The best primers of 2023:
- Best for dry skin: Kjaer Weis The Beautiful Primer
- Best for aging skin: VB x Augustinus Bader Cell Rejuvenating Priming Moisturizer
- Best for oily skin: Exa Splash Zone Oil-Free Hydrating Primer
- Best for combination skin: Youthforia Pregame Primer
- Best coverage: Gee Beauty Prime Skin
- Best for acne-prone skin: Jori Acne & Oil Control Primer
- Best gel: Grown Alchemist Anti-Pollution Primer
- Best for large pores: LYS Beauty Secure Skin Gripping Serum Primer
- Best blurring: Tatcha The Liquid Silk Canvas
- Best with SPF: Iris&Romeo Weekend Skin
- Best serum: Merit Great Skin Instant Glow Serum
Allow me to declare something a tad controversial in the makeup space: I don't like wearing foundation (for the most part), but I adore an everyday primer. Why? Well, primer can do much more for you than provide an even base for makeup—but I’ll dive into its uses later.
While the two makeup products used to go hand-in-hand (the latter used to make the former feel silkier), primers have officially outgrown their reputation as a foundation sidekick.
Still, some people deem primers (and toners, as it turns out) wholly unnecessary. I, for one, find them delightful, even if I don't wear a stitch of makeup that day—and I bet I'll convince you to make them a priority, starting with the best primers below.
Here, you can find standout formulas for every skin type, concern, and makeup goal.
The best primers of 2023
Best for dry skin: Kjaer Weis The Beautiful Primer
Some people shy away from primers for fear of that tacky, sticky feeling on their skin. You won't have that fear with this silky formula. With lavender water, cold-pressed olive oil, and oat extract, the formula is so moisturizing and calming that it almost feels like a lightweight moisturizer.
On my skin, it leaves behind a noticeable sheen that helps my cheekbones catch the light—no highlighter necessary.
Best for aging skin: VB x Augustinus Bader Cell Rejuvenating Priming Moisturizer
Here's a little hack for those who want to try Augustinus Bader's famous Cream without dropping $300: Snag this Victoria Beckham x Augustinus Bader primer to test the waters. It features the brand's signature Trigger Factor Complex (TFC8) to promote cellular regeneration, as well as avocado oil, peptides, and papaya enzymes to hydrate and brighten.
It's so hydrating, in fact, that you could use it as your sole moisturizer if you wanted to. Under makeup, it blurs pores and provides a smooth, firm base. A bonus? It also comes in a tinted version, if you're looking for a true skin-care/makeup hybrid.
Also available at victoriabeckhambeauty.com.
Best for oily skin: Exa Splash Zone Oil-Free Hydrating Primer
Looking for an oil-absorbing primer that doesn't leave your makeup looking cakey? Well, here she is! I've truly never experienced an oil-free primer as hydrating as this Exa number. It has a lightweight gel consistency that really feels like a splash of moisture on your skin, thanks to star humectants glycerin and aloe.
Especially if you typically gravitate toward water-based foundations (like iconic makeup artist Daniel Martin does), you need a similar water-based primer that won't pill under your base. This, my friends, is your best bet.
Note: It's currently sold out, so I'd check back in periodically for a restock. It's worth it!
Best for combination skin: Youthforia Pregame Primer
I personally have combination skin, and I'll frequently wear this primer without a stitch of makeup—just to further lock in moisture and seal in my skin care. It's a tip I learned from Youthforia founder Fiona Chan, who refers to it as "daytime slugging." She previously tells mbg, "I learned this technique when I lived in Asia (where some days the pollution can get really bad). A lot of girls would wear primer every day, even on no-makeup days, to prevent breakouts, dehydrated skin, or a weakened skin barrier from pollution."
Consider it a barrier between your skin and the outside world. And this buffer layer includes soothing actives to calm the skin and dial down redness, like a proprietary "Skin Save" complex to temper inflammation. It also features golden yellow undertones to even out the skin tone. It's a must-get for "no-makeup" makeup days, IMO.
