Whether or not you're a primer stan comes down to personal preference and skin concerns. I know plenty of folks (even professional makeup artists) who hate them, but there are others out there who absolutely swear by a good primer. That said, if the only thing stopping you from experimenting with or investing in a primer is a limited spending quota, I have great news: Some of the best face primers out there can actually be found at the drugstore.
Celebrity makeup artist Elizabeth Seropian can back me up on this. She has a few drugstore primers that she absolutely swears provide the most flawless base for makeup application. For all Seropian's recs, tips on what to look for in a primer, and my own favorites, read on below.
What to Look for in a Primer
The best primers will always help create a base for your foundation to grip onto and will help it stay in place all day. You'll want to choose a primer based on your skin type. If you have oily skin, you may want to look for a formula that mattifies and controls shine. Those with acne-prone skin might benefit from a primer that includes acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid, but most importantly, your primer should be noncomedogenic, meaning it won't clog your pores. You can check any formula for pore-clogging ingredients using Acne Clinic NYC's ingredient checker. I should note that one or two ingredients labeled comedogenic in a formula won't automatically clog your pores (as celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau has pointed out, it's all about the water-to-oil ratio), but it's a great tool to use that will help you become more aware of what's in your products and can help you identify any potential triggers.
Dry or mature skin types will want to look for primers with hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, squalane, and glycerin. These super hydrators are honestly great for most skin types since they're noncomedogenic and won't irritate sensitive skin. I have sensitive, acne-prone skin myself, and I've found that primers with these hydrating ingredients, along with a noncomedogenic formula, work best for me. For makeup-artist recommendations and a few of my own favorite drugstore formulas, keep scrolling.
Best Overall: E.l.f. Cosmetics Poreless Putty Primer
Pros: Contains hydrating ingredients like squalane for all-day wear, creates a poreless effect on the skin, great for all skin types.
Cons: Works best if you wait a few minutes before applying foundation.
"My go-to drugstore primer is the E.l.f. Cosmetics Poreless Putty Primer. This primer gives your skin a blurring effect, filling in fine lines and pores for a smoother complexion. I love its creamy texture, which helps your foundation glide on effortlessly." — Seropian
Customer Review: "This silky, skin-perfecting putty primer is an absolute game-changer. It effortlessly glides onto my skin, creating a flawless base for my makeup. The lightweight formula feels heavenly, providing a smooth and hydrated canvas that makes my skin sing with joy. One of the most impressive feats of this primer is its ability to minimize the appearance of pores. It's like a magician's trick, blurring those pesky little craters into oblivion. My skin looks airbrushed and refined, creating the perfect canvas for my foundation and other makeup."
Best for Large Pores: Maybelline Baby Skin Instant Pore Eraser Primer
Pros: Blurs the look of enlarged pores, mattifies the skin, applies like a light moisturizer.
Cons: May be too mattifying for dry skin types.
It's no secret Maybelline is one of the most iconic drugstore beauty brands on the planet. Its Baby Skin collection is an editor favorite. If you're going for a matte, virtually poreless finish, work this into your skin in lieu of or on top of your moisturizer before applying foundation and concealer.
Customer Review: "I use it anytime I wear makeup and it’s never been a problem. I love how light it blends out too, and the feeling on my face doesn’t leave me feeling cakey or greasy. I love the smooth finish that this primer allows me to have as I’m not a big makeup fanatic, but like to look how I want to look nonetheless. Great, reliable product that doesn’t break me out, or clog my pores."
Best for Sensitive Skin: Flower Beauty Skin Smoothie Hydro Pop Primer
Pros: Contains skin-soothing ingredients like aloe and cucumber, cooling and moisturizing, noncomedogenic.
Cons: Contains a bit of fragrance.
This hydrating primer from Flower Beauty contains soothing aloe and cucumber, which are great for sensitive or reactive skin and redness. The ingredient list is pretty minimal, which is also great. I should note that there is a bit of fragrance in the product, so you might want to skip it if you're ultra-sensitive to fragrance.
Customer Review: "I have sensitive skin and this is a dream! It hasn't broken me out, smells like cucumbers, and is super cooling! This will be great in the summer after a weekend in the sun"
Best for Acne-Prone Skin: E.l.f. Cosmetics Acne-Fighting Putty Primer
Pros: Contains acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid, zinc to calm redness and irritation, and kaolin clay to clear out congestion.
Cons: May be too much for sensitive skin.
This acne-fighting version of E.l.f.'s Putty Primer works great for those prone to congestion and redness. It contains zinc to calm redness and irritation and salicylic acid and kaolin clay to clear out congestion. If your skin is ultra-sensitive, though, proceed with caution. Some of the acne fighters might be too strong for your skin.
Customer Review: "Buttery soft and lasts all day! Really helps with smooth foundation application."
Best for Oily Skin: Maybelline Fit Me Matte + Poreless Mattifying Primer
Pros: Provides a matte finish, contains SPF 20 sun protection, blurs the appearance of pores.
