If you ask makeup artists for the do-or-die product that makes a flawless face, primer always tops the list. “Primers contain waxes and polymers that even skintone and fill in texture to create a smooth canvas that bonds skin and makeup together to make it last,” explains Valerie Star of New York City’s Caravan Stylist Studio.
Now, formulas are combining those classic long wear benefits with ingredients targeted to specific skin type concerns to work double duty. From oily to aging and acne-prone complexions, these primers help improve your biggest skin issues. You can even wear them solo to blur imperfections on those no-makeup days when you still want a bit of polish.
So what’s the perfect primer for your skin? Check out our gallery of top picks to find out.
1Oily / Large Pores
For this skin type that notoriously eats through makeup, it’s all about shine control and filling in texture with an ingredient like silica since oily skin is often plagued by large pores, says Star.
Benefit’s translucent The POREfessional, $31, is a lightweight balm designed to mask the appearance of pores while protecting skin from free radicals with a form of vitamin E. Use it as an all-over primer, and dab it on over makeup to conceal pores again on those extra-long days.
More than just primer, Per-fékt Skin Perfection Gel, $48, evens tone with lightweight color pigments while the gel-mousse formula sops up shine and reduces the look of pores. The product comes in clear or buildable shades that we find can even replace foundation if you fancy a sheer finish.
The silk protein in Kryolan HD Micro Primer, $28, instantly creates a matte skin surface for makeup and lightweight silicones hunt down and fill enlarged pores. Hailing from Germany, this brand is popular among professional makeup artists and those who work on-camera for a living.
Primers that absorb shine can dehydrate already flake-prone skin, so look instead for hydrating ingredients to create and sustain a dewy finish.
It Cosmetics Feel The Moment Primer Serum, $38, is like a spa facial. The serum drenches skin in caviar extract, collagen, peptides, hyaluronic acid and silk. Enriched with balancing oils of argan, jojoba and avocado, the deep ocean water base makes skin soft and supple all day long.
For green lovers, natural beauty brand Nvey Eco offers a solution free of petrochemicals, parabens and synthetic fragrance. Primer+, $28, conditions skin with certified organic shea butter, glycerin and safflower seed and sweet almond oils in a rapidly ok okabsorbing formula.
We love how Make Up For Ever Mist & Fix, $29, ups hydration by 40 percent. The spray increases oxygenation for a sweat-proof and rub-resistant barrier that seals in moisture and keeps your face looking fresh for 12 hours. Use it as a final step after you’ve applied all of your makeup.
3Fine Lines & Wrinkles
Makeup can cake into fine lines, making you look older. To avoid the pancake effect, stick with primers that have suspension formulas to keep product out of crevices.
Lancôme Visionnaire 1 Minute Blur, $55, uses optical blurring light diffusers to instantly smooth over fine lines like crow’s feet. As a bonus, the formula is fortified with anti-aging ingredients like retinyl palmitate and phytokine to treat and decrease the look of wrinkles over the long term.
The newest addition to Laura Geller’s primer series, Spackle SPF 30, $30, transforms fine lines into a soft canvas with soothing extracts of aloe and ginkgo biloba. The multi-tasking addition of SPF 30 helps makeup last and color pigments stay true, while protecting skin from further sun aging.
A velvety gel designed to lock in natural moisture levels, Murad Perfecting Serum, $65, infuses fine lines and wrinkles with ceramides and olive-derived squalane. Avocado and evening primrose oils also help restore spring to skin, so that lines smooth.
4Combination / Normal
Classic primers often come in color-correcting hues that balance out complexion woes like ruddiness and redness.
Clinique’s bevy of lightweight Superprimers, $27 each, are oil-free and glide on evenly. Color-coded formulas target dullness, redness, sallowness, tone correction, plus a universal choice if you’d like all of the above, please. Spot treat areas with these primers, or apply all over as needed.
We’re digging the built-in brush of Physicians Formula Mineral Wear Primer, $11, which helps the base blend into fine lines and skin texture for a smooth surface and better makeup wear. Choose nude for all-over color balance, or green if your skin is prone to or saturated with redness.
Skindinavia The Makeup Primer Spray, $35-$49, is a silicone-free primer that hydrates skin with vitamin E and maintains a breathable barrier between skin and makeup. Spritz it on a bare face or on top of moisturizer for nourished and balanced skin that’s receptive to makeup.
Primers that contain active zit-zapping ingredients help keep breakouts at bay, in addition to controlling the oil production that can trigger them.
With superstar ingredient willowbark extract, Cover FX Mattifying Primer with Anti-Acne Treatment, $38, uses a natural form of salicylic acid to reduce sebum buildup and breakouts. Ancient African tree bark extract reduces pore size, shine and inflammation while hyaluronic acid provides acne-safe hydration.
Created to replace your primer, Paula’s Choice CLEAR Ultra-Light Daily Mattifying Fluid SPF 30+, $27, keeps shine in check and absorbs to a lasting matte finish. The water-like texture minimizes the appearance of pores while plant-based antioxidants help fade red marks from old breakouts.
Smashbox’s cult classic Photo Finish primer now comes in an oil-free Blemish Control version, $42, formulated with 2 percent salicylic acid to gently treat and prevent breakouts. The green tint helps cancel out redness that the inflammation of breakouts often leaves in its wake.