Best coverage: Gee Beauty Prime Skin
Found: The perfect primer-foundation hybrid for folks who hate wearing foundation (ahem, me). This tinted liquid primer features an extremely lightweight consistency that effortlessly melts into your complexion and feels like silk.
Hyaluronic acid and ceramides keep the confection hydrating, leaving the prettiest dewy finish. It also features antioxidant-rich licorice root extract, which boasts anti-inflammatory properties to help fade hyperpigmentation1. Not to mention, it contains “skin-adapt pigment technology” to help each flexible shade fuse to your skin tone.
Best for acne-prone skin: Jori Acne & Oil Control Primer
Board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D., took functional primers to the next level when he co-formulated this Acne & Oil Control Primer. In addition to leaving a satin-like film on the skin, it includes targeted botanicals to help address blemishes, like 2% salicylic acid, saw palmetto, and Chinese skullcap. "The primer does double duty to reduce shine and minimize the appearance of pores, as well as to prevent and treat breakouts," he once told mbg.
Best gel: Grown Alchemist Anti-Pollution Primer
Technically all primers provide a buffer from environmental aggressors, but this Grown Alchemist formula is chock-full of pollution-fighting antioxidants. Indian ginseng root extract, in particular, helps protect skin cells from environmental stressors, while prebiotic peptides support the skin microbiome and improve barrier function.
The kicker? It has the most glorious gel consistency. It honestly feels like a traditional silicone-based primer, just without the tackiness. If you're looking for a gel to really cling to your makeup, you can't go wrong with this pick.
Best for large pores: LYS Beauty Secure Skin Gripping Serum Primer
This blurring formula was specifically formulated with oily, acne-prone skin types in mind. It contains niacinamide, which has been shown to stabilize the skin barrier2 and reduce sebum production3—one factor that contributes to clogged pores. (And clogged pores appear way more noticeable.) It also features AHAs from ginger root, lemon, and grapefruit extracts to brighten skin tone and further tighten your complexion.
In terms of texture, it has a gel consistency that clings to your makeup with ease without feeling tacky on the skin. Think of it like a super-hydrating buffer between your skin and foundation.
Best blurring: Tatcha The Liquid Silk Canvas
Makeup artist Daniel Martin swears by this Tatcha primer for his go-to red carpet routine. "I need [the makeup] to last, and that does the trick for me," he previously told mbg. "And it doesn't feel or look like makeup on the skin." The silk extract literally provides a protective veil over your complexion so that it looks soft and plush without appearing dry. A matte "cloud skin" must-have.
Best with SPF: Iris&Romeo Weekend Skin
This holy grail product is like a serum, sunscreen, and makeup primer wrapped into one. It contains vitamin C in the form of ascorbyl glucoside (a more stable form of vitamin C that is converted into L-ascorbic acid on the skin), along with vitamin E to fend off free radicals.
For the SPF 50 component, you'll find zinc oxide, while niacinamide helps brighten the skin and even tone. It also has a bit of a tint, which is perfect for "no-makeup" makeup days when you crave just a whisper of coverage.
As soon as I tested Weekend Skin, I was impressed by its skin-gripping power: It easily fuses to your complexion and doesn't smear onto your clothing—I even wiped my hands on my white shirt immediately after applying, and it left zero transfer!
Best serum: Merit Great Skin Instant Glow Serum
Yes, priming serums do exist! Namely, ones that prep and plump your skin pre-makeup so that your complexion shines through any foundation base. Some people use hyaluronic acid to deliver that subtle plumping effect, which is why this serum contains four types of HA to hydrate multiple skin layers.
But unlike most stand-alone HA serums, Merit's number doesn't feel sticky on the skin—it has a weightless consistency that instantly absorbs and leaves behind a noticeable glow.
Also available at sephora.com.
