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The Best Drugstore Primers, According to a Makeup Artist

Clare Holden
Written by Clare Holden
Best Drugstore Primers

Whenever you see a smooth-looking foundation, whether it be on the red carpet or on social media, chances are a layer of primer has been applied underneath. This is an essential step in creating the perfect canvas for your makeup. Not only does it improve the overall appearance of your skin, but it will also make your eyeshadow, blusher and contouring last for a longer period of time.

Primers work to reduce the size of pores, mattify the skin and add radiance. They even out skin texture to allow makeup to glide on more easily and give the complexion a silkier feeling. Primers are also a great way to prevent makeup from settling into fine lines and wrinkles.

From my time as a makeup artist, I have tested out dozens of options on every type of skin and complexion. The good news is that most of the best options are relatively inexpensive. Check out our rundown of the best drugstore primers below!

14 Best Drugstore Primers

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Finding the Best Drugstore Primer

Everyone from makeup artists, models and serious beauty fans alike will tell you that primers definitely work. While it may seem like a subtle difference, adding in this step before putting on your makeup will make a world of difference to the overall finish of your look.

If you favor a more natural look, most primers can also be worn on their own to give your own skin a more even and radiant appearance, so they are also a great option for days when you want to go makeup-free.

If you are still a little unsure about how to integrate a primer into your beauty routine, we’ve compiled this compact guide to help you choose the best option for your skin and also show you how best to apply it.

What to Consider When Choosing the Best Drugstore Primer


Your skin type will determine what type of finish you need. Those with oily skin can truly benefit from a mattifying primer as it will keep shine under control and mean you won’t need as much powder throughout the day. Combination and dry skin types can also opt for a matte primer or one with a radiant finish to achieve a more luminous base.


While your foundation may have an SPF, using a primer that also contains sun protection is a great way to ensure your skin is shielded from harmful UV rays. Primers are a lot thinner than regular sunscreens which tend to be creamy and thick so they will work a lot better under makeup.


Whether your main skin concern is redness, shine or the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles - primers can help to reduce or even eliminate an array of visible skin issues. If targeting redness go for a neutralizing primer, a mattifying option if too much shine is your problem or a blurring primer to conceal the signs of aging.


Primer not only creates an even base for your foundation to be applied on but it also extends the wear of your makeup. If you want to get your skin looking as smooth as possible a primer will elevate the appearance of your chosen foundation and help it to last longer.


All the brands on our list have been carefully selected due to their tried and tested formulas. Both e.l.f and Milani have extensive ranges of primers for every skin concern while Physician's Formula has non-irritating options for those with sensitive skin.

What are the Different Types of Drugstore Primer?


Primers are an essential step in ensuring your face stays shine-free. Instead of over-using powder after applying your foundation - using a primer beforehand will keep your skin looking matte and prevent your base from looking cakey.


If it’s a radiant base you are after then opt for an illuminating primer that contains a slight shimmer or pearlescent properties. This will give your skin that glow-from-within look without being too sparkly.


If redness or an uneven skin tone is your main concern, then a neutralizing primer will help calm the skin and reduce colorization. Some of these primers are green but don’t be put off by the shade — the green tone counteracts against the redness.


Best Overall: e.l.f. Hydrating Face Primer


  • Comes in 3 sizes
  • Available in 7 finishes
  • Great price


  • Simple packaging
  • Some finishes sell out
  • Pump dispenses too much product

This primer takes the top spot because it is unparalleled in quality not only from the other drugstore brands but also from the higher end offerings. Realizing that good skincare and gorgeous makeup go hand in hand, e.l.f have created this primer in seven versions.

They understand that there is no one size fits all solution when it comes to skin so each primer targets a different skin concern, which enables you to get super specific and achieve far better results. Whether it’s hydration, blemishes, visible pores, uneven tone or redness you need to get under control - you are bound to find the solution within this collection.


Best Budget: Wet n Wild Prime Focus Impossible Primer


  • Great price
  • Silicone-free
  • Hydrating


  • Some may not like the texture
  • Not everyone may like the scent
  • More suited to those with oily skin

This cruelty-free gem from Wet n Wild is one of the more affordable primers on the market while still being one of the most effective. It not only hydrates the skin but also gives the complexion a more luminous finish.

The formula has been infused with gooseberry and jeju blossom extracts for added radiance and the silky gel-like texture delivers a blurring effect for smoother-looking skin. It is also mattifying so can be worn on its own to create a natural base without the shine.


