Prime Time: A 10-Product Face Primer Review!

Published on July 5, 2013 by   ·   5 Comments

0 Random PrimersIn my post Drugstore Hooker, I spent a lot of time talking about the merits of cheap makeup.  Now, I used to be a MAC girl all day long.  But as their brand changed and became less pigmented, less exciting, and more like every other brand I found on the market, I opened myself up to all kinds of new makeup possibilities and that included those that don’t break the bank.  This makeup snob was finally coming down to earth.

In my makeup adventure, I keep running into articles and tutorials talking about the importance of using a face primer, and given the heavy amount of whore-paint I slap on my face, I think those people are probably right.  That’s why I was thrilled when I happened across e.l.f.’s Mineral Infused Face Primer at Walmart for only $6.  I didn’t know anything about face primers, but I knew that I couldn’t argue with that price!  I gave it a try, and I loved the smooth canvas that it gave me when I was painting my face.  But as much as I loved it, I had to wonder what else was out there, and eventually my curiosity got the better of me.

Lucky for me, Sephora has a very liberal sampling policy and I was able to get little plastic containers of different primers from some of the top brands to try on my face and compare.  As much as I loved my new e.l.f. gel primer, I wanted to see if there really was more to be had at the higher price points.  Below I’ve listed my e.l.f. primer as well as 9 competitors (along with their prices) with a short discussion of how the product feels, smells, and applies.  Now, this isn’t to say that these are the only primers out there, and in some ways it isn’t entirely fair to compare them; after all, in the interest of variety, I sampled a range of primer types.  Some of them have a subtle luminous sparkle to them, and some have extra ingredients meant to tackle problem areas or correct certain issues.  What I wanted to do was give you my take on some of the “big brands” in the beauty biz, and see how their primer offerings stacked up against the little-$6-engine-that-could from e.l.f.

If you have a favorite primer that you just can’t live without, give us your own review/recommendation in the comments below!

Here is where the experiment started:

0 elf primer

e.l.f. Studio Mineral Infused Face Primer ($6) – This primer has a clear gel formula with a light scent that applies evenly and dries to a soft smoothness that creates a nice surface on which you can apply your makeup.  I was thrilled with the way it absorbed into my skin without sitting on the surface and feeling heavy.  This is really the crowning gem of this bargain brand: though it’s one of the most expensive products in the line, at only $6 the price blows almost any other primer out of the water.  I tend to have oily skin; on top of that, I use theatrical cream foundations, so I appreciated the lightness of the formula and how it disappeared into my skin.

Now, on to the 9 contenders:

0 Smashbox Photo Finish

1.  Smashbox Photo Finish Foundation Primer ($36) – This primer was also a firm gel, not unlike the e.l.f. primer, and was almost odorless.  It absorbed quickly into my skin, but left a slightly moist/slick feeling on my cheek.  On my forehead, where I’m the oiliest, the primer sat on my face the longest, and I had to dab it off with a wipe before I could apply my foundation.  I’m usually in a big hurry when I’m painting; perhaps if I had more time to let it really absorb I would like it better, but I just don’t have the time to spare.  I do appreciate the lack of a strong scent, and my makeup did go on very nicely over it, but I just didn’t get the payoff I was hoping for.

0 No 7 Primer

2. No. 7 Photo Fix Wrinkle Filler and Primer ($20) – No. 7 is a new brand I found at Target not long ago, and decided to try their Photo Fix primer in my “everyday” life.  It’s a light, white cream-based product that has a definite nondescript “face product” scent – you know, the way that certain creams and moisturizers just have that indescribable scent that happens in so many of these brands regardless of type of product or the price.  In fact, it felt more like a moisturizer than a primer, and though I liked the way my skin felt when I wore it “out of uniform,” it was a little bit heavy to wear under my cream foundations.  This product has been tossed out of the drag makeup kit, but it’s sitting proudly on my sink for daily use.

0 Tarte Primer


3. Tarte Clean Slate Poreless 12 Hour Perfecting Primer ($30) – This primer is odorless, a clear gel formula that is a little thicker than the e.l.f. or the Smashbox.  It felt a little oily as I was spreading it out over my cheeks, but absorbed quickly and didn’t leave any residue or heaviness.  This one was the closest so far in quality to the e.l.f. primer.  In addition, I appreciate that this primer works to minimize pores to further improve your overall look.

Sephora Luminous primer

4. Sephora Luminous Foundation Primer ($17) – This primer is a creamy white lotion that has the faintest of pink shimmer, hence the luminosity.  The smell was light, but not entirely pleasant – almost a clay-like note?  It sat on my skin and felt greasy for too long; it did eventually absorb, but even then I could still feel it in a way that I didn’t with some of the lighter primers.  The luminous aspect is a nice touch, but for me it probably doesn’t make a difference since I pack on so much thick foundation!  Would be a nice complement to someone who uses powder foundations and doesn’t have an oil problem!  This was the cheapest of the other primers, but still almost 3 times more than the e.l.f.

0 NARS Primer

5. NARS Pro-Prime Light Optimizing Primer Broad Spectrum SPF 15 ($34) – This primer had the strongest scent, almost a medicinal herb/citrus kind of vibe, though not necessarily unpleasant, and it did fade as it dried.  It was definitely distinctive!  This primer is a white lotion-like primer that went on super heavy but gradually absorbed in and felt wonderful once fully absorbed.  It didn’t leave me feeling oily at all, though I wasn’t necessarily digging that strong of a smell. This is another primer I would consider for my everyday life over wearing underneath my makeup – there are already too many smelly things happening whenever I dress up! (Interpret that however you like…perverts!)