Comparing the best primers of 2023
|Exa Splash Zone Oil-Free Hydrating Primer||$34||Oily||Yes||Lightweight & hydrating|
|Kjaer Weis The Beautiful Primer||$55||Dry||Yes||Creamy|
|VB x Augustinus Bader Cell Rejuvenating Priming Moisturizer||$60||Mature||Yes||Creamy|
|Youthforia Pregame Primer||$38||Combination||Yes||Creamy|
|Gee Beauty Prime Skin||$58||Dry / Mature / Combination||No||Creamy|
|Jori Acne & Oil Control Primer||$70||Acne-prone||No||Lightweight & hydrating|
|Grown Alchemist Anti-Pollution Primer||$42||Dry / Mature / Acne-prone||Yes||Gel|
|LYS Beauty Secure Skin Gripping Serum Primer||$20||Oily / Combination / Acne-prone||Yes||Gel|
|Tatcha The Liquid Silk Canvas||$54||Oily / Combination / Mature||No||Creamy|
|Iris&Romeo Weekend Skin||$50||Oily / Combination / Mature||No||Creamy|
|Merit Great Skin Instant Glow Serum||$38||Dry / Combination / Mature||Yes||Serum|
How we chose
- Tried & tested: Everything on this list comes recommended and tested by trusted professionals and editors.
- Variety: Someone with dry skin will want a different primer than an individual with oily skin concerns. You'll be sure to find a primer for every skin type in this list.
- Silicone-free: While non-cyclic silicones aren't necessarily problematic, we prioritized silicone-free options here. If a primer does contain silicones, we made sure to flag it.
- Ingredients: Each primer listed also contains high-quality ingredients for targeted skin care concerns. Think niacinamide for oil control, vitamin C for brightness, salicylic acid for acne, and so on.
Benefits of primers
A primer can provide so much more than an even base for makeup. Take a peek:
- Helps makeup last longer: Perhaps their most well-known benefit, "Primers can help grip makeup, increasing longevity of wear," notes makeup artist Lisa Aharon. If your makeup frequently sweats or flakes off by midday, you might want to invest in the extra step.
- Elevates your makeup: "Depending on the type of primer you choose, it can provide a matte, dewy, or luminous finish to your overall makeup look," says makeup artist Alexandra Compton, product development manager at Credo.
- Minimizes pore appearance: Primers are beloved for creating a smooth, even base before makeup. While there's no way to actually "shrink" pore size, primers can provide a blurring effect that minimizes their appearance. "Blurring primers create a soft veil over the skin, reflecting light and diffusing the appearance of imperfections," Compton adds.
- Targets skin concerns: Innovative primers of today include skin care ingredients to target specific skin concerns, says Compton, such as oat extract for redness, vitamin C for discoloration, and niacinamide for excess oil.
- Provides a buffer layer: Especially for those with sensitive or acne-prone skin who might find complexion products irritating or pore-clogging, it's important to have some sort of buffer layer between your skin and whatever makeup you're putting on next. Bonus points if that buffer layer includes soothing actives to calm the skin and dial down redness.
- Protects against environmental aggressors: A stand-alone primer creates a protective layer on your skin, not just for makeup but also for the world around you. It can help seal in your skin care and lock in moisture, as well as provide a barrier against environmental pollutants.
- Provides light coverage: Some priming formulas are so silky, in fact, that they even function as a skin tint replacement. They aren't technically complexion products (and thus don't have shade ranges), but their calming, brightening, and mattifying botanicals help them disguise any blemishes, fine lines, or redness.
What to look for
Use this criteria to ease your search:
Ingredients by skin type
The primer you choose can have a significant impact on your overall makeup aesthetic. For dry skin, a hydrating primer can help lock in moisture for a dewy glow; for oily-prone individuals, a mattifying or pore-blurring primer may be your best bet.
Here, Compton provides a quick primer guide for your skin type:
- Oily and/or acne-prone: She recommends seeking out ingredients like silica to help absorb excess oil and mattify the skin. "Also consider primers with niacinamide (vitamin B3), which can help control sebum production and prevent breakouts," she notes.
- Dry: "Choose hydrating primers that contain ingredients like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, or aloe vera. These ingredients help to replenish moisture and create a smooth, plump base for makeup application," Compton explains.