Best Mattifying: Rimmel London Stay Matte


  • Smoothes skin
  • Hydrating
  • Pore minimizing


  • Might not work for dry skin
  • Packaging could be better
  • Not everyone may like the scent

Stay shine free all day with this mattifying primer from Rimmel. Designed especially to feel weightless while wearing it, this primer allows your skin to breath while still providing a smooth canvas for your makeup.

The non-greasy formula also minimizes the appearance of pores and prevents foundation from settling into them. It is also hydrating so keeps your skin plumped and protected for hours.


Best SPF: NYX Professional Makeup Bare With Me


  • Sun protection
  • Cruelty-free
  • Infused with skin enriching ingredients


  • Slightly more expensive
  • Not transparent
  • Not for those looking for a matte base

Streamline your makeup routine and ensure you never forget your SPF with this radiance enhancing primer from NYX professional. Along with having a factor 30 to protect and shield your skin from harmful UV rays, it also contains cannabis sativa seed oil and centella asiatica extract to keep your skin soothed and hydrated all day.

If you love a dewy base or can’t get enough of the soft glam makeup trend, this primer is the one for you. It has been infused with micro-pearls for extra radiance that subtly illuminate your skin and create a glowing finish on any complexion it’s applied to.


Best for Oily Skin: Revolution Liquid Powder Make Up Serum


  • Mattifying
  • Cruelty-free
  • Rose scented


  • Slightly more expensive
  • Not as widely available

If you can ‘t seem to get your shine under control and thought the only option was to keep powdering your t-zone throughout the day, put away your compact and take a look at this liquid powder primer from Revolution that was designed especially to keep oily skin types matte.

The pink clay micro pigments reduce excess oil while rose extract calms and soothes the skin. You only need to apply a couple of drops of this wonder primer after moisturizing and before foundation to really see a difference in how well your makeup holds up throughout the day.


Best for Dry Skin: Milani Skin Quench Hydrating Primer for Makeup


  • Paraben and sulfate free
  • Extends makeup wear
  • Cruelty-free


  • Some versions sell out
  • Basic packaging

Milani has one of the widest selections of primers at the drugstore with options within this range including SPF, Illuminating and Mattifying versions. Those with dry skin however will want to invest in the Skin Quench as it offers the ultimate dose of hydration for parched skin.

Infused with hyaluronic acid and coconut water, this primer keeps your skin loaded with moisture so that your foundation inevitably looks fresher. Even after you remove your makeup your skin still feels softer and more plumped.


Best for Radiance: Revlon PhotoReady Rose Glow Hydrating and Illuminating Primer


  • Works with every type of skin
  • Hydrating
  • Lightweight feel


  • Sometimes sells out
  • Not for those looking for a matte finish
  • Some may not like the dropper bottle

Who doesn’t want a more radiant looking complexion? Everyone can benefit from applying a light layer of this primer underneath their foundation. Suitable for all skin types, it gives your makeup an overall more luminous finish.

The dropper bottle makes for an extra hygienic application while the pearlescent and quartz micro beads illuminate the skin. Despite the extra hydrating formula it still feels featherweight on the skin and absorbs quickly.


Best for Eyeshadow: Milani Eyeshadow Primer


  • Invisible finish
  • Extends the wear of eye makeup
  • Great price


  • Not for those looking for an all over face primer
  • Might not work for those with mature skin

This miracle primer from Milani elevates the look of any eyeshadow and prevents a multitude of issues associated with wearing them. Applying this primer across the lids will stop your eyeshadow from creasing, intensify the color and most importantly make your smokey eye last longer.

Despite the nude color, this primer actually dries invisible making it suitable for every skin tone. If you don’t have time for touch ups throughout the day you will be amazed by how this primer keeps your look locked in place and smudge-free.


Best for Sensitive Skin: Physicians Formula Butter Believe It! Putty Primer


  • Suitable for sensitive skin
  • Leaves skin feeling silky
  • Nutrient dense


  • Not everyone may like the putty texture
  • Some may prefer a squeezable tube

Even those with delicate complexions can get in on the benefits of using a primer with this skin nourishing putty from Physicians Formula. As with all their products skin health comes first and the powerful combo of Amazonian butters make this primer a real treat for your skin.

