Last week, while perusing the aisles of a well-known drugstore, I overheard a shop assistant trying to explain the function of a primer to a primer perplexed customer. Lets just say the description was a little shaky and while considering butting in it suddenly dawned on me that one – I’m not that brave, and two – aside from the whole ‘makes your makeup stay on longer’ thing, I wasn’t too sure myself. Sure I’ve got a tonne of them, have posted multiple raves of formulas I love (hello Sunday Riley and more recently, Dior) and slap one on as part of my daily routine these days, but I’ve never really studied them, you know? When I got home (with a rather large shopping bag, standard), I began my primer education. What do they do? And more importantly – do they work?

Good ol’ Google and a browse of the ‘Tube have equipped me with the knowledge that the prime function of primers (get it?) is to create a smooth surface that’s ready for makeup which helps to adhere whatever product you decide to add next. But primers have moved on from that initial definition and there are now textures to blur pores, lines, increase hydration, add illumination, fight blemishes, colour correct, make things waterproof, add a dose of SPF to your base – you name it, there’s a primer that does it.

I can accept the vast description. Primers can basically do whatever you want them to do and that’s very, very cool; but do they perform their unifying operation – to prep the complexion for the next step, therefore prolonging makeup longevity? To test this theory I partook in a half-on/half-off face test; with one side primer-ed up and the other side sans primer as a control (I can feel my inner Science geek coming out). I thought it was only fair to put the best of the bunch up for the challenge so went for my long-time favourites: Hourglass Mineral Veil Primer and the NARS Smudgeproof Pro Prime Eyeshadow Base. On they went and after a 12 hour day filled with wind, rain and sweaty tube journeys…

The results? Well….they worked. The top picture shows the the ‘with primer’ half and the bottom picture the ‘without’ side. Things were still a little bit worn down, they’re not miracle workers – the test day in question was a particularly hardcore one – but the majority of my base was still in place and my eyeshadow was just as I’d haphazardly applied it in the morn. Whereas the primer-bare side of my face was looking a worse for wear with foundation a bit lost on my cheeks and my oily lids had caused some of my eyeshadow to do a disappearing act.

Primers, a.k.a) the chameleon of the cosmetics world - you rock.

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  • Ellie

    I always wondered this myself! But when looking at images, you can definatly tell! :)


    Elephant stories and more

  • Jo

    Yup! I was once a skeptic too but they really do work. Ever since I’ve started using eyeshadow primer, my eyeshadow doesn’t smudge and it stays put from dawn till dusk. I use a faceprimer by Asian brand Holika Holika which gives a gorgeous glow and my foundation has never looked better so I’m a total convert :)

  • Mel Zia

    i often wondered do they work , so i never had one , but now i use one with setting spray and my make up does definatley last longer

    great post


  • Mira Devils

    Yes they really work but on the down side the makeup is way more difficult to remove! That’s why I don’t use them so often :)


  • Zazie Bibi

    Really need to get a face primer, but i never thought i needed one until this post (: x

    A Little Treat | Beauty & Fashion Blog

  • jenny

    I’ve never applied make up in the past five years without using a primer first! Witch’s Anti Blemish is the best one I’ve tried, though I quite enjoyed a sample of one of Smashbox’s ones.

  • Marlenne

    I loved you wth the Dior primer, it really looked good on you. Hope they make it permanent!

  • arineh

    Funny, I’ve always wondered this too – though I’ve continued to use one. Is there a good one out here for combo skin (oily tzone)? Thanks for the research. You’re eyeshadow is so pretty, what are you wearing ?


      The Nars oil free one is pretty good at controlling oil, but it doesn’t make the normal or dry skin on your face feel uncomfortable. I’ve also heard that the Becca matte one is really good at stopping oil, and is best used in the t-zone only.

      • arineh

        Thanks for the heads up about the nars one -haven’t tried it so I’ll give it a go. I’ve been using lorac I’m so sensitive one but lately it seems my foundation is gliding off when I use that one. I don’t know where to get Becca products in the US. Thanks again! :)

        • LMISMINSKY

          No worries! It’s available from sephora online. I’d paste a link, but my iPad won’t let me. It’s called Ever-Matte poreless priming perfector

  • Jessica Sutherland

    What a great way to test primers! I’ve got into the routine of using a primer every week day now and think they’re great! My favourites are by Smashbox and Clinique!