- Sensitive: First and foremost, you'll want to look for fragrance-free, soothing, gentle formulas. Perhaps opt for calming ingredients like aloe vera, prickly pear extract, and chamomile to further reduce inflammation.
- Mature: Compton touts healthy aging ingredients like peptides, niacinamide, and vitamins C and E. "These ingredients can help improve the appearance of fine lines and promote a more youthful complexion," she shares.
You may associate primers with a tacky, sticky, gel texture. That consistency is largely thanks to silicones: They're commonly added to formulas as a smoothing, occlusive ingredient; in primers, they generally help give formulas a blurring effect.
But as the product category expands, brands discover alternative ingredients to deliver that same smooth consistency—without leaving behind a tacky residue. "Even as a professional makeup artist, I used to be skeptical of primers," Compton once shared with mbg. "I used to dislike them, especially the [cyclic] silicone-based primers that have that icky, almost suffocating feeling on the skin. Now, there are so many different types of primers to achieve different finishes for any skin type."
Water-soluble silicones aren't necessarily a red flag in primers (namely dimethicone, which isn't as sticky), but it's important to know if you have an adverse reaction to them.
On the subject of texture, we should note that primers can fulfill different skin and makeup goals. Some are deliciously creamy and serve as another layer of moisture, while others have a gel-like consistency that's great for gripping makeup. Some even contain tints for even more coverage!
Depending on your skin type and makeup look, you might want to opt for a specific form.
Do blurring primers work?
"Blurring primers work by utilizing light-diffusing ingredients to create a soft-focus effect on the skin," says Compton. They create a soft veil over the skin, which helps minimize the appearance of pores, fine lines, and other complexion concerns.
What is the best primer for over 50?
Mature skin also tends to be dry, so choose a hydrating primer that provides an extra layer of moisture. My personal picks are the VB x Augustinus Bader Cell Rejuvenating Priming Moisturizer—which features the brand's signature Trigger Factor Complex (TFC8) to promote cellular regeneration—and Kjaer Weis' The Beautiful Primer, which infuses your skin with lavender water, cold-pressed olive oil, and oat extract.
Does face primer really make a difference?
Yes! Not only do primers help extend the longevity of your makeup, but you can also wear them alone for skin-enhancing benefits. "I wear sunscreen that acts as a primer alone all the time," says Aharon. "It simply evens out my complexion, making it appear to be more finished than it actually is."
Compton agrees: "Primers often contain skin care ingredients that can benefit your skin even when used alone," she says. "Hydrating primers provide an extra layer of moisture, blurring primers can help to minimize the appearance of imperfections. I love using a makeup sponge to softly mattify and blur my complexion—it helps to wick away excess oil without drying out my skin."
Do you put on moisturizer or primer first?
"The general rule of thumb is to apply skin care products in the order of their thickness, starting with the thinnest consistency and moving toward thicker textures," says Compton. "It is recommended to apply moisturizer first and then follow up with primer. Once your skin care has fully absorbed, then you can proceed with applying a primer. Applying your skin care first helps to nourish and hydrate your skin and preps skin for makeup."
How do you apply primer?
There are many ways to apply primer (feel free to experiment and have fun with it!), but Compton prefers this method:
"After your skin care has fully absorbed, take a small amount of primer and using your fingers, brush, or a sponge, gently apply the primer to the center of your face or targeted areas with visible pores or texture," she explains. "Allow the primer to set for a few minutes before applying your foundation or other makeup products, like concealer."
Aharon, on the other hand, prefers a brush over a makeup sponge. "It gives me the most control," she notes.
Primers do so much more than extend the longevity of your makeup: Grab an antibacterial formula, like Jori's Acne & Oil Control Primer, and you can simultaneously treat clogged, enlarged pores. Snag a redness-reducing confection, like Youthforia's Pregame Primer, and it essentially acts as a no-makeup color corrector.
In short, you can totally wear a primer all on its own. Though they do pair exceptionally well with one of these silky foundations—take a browse and thank us later.
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and more. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.