thought that after many years in my job as a beauty editor, I would have absorbed an abundance of mastery from experts. Alas, there is truly only one makeup lesson that I have actually listened to, understood and mastered—and it concerns skin prep.
Whenever I quiz makeup artists on the secret to a natural-looking, seamless, glowing base, they always tell me that the secret lies in thorough “skin prep.” And for years, this advice annoyed me. What is skin prep, after all? I already spend great lengths of time in the morning tending to my skin before I apply my makeup, so why doesn't my skin hit Zoë Kravitz or Hailey Bieber levels of glazed-doughnut glow? The truth, I have learned, is that the term skin prep is basically code for primer.
Slathering on layers and layers of skincare before you apply your makeup will only leave you with short-lived results. The more layers on your face, the likelier everything is to slide off. Really great, expert-level skin prep actually comes down to just one product: primer. Formulated specifically to be used before makeup, primers are the key product in making your makeup base work for you and your skin.
In fact, I’ve never met a makeup artist who doesn’t use a primer. Whether it be a hydrating moisturiser, a silicone-heavy pre-foundation layer to help disguise pores, or an illuminating, oily elixir, primers are, without a doubt, the single most important product if you’re after a natural-looking base. So whatever your skin's desires, keep scrolling to shop the 16 best makeup primers.
Best Glow-Boosting Makeup Primers
I couldn't be more obsessed with this dewy, priming serum right now. Far more than your bog-standard makeup primer, this stuff is a high-octane skincare serum first and foremost. It just so happens to double as a truly exceptional hydrating primer, too. Formulated with a Dutch tulip complex that's packed with collagen for an unrivalled plumping, hydrating glow, this stuff elevates skin in a way like no other.
The best thing about using a priming moisturiser, like this illuminating one from Elemis, before you apply your makeup is that most of the time, you'll find yourself skipping your base entirely. Seriously, this glow-boosting, radiant fluid blurs and illuminates so seamlessly that you're unlikely to feel the need for more.
Oily skinned individuals, beware—Glossier Futuredew means business. The first time I ever tried this product, I used it as a skincare serum on its own and ended up hating the sticky, greasy-looking finish it delivered. However, after some playing around, I discovered it makes for a deliciously plumping, glow-boosting primer. Its tacky nature clings to makeup and infuses your base with a gleaming hit of hydration.
I'll admit, when this product dropped on my desk, I didn't have high hopes. I always find traditional primers a bit (dare I say it?) boring. Something about this just didn't scream out instant luminosity to me. However, I genuinely couldn't have been more thrilled with the results. Unlike other illuminating primers, it doesn't flood skin with excessive hydration, rather delivering just the right amount along with a pretty, pearly glow.
Best Pore-Blurring Makeup Primers
Chances are, if you're on TikTok, you will have seen E.l.f.'s Poreless Putty Primer work its magic. It is a cult product for good reason. Within seconds, it totally diminishes the appearance of pores, leaving skin looking smooth and, believe it or not, poreless. This new formulation does all of the same work as the original primer, just with a mouth-watering cookie-like scent.
Benefit's Porefessional has proved to be one of the most effective pore-blurring primers ever created. However, when it comes to pore-reducing products, there is always a risk of them feeling particularly weighty on the skin. This Lite version of the original product is water-based, meaning it feels almost impossibly fresh and cool as you apply it.
Yes, this product really does look as beautiful on the skin as it does in its rather Instagrammable bottle. It is impressively lightweight (which I'll admit came as a surprise to me) and glides onto skin like silk, blurring, hydrating and plumping every inch of skin in its tracks.
I can't tell you the number of beauty editors who have had great things to say about this new(ish) product from Charlotte Tilbury. SPF is notorious for making skin look greasy and ruining the base you might have created for your makeup. This stuff, however, has impressive UV protection and leaves skin looking almost airbrushed.
Best Hydrating Makeup Primers
I know this makes for a very expensive primer, but in reality, it's just a great skincare serum that works very well under makeup. First of all, let's talk about how beautiful it looks in the bottle—I want it sat out on my dressing table at all times. Beyond that, however, this serum makes for a truly wonderful pre-makeup skin hydrator. Jam-packed with antioxidants, this lightweight treatment delivers instant plumping, glow-boosting, hydrating results.
If you like your skin to look plump and juicy before makeup application, may I point you in the direction of this impossibly refreshing gel moisturiser? Its cooling, moisture-rich formula soothes skin and leaves it looking enviably healthy.
Whenever I ask for makeup artists' go-to primer, most of them recommend this one. Unlike most products marketed as primers, this stuff is totally silicone-free, meaning it doesn't give that before-and-after-worthy blurring effect but will flood the skin with hydration. One layer makes for the perfect base for foundation to melt into.
Best Long-Lasting Makeup Primers
If you didn't already know, E.l.f. is a pretty great brand for primers. Not only are its formulas considered to be some of the best around, but they're also wonderfully affordable. This stuff has a skin-blurring, hydrating hyaluronic acid base and a long-grip formula that keeps makeup in place all day long.
This primer is truly beautiful. It doesn't champion its long-wear properties as its main selling point (choosing to focus on its blurring, pore-reducing qualities instead), but whenever I wear this primer, I see a visible difference in how seamless my makeup looks and how long it lasts on my skin.
If you're after a product that is going to ensure your makeup stays put all day long and won't let you down, this is it. Seriously, this primer means business. It acts almost like glue between your skin and the makeup you put on top, giving skin a bit of dewy hydration while it's at it.
This is potentially one of the most interesting makeup products I have ever tried. The name really does sum it up. The primer itself has a whipped, mousse-like texture, not too dissimilar to that of a marshmallow, softening, blurring and smoothing skin as you apply it. The best bit, though, is that it promises to prolong the life of your makeup by up to 16 hours. Impressive, huh?