Not only does it prep your face for a more even makeup application, the nutritious ingredients deliver an intense dose of essential fatty acids and pro-vitamins to leave your skin looking and feeling in peak condition.


Best for Redness: Maybelline Facestudio Master Prime Primer


  • Calms skin
  • Reduces redness
  • Evens skin tone


  • Not everyone make like the cream texture
  • May need a little more time to absorb

This primer is a great option if redness and flushed skin are your main concerns. Using this before applying your foundation, soothes and calms the skin with micro-pigments that counteract the appearance of an uneven skin tone.

It has a lightweight non-greasy texture and is so luminous that it can even be worn on its own to create a naturally glowing base.


Best Hydrating: L’Oreal Paris Magic Perfecting Base Face Primer


  • Suitable for all skin types
  • Reduces the appearance of fine lines
  • Mattifying


  • Some may prefer a squeezable tube
  • Not everyone may like the texture
  • Slightly smaller pot

This primer covers all the bases. It smoothes out the skin surface, prevents makeup from settling into fine lines and wrinkles - while also keeping your face matte all day. Most importantly on top of being the quintessential all round primer, it is extremely hydrating making it a great option for anyone who finds their foundation starts to look flaky after a few hours wear.

Using this under your makeup will keep it looking freshly applied and the non-clogging formula also makes it suitable for those with acne-prone skin.


Best for Pores: Maybelline Baby Skin Instant Pore Eraser Primer


  • Lightweight feel
  • Reduces the appearance of pores
  • Sheer formula


  • Sometimes sells out
  • Slightly smaller tube

Sometimes it feels like wearing makeup can actually accentuate the appearance of pores. But this Baby Skin Pore Eraser from Maybelline absorbs into skin instantly to create a smooth canvas for your makeup so that foundation doesn’t make them more obvious.

It also keeps your skin looking matte while also delivering moisturizing properties so that your complexion doesn’t dry out throughout the day.


Best Long Lasting: e.l.f. Power Grip Primer


  • Locks in makeup
  • Cruelty-free
  • Smoothes skin


  • Slightly stick texture
  • Basic packaging

Using this primer means your makeup is staying in place until you decide to remove it. The translucent finish means it works for every skin tone and the non-comedogenic formula even makes it suitable for those with acne-prone skin.

Along with ensuring your makeup doesn’t transfer and becomes smudge-proof, this primer is also infused with hyaluronic acid to keep your skin plump and hydrated while you wear it.


Best for Tired Skin: L’Oreal Paris Age Perfect Face Blurring Primer


  • Revitalizes skin
  • Lightweight feel
  • Adds radiance


  • Needs slightly longer to absorb
  • Slightly smaller bottle

Wake up your skin with a light layer of this illuminating primer from L’Oreal. The rosy-formula was developed especially to improve every aspect of your skin's appearance. An instant pick-me-up for dull complexions - this primer has all the right ingredients to lift your face.

The soft-focus effect blurs lines and pores while also smoothing out the skin’s surface for an overall healthier and more radiant finish.

People Also Ask

  • Q: Does primer come before or after moisturizer?

    A:Primer is the last step before you put on your makeup. Once your moisturizer has absorbed, then you apply your primer.

  • Q: How do I apply primer?

    A:Pump a small amount into your fingertips and gently massage it into the face evenly. Make sure to cover your eyelids to also extend the wear of your eyeshadow.

  • Q: How much should I spend on a primer?

    A:Some of the picks on our list come in at under $5, but if you want to get more specific in terms of finish, it is worth spending a little more to achieve the result you desire.

Why trust Us

At Us Weekly, we aim to inform readers to make smart purchasing decisions, saving you both time and money. Our editors are obsessed with finding products in a variety of categories from fashion and beauty, to home and fitness.

We try various products, so we can recommend our favorites, and we also summarize feedback and data from other customers. Data, like product reviews and ratings, helps us recommend the best product choices for individual price points and needs.

On top of that, we highlight unique product features for special use cases, ingredients preferences, and more. We strive to make sure you are discovering new products that can make your life easier, while keeping you up to date with the best product choices for types of items you already know and love.

Clare Holden

By Clare Holden

Beauty and style writer Clare has been a fan of makeup and fashion ever since she was a child. While studying for her degree in Journalism and Communications, Clare worked part-time on cosmetic counters. After graduating she went back and trained as a makeup artist after falling in love with beauty and skincare. She now splits her time between writing about all things makeup and running her own womenswear brand White Night.
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