10 best make-up primers that give a flawless finish

These complexion perfectors will lock your look in place all day long

Pippa Bailey
Tuesday 18 August 2020 09:15
We tested by looking for texture, application and immediate impressions
We tested by looking for texture, application and immediate impressions

There is little point spending ages perfecting your make-up if it melts down your face within hours, nor should you build the best skincare regime if your face is left dry and parched after an hour of wearing foundation.

This is where a primer comes in: pick the right one and it will lock everything down and help you achieve a truly flawless finish.

To find the perfect primer for you, you must first identify your primary concern: do you want a light reflecting, glow-booster; a blurring, mattifying finish for oily skin and enlarged pores; or does your dry skin need help retaining moisture and plumpness throughout the day?

We’ve picked our favourites for each, but there’s no need to stop at one. We often get best results by layering, say, a blurring primer to cover pores and lines with an illuminating one for a dewy finish.

All of our favourites have been tested looking for texture, application, immediate impressions and how well they help make-up last, discounting any that didn’t prevent caking or settling into fine lines.

They’re all best applied simply with your fingers, straight after the last step in your skincare routine.

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Sisley Paris instant eclat glow primer, 30ml

When it comes to primers, we’ve long been mourning the discontinuation of Dior’s brilliant "glow maximiser", but this (admittedly expensive) gem is the next best thing we’ve found. A light, pink cream, it blends out to a beautiful, pale gold, iridescent finish, without any visible glitter particles. We love the packaging, too: a slim squeezy tube – so you can get out every last drop of product – with a fine nozzle for great control; you’ll never dispense too much.

Charlotte Tilbury Hollywood flawless filter, 30ml

We’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve written raving reviews of this product. It gives a luminous, dewy and completely glitter free glow, diffusing light to optically blur out imperfections. It also comes in different shades, so there’s no one size fits all expectation for your skin tone. Our only quibble is the packaging: it may look beautiful, but you’re never able to swipe the doe foot applicator around the inside of the glass bottle to collect every last drop.

REN Clean Skincare perfect canvas clean primer, 30ml

Many blurring primers use silicone to create that super smooth base. There’s nothing wrong with that on its own, but if you then apply a foundation that also contains silicone (many do as it gives good slip over the skin) on top, you will find your make-up begins to rub off in beads. REN’s perfect canvas gives that flawless, long lasting finish you expect from a blurring primer, but without silicone, so no pilling.

Indeed Labs nanoblur instant skin finisher, 30ml

Indeed Labs has made a name for itself for its affordable and effective skincare formulas, and this is the final step in creating a perfect make-up base. We especially recommend its blurring, smoothing finish for those with more mature skin, as it easily fills in crow’s feet and lines on the forehead and around the mouth, as well as giving an overall mattifying effect. We’ve used it just on the eye area to stop concealer creasing with great success.

Laura Mercier pure canvas primer hydrating, 50ml

When Laura Mercier replaced its staple foundation primer – a long-held favourite of ours – we were admittedly nervous about what would come in its place, but the pure canvas range is just as good. Our pick is the hydrating version (there is also blurring, perfecting, and illuminating), which delivers a long lasting dose of moisture and kept our dry areas feeling plump all day, and our foundation didn’t gather into dry patches.

Benefit porefessional face primer, 22ml

This is a classic for good reason. It is light, silky and oil-free, and covers skin in an invisible smoothing layer that irons out imperfections, creating a really even base for make-up. It’s mattifying, too, which means it helps make-up stay put in oily patches. We often use it topically in problematic areas, such as around the nose, rather than all over the face.

Hourglass no.28 primer serum, 30ml

If you find the plump, nourished feeling your skin has after applying your skincare routine is sucked dry and dull within an hour of applying make-up on top of it, this is the primer for you. The 28 in the title refers to an incredible list of skincare ingredients, including essential oils (ylang yang, rose and rosemary), plant oils (jojoba, evening primrose and olive) and vitamins (A, B5, C and E), which keep skin feeling hydrated and looking bright all day. The oil formula locks water into the skin, and also repels water from the outside to keep your make-up looking fresh.

MAC Cosmetics strobe cream, 50ml

An oldie but a goodie, this was the very first of the light reflecting primers when it launched, so the others on this list owe it a lot. It’s still one of the best, too. It has a lightweight cream texture with a luminous, dewy finish, without those dreaded visible glitter particles. It comes in a few different shades: we love the white gold “goldlite” for winter, and the warmer, rose gold “peachlite” for summer.

This Works in transit camera close-up, 40ml

This is a real multitasker, and as a result, we often throw a tube in our handbag or pack it for a holiday. With rose oil, argan oil, and hyaluronic acid, it’s a really moisturising product – so much so that combination or oily skins can get away with forgoing moisturiser altogether. It creates a super soft base for make-up and keeps foundation locked down all day. We also love using it as a hydration boosting mask: try applying a thick layer 15 minutes before you want to apply your make-up and massaging the remainder in when the time is up.

Pat McGrath Labs sublime perfection primer, 35ml

This, from the legendary make-up artist’s brand, melts into skin to leave the softest, smoothest, silkiest base imaginable. Though it contains hyaluronic acid, we didn’t find it particularly moisturising, so we recommend you load up the skincare beforehand. We love the simple black and rose gold packaging, too.

The verdict: Primers

If you can afford it, Sisley’s instant eclat glow primer gives a natural, dewy finish which is absolutely gorgeous; for a similar but more affordable affect, try Charlotte Tilbury’s Hollywood flawless filter. If your concern is mattifying and blurring, REN perfect canvas clean primer is our pick, while Hourglass no.28 primer serum is a beauty for dry or mature skin.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.