0 Urban Decay

6. Urban Decay Brightening and Tightening Complexion Primer Potion ($31) – I have become a total Urban Decay convert recently and I was really hoping that this primer would live up to the absolutely irreplaceable eye primer potions.  Unfortunately, it was not to be.  It wasn’t terrible, but it also wasn’t something I would run right out and spend $31 on either.  The primer is a loose consistency somewhere between a liquid and a gel, clear, and only the faintest scent.  It applies easily, but sits on the skin a little too long for my taste.  Even after being absorbed, my skin still felt a little clammy and moist, and my cream foundations “slipped” a bit when I was covering over my forehead and cheeks.  Not a terrible product, but again better suited to someone who wants to wear it alone or under a powder foundation.

0 Makeup Forever

7. Makeup Forever HD Microperfecting Primer 01  [Green, to correct redness] ($34) – This was the first of two “specialty” primers that I picked up; a loose green liquid, this primer is meant to help cancel out redness in your skin, something that I always suffer from.  The liquid absorbed into my skin nicely with a little finger action to rub it in, and the subtle green does help to cancel out some of the redness with going totally Wicked Witch of the West, but there was one major drawback: the smell!  This primer reminds me of when I used to go to Walmart and buy cheap liquid foundation – it always had that smell.  You know the one I mean: that makeup mixed with cough syrup kind of smell that made you a little leery of slathering it all over your face.  This primer smells kind of like that, and it was hard for me to get past.  Except for that aspect, however, I really did like this primer and the green correcting aspect was nice.

0 Smashbox Ad


8.  Smashbox More Than Primer Dark Spot Correcting ($42) – This correcting primer was perhaps the biggest disappointment in the lot, which is surprising since whenever I’ve asked about primers, I hear people rave about this brand more than any other.  I didn’t see the associate put the sample into the jar, but I can only assume that it melted in the process of getting it home and into my medicine cabinet: when I opened it up to try on, it was a thick, spotty white liquid that applied like a lotion and left my face feeling extremely heavy.  I’m assuming the opaqueness of the white is part of the dark spot correcting, but it took a little too much manipulation to get it to settle down and absorb into my skin without leaving a visible residue.  To be fair, it did ride around in a car with my friend Angie and I for most of the day, so I might be willing to give it another shot just in case it did get damaged in transit, but none of the other primers seemed to be that much worse for the trip.  This just wasn’t a winner to me, and as the most expensive in the list it makes it an even bigger disappointment.

0 Stila Correct

9. Stila One Step Correct ($36) – This was the second specialty primer that I picked up, and when I opened up the sample jar it looked flat out disgusting!  Luckily, looks can be deceiving.  This primer is actually 3 products wound together in three ribbons that dispense simultaneously: a white lotion-based primer, a green lotion for color correction, and a beige concealing ribbon.  Think of these three products all melted together into a mass, and you can see why it didn’t look very appealing at first glance!  But it applied smoothly and faded into my skin almost immediately.  It had a light, pleasant, unobtrusive scent that worked well but wasn’t really noticeable or bothersome.  It made a perfect smooth base for my heavy foundations, and never left my skin feeling heavy or oily.  This was by far the best of the higher priced primers and one that I would consider purchasing in the future.

So when the experiment was all said and done, I found some great products and some not-so-great products, but best of all I found my savvy shopping abilities validated: though I really did enjoy some of the primers, none really blew my $6 e.l.f. out of the water by any stretch.  Once again, I was reminded that we are living in an age where beauty bargains aren’t out of reach and some of the bargain and off-brand products you find at discount stores really can be just as good (or better!) than brands that sell for as much as 7 times the price if not more!

I should note that I did not receive any of these products free for the purpose of promotion.  I purchased the e.l.f., No. 7, Makeup Forever, and Sephora primers myself and the others were provided to me as samples by a Sephora associate.  Not that I’m opposed to some free shit, y’all – send me some swag!  But whether I get it for free or pay with my hard-earned sweaty titty money, I’m always going to tell it just like it is.

Now Go Forth And Get Painted!



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Readers Comments (5)
  1. Izzy says:

    Way to spark my curiosity! Even though I love makeup, I’ve actually never researched or used any kind of primer other then my daily moisturizer! Can’t wait to check these out!

    • janessajaye says:

      Not that you have any problem with application but I’ve found that a primer does help me when I’m painting…gives me a nice, smooth surface to work on. I love them!

  2. Alyssa says:

    Love your makeup articles!!!!!!! I am a Sephora addict and VIB snob, but I am not above running to Walmart to pick up this ELF primer! $6…are you kidding me… that is awesome. My favorite everyday primer is Korres pomegranate mattifying primer. It does feel a little greasy when you first put it on, but it really does keep my make up looking matte and non greasy throughout the entire work day. Smells good too.

    • janessajaye says:

      I’m a total VIB snob! LOL Yes, definitely check out the elf…I can’t believe how good it is for only $6! Some of the expensive brands were about as good, but I didn’t find ANY that blew the elf out of the water. Better to save some money on the primer and divert it into products that are more colorful and fun!

  3. […] enough and is a pretty good deal for less than $20 (read more about this primer and 9 others in my Primer “Face Off”), but nothing has really knocked my proverbial socks off except for a little side project they […]

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