Cons: Not fragrance-free.
For oilier skin, this Maybelline primer is a classic. It was a favorite of mine in high school when my skin was a bit oilier because it creates such a soft matte base without being too drying.
Customer Review: "Works great for my oily skin! Makeup lays and stays matte for hours!"
Best for Dry Skin: Nyx Professional Makeup Electrolytes Plumping Primer Serum
Pros: Infused with electrolytes, vitamins, and hyaluronic acid to instantly plump the skin; keeps skin hydrated; keeps makeup fresh throughout the day.
Cons: Not fragrance-free.
This Nyx primer is an absolute winner for dry skin and shouldn't be ignored. Infused with electrolytes, vitamins, hyaluronic acid, and magnesium, this primer instantly plumps the skin, energizes it, and creates an extra-hydrated base for foundation to grip onto.
Customer Review: "This plumping primer is absolutely everything! It goes on smoothly and preps my skin for my makeup routine. My skin has a natural glow and feels extra moisturized after application. I love how it has electrolytes in the serum to give my skin all the goods! Overall, this primer is amazing and gets the job done!"
Best for Mature Skin: La Roche-Posay Anthelios 50 Daily Anti-Aging Primer With Sunscreen
Pros: Provides SPF 50 sun protection, absorbs excess oil, contains antioxidants to protect the skin against free radical damage and glycerin to deeply hydrates the skin.
Cons: Separates a bit in the tube, needs shaking before use.
No drugstore beauty roundup would ever be complete without a staple from French favorite La Roche-Posay, and while this is the spendiest drugstore primer in our bunch, it might also boast the most benefits number-wise. It's packed with SPF 50 (the brand consistently wins best-of awards for its sunscreen formulations) and primes skin pre-foundation to look and feel silky smooth sans the oil and grease of so many sunscreens.
Customer Review: "I use it before putting on anything to prep my skin! It lasts all day and doesn't make my makeup look cakey."
Best Illuminating: L'Oréal Infallible Pro Glow-Lock Illuminating Face Primer
Pros: Provides a luminous finish, gives your skin a radiant glow, helps foundation last longer.
Cons: Takes a little longer to dry.
"One of my favorite drugstore primers is the L'Oréal Infallible Pro Glow-Lock Primer. This primer is popular for its hydrating and illuminating properties. It gives your skin the perfect radiant glow while helping your foundation last longer." — Seropian
Customer Review: "Smooth, creamy, effortless to apply; this is a girl's best friend. Even when I don't want to do a full face of makeup, just a few swipes of this primer makes my skin look utterly flawless in an instant. It doesn't clump, flake, or crack; it doesn't clog my pores or get greasy. It actually feels good when I put it on! Despite how often I use it now, a little goes a long way, so each tube is a great value, well worth the investment. Try it, but I've got to warn you—you'll never want to go back to any other brand!"
Best for Redness: Rimmel Insta Flawless Color Correcting Primer in Green
Pros: Neutralizes redness, keeps makeup in place all day, subtly brightens the skin.
Cons: Doesn't absorb as well into the skin, needs a minute to set before applying foundation.
The art of color-correcting is all about the act of naturalization, and adding green to curb redness is one of the best pro makeup tips I've picked up over the years. Not surprisingly, countless primers and makeup products are modeled after the benefit. This drugstore primer and CC cream from Rimmel is the perfect antidote for those with sensitive or quick-to-flush skin. It's also lightweight enough not to exacerbate blemish-prone skin.
Customer Review: "One of the best primers out there not to mention it's a two-for-one! Color correction and priming. The green pigment reduces the look of redness while the primer keeps your makeup and place all day."
Best for Brightening: Neutrogena Prep + Correct Brightening Primer
Pros: Brightens and illuminates skin with purple tones, evens out your skin tone, minimizes pores and texture, lightweight.
Cons: Contains a lot of silicones.
This lightweight primer from Neutrogena improves the look of skin and uneven texture with dullness-correcting purple tones. It instantly brightens and helps lock in your foundation for all-day wear.
Customer Review: "Love this product. Makes applying makeup much smoother."
Best for Glass Skin: SheGlam Birthday Skin Primer
Pros: Contains rose extract to soothe skin, gives skin a smooth and glass-like appearance, blurs out imperfections and pores.
Cons: May not work as well for oilier skin.
I'm constantly impressed by the quality of SheGlam products. The price tags are incredibly low, but the formulas it offers are top-notch. Case in point, the brand's Birthday Skin Primer, a gel-like primer that smooths and blurs out imperfections to give your skin a glass-like appearance. It does have a pink tint to it, but don't worry—it applies seamlessly and never looks weird under your foundation.
Customer Review: "I have had such a struggle finding a good primer that works for my skin and makeup, and this is the one. It glides on, you don't need much, and it helps your foundation go on flawlessly while protecting your skin and making you feel moisturized. I adore this primer—please, please, please try it out."