  • Amy

    i always wondered if i could just use primer to help blush stay on if i only plan on wearing blush..? xx



      Totally! Sometimes I do that – primer for pores and to help it stick to my oily skin.

  • Lexie Blush

    Hello Anna!!
    Yes, I actually can see on your bottom pictures that the color of your foundation and eyeshadows went away.
    I am a 100% believer in Primers, specially the Smashbox one which I love but my skin hates it!
    It seems that even the finest texture blocks my pores and within few days of using, I start to have micro spots under my skin :(
    I even bought the Mineral Veil one….Fail !!

    So, I guess for me, It will be No primer for life!


  • vhema

    Im still very sceptic about primers though anna.


  • AmeliaRoseL

    I desperately want to try the Nars one! I’ve heard so many rave reviews of it. I just don’t want to spend the money, I currently just use my face primer as an eye primer – works fine though.

    Amelia Rose | Beauty Blogger

  • Erin

    I can’t really afford to try out a lot of the high end primers at this point, but my favorite drugstore primer is the L’Oreal Magic Perfecting Base. It helps with the appearance of pores and and offers a bit of oil control throughout the day. I’ve turned into a pretty big primer fan over the last year or so!

  • Dannielle @ Chic-a-DeeDee

    I agree they make such a difference, but my face hates them and breaks out in protest. Which is really sad as I’ve tried a cheaper Revlon one, and the coveted Laura Mercier one, both with equal break out results.

  • Popcorn

    Hi Anna :) !

    I’m one of your readers from France and I absolutely love your articles, they always make smile. You are such a good writer.
    Great article here again but although I can see the pictures in all your other articles, I can’t see the one you posted here :/ … ! Is it just me or someone else have the same problem ? I might try again later as it could be temporary.


    PS: I MUST mention that you are always very classy and chic, love your style/makeup. You are a reference for me ;) !

    Edit: pictures are here .. yes !

  • Pink Elephant Blog

    I swear by Nars Pro Prime, it’s the best eye primer in the whole world, and I have tried loads of them!

    alex @

  • Poppy

    The ONLY primer that has ever tempted me in the Hourglass one but it is heartbreakingly expensive. I can’t do eyeshadow without some sort of primer or base though!

  • SophsChoices

    I’ve just written my January favourites blogpost over on my blog

    Sophie x

  • joysteib

    This was a great article as usual!!! Thanks for sharing with us!

  • PeonyandPeach

    What a great way of testing primers! I always think an eyeshadow primer is a must if I’m wearing anything more than just a quick wash of colour across the lids, but I only wear a regular primer for very long days or nights out, I may need to reconsider now!

  • Naghmeh

    ok I’m buying one very soon!! I don’t have one, and I’ve never used one, since I wasn’t sure if they would work and also I don’t really like the idea of wearing silicone on my face every day so I’m going to find one without it!


  • Sarah S.

    If you can get it, Vivianna, you should try the new CC Primer stick from Tarte. OMG I love it! You think it’s going to feel heavy but once I put it on I feel like I’ve got nothing on. It blurs out my redness and I’m almost not even arsed to put foundation on over top of it because of it’s pore-blurring effect.

  • Vanessa Buttino

    I don’t know … all four of those pictures look alike to me. I can’t really see the difference. I’m not a primer person at all – to me, primers are just another cash-grab from makeup companies. No offense intended, I’m just weighing in with my own opinion. I appreciate your post and all of the info you gave us!

  • Shani

    I’ve actually been wondering myself for a while if these things work. In fact, I was going to do a post about items I’m not sure I actually need but use anyway. I knew eyeshadow primer was a must for me after years of disappearing makeup due to my oily lids, but the rest of it… It’s good to know!

    And I’ve tested foundations head-to-head by doing a half and half face. Glad I’m not the only one!

    Shani x
    She Dreams in Perfect French

  • Victoria

    Primers make the world of a difference. I love the Tarte BB Tinted Primer. Gives you a 12 hour (ish) wear and smooths out the skin nicely!

    Hope you’re doing well, Anna. I’ve finally started up my blog as I told you with my first post:

  • Charlotte Copeland

    I’ve pondered this question so many times. Thanks for finally answering it x

  • Maddy from UNSTITCHEDD.

    I must admit, this is the step that I usually skip but I will definitely take more care to remember now! x

    Maddy from UNSTITCHEDD

  • Liesa V

    Primers are an essential step in my routine, love what they do for my skin. The Clinque super primers do a good job! xx

  • Marie

    I’m sorry but to me these pictures look exactly the same. :o

  • Lys

    When I started wearing foundation a few years ago, I would ALWAYS apply primer. But tbh I rarely wear it now because I’m too lazy and it works fine too! This post is so interesting though, thanks for sharing!

  • Jennifer Monforton

    What a fantastic experiment! Glad you found that the primers are doing their job :) My all-time fave is the Laura Mercier Oil-Free primer and I recently go the Sunday Riley offering as well. It works great to add an extra bit of coverage underneath more sheer foundations. Great post! xo

  • Kassandra Fairhall

    I never go out without a primer, but I think I need to invest in a better one

  • Bella

    I don’t see the difference in your pics. I love eye primers, they work for me. But I’ve had samples of Laura Mercier and Hourglass primers and I’m afraid it’s a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

  • Cassie

    I love using primer because I feel like it makes me pores look smaller and my face look smoother. My favorite is from Rimmel.

  • wldflwr78

    Ok. I get ready at 5:30 am…I don’t even get home until after6p.m. and I do not reapply makeup throughout the day. I’m a busy school counselor in an elementary and a mom of small children. Lip gloss is the only makeup that I even carry in my purse. So I can attest to the benefit of primers. I think they make my light layer of foundation go on more smoothly. They keep things from looking patchy. And they keep me from looking like a zombie at the end of my 16 hour days. When I skip that step I come home looking so tired and washed out!and the best part is that I am only talking about an inexpensive rimmel primer!who knows what another brand might do…but that’s not in this busy mommy’s budget.

  • leah

    the shu uemera uv under base mousse is my favourite primer right now!

  • Jenn

    The difference it makes in your brows are just amazing, I’m sold!!

  • Susan girlwearsGreen

    Wow! blush stayed on a lot better with primer. I have never been one to use primer but I’m definitely on the look out for one now!

  • Chalimi Fithratu

    I heard that the best primer is Benefit POREfessional primer. But still not invest on that thing yet :)

  • Stefanie Meier

    I loved this post, great way of showing off the effects and really testing out products!


  • Eleri Roberts

    Very interesting! I tend to use primers on long days and nights out rather than every day xx

    Eleri Roberts

  • Rinica Warner

    Ill be honest here and say I genuinely see no difference in the pictures above like at all. I have myself always questioned primers, I do think some do pro long foundation, and mattifying ones are a must for my oily skin…I’m just not sure how I feel about them there a staple in my make up routine now though x

  • emma

    oh I cant see any difference at all !

  • Amber R

    This was a fantastic little experiment! Really enjoyed this post.x

  • Lady Chrome

    I don’t have a great primer for my face, but I definitely see a difference in creasing and colour payoff when I prime my lids :)

  • Beauty Native Style

    I’ve tried the similar experiment as you did and found the same results. I’ve also tried high/low end primers…. good job

  • MyOwnLoves

    Useful post. Thanks!

  • Khannablog

    I think the primer is the best invention – I never used one up to a couple of months back, now…I wear it everyday and it really does work!! Yay!

  • CupofSusan

    I have a lot of pores congesting my nose area, so I’ve been a huge fan of primer for my face!!! It just takes an extra step to make my makeup look a good…but, I only wear makeup when it’s a special event, so that extra step is well-worth it for me!

    Susan | SusanLoves…

  • kristadelisle

    Yes the really work! I use Ultimate Face primer and LOVE LOVE LOVE it :)

  • DreamInLace

    I do believe in a primer. The only primers I’ve ever used though are the Laura Mercier ones…perhaps there’s total crap primers out there. But the ones I use, really do help to keep my makeup in place and no shine breaking through :)

    For my eyes, I’m a cream shadow as a primer girl. I like the revlon creme shadows…or of course a good MAC paint pot :)


  • mara

    i highly believe in primers as well.. i’ve found that some brands don’t work as well for me, but i believe in them. i feel naked without them, actually and i’ve kept eyeshadows that i really was disappointed in (when i wasn’t using a primer or base) because they work so much better! even on nails, i have to use a base coat.
    aaaand i’ve felt super dumb trying to explain primers to people.. haha. i just don’t know how to describe how awesome they are without making it sound like just an extra step/more money

  • Chloe Astley

    what eyeshadow do you have on? its such a pretty colour x

  • Angie Wilson

    i swear by eye shadow primers, your make up will not budge when you have that on.

    xx Angie |