The best primer needs to do more than just smooth the skin, it needs to help your makeup last all day and ideally bring with it a host of skincare benefits. Here we reveal our favourites for most budgets and skin types
If you’re at a loss when it comes to choosing the best primer, we’ve got you covered.
Maybe you forget about using primer, or it’s a step in your makeup routine you’ve never really bothered with before. When you’re a budget, particularly, it can be tempting to skip primer, thinking it’s not a necessity.
Yet, in the same way that toner can make a huge difference to not only what your skin looks like, but how well your other products work, primer does the same for makeup.
Using the best primer can be the difference between flawless skin and cakey, uneven makeup so we’ve handpicked our favourites and will be adding to this list as we test more.
Note: Before you choose the best primer, you need to make sure the primer has the same base as your foundation. We’ve explained more about why this is so important, along with how primer works in our What does primer do? guide, but in short:
That’s not to say that, on occasion, water-based primers won’t play nicely with silicone-based foundations. Out of all the primers, water-based ones are pretty versatile but you usually need additional ingredients (such as glycerin), or you may need to use products like setting spray to make your base last longer.
Similarly, if you find that your makeup slides around or becomes patchy it might be the combination of primer to foundation, so it’s worth checking.
With this in mind, we’ve listed the base product for each of our best primer recommendations below to hopefully make things easier.
Over on TikTok, we’ve been testing a wide range of skincare and makeup products and ranking them all in our group test spreadsheets – the skincare one is here, and the foundation one is here. The series started off as just foundations but we’ve since created rankings for the best moisturiser, best serum, best toner, and now best primer.
With this in mind, the current top five best primer list, based on this ranking, is below. We’ll be adding to this as we test more primers but it’s correct as of May 2023.
Further down this page are the best primers that our editors use and love. Some of them will be the same, others are more subjective. The reason the list is different is that the TikTok ranking scores are based on points, while our real-world list is based on our individual needs, skin types, and budgets. You can jump to that list here.
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£9.80 | Buy now
Why we love it: In the same way that there’s a growing number of makeup products that contain skincare ingredients, there’s also a rising trend of skincare products that can be used as makeup. This includes so-called priming moisturisers.
As the name suggests, they’re moisturisers and can be used as moisturisers in their own right, but because they smooth and soften the skin they are also ideal bases for foundation when used as primers.
This makes sense because to create the best makeup base possible, you need to prep and hydrate the skin so with priming moisturisers you’re getting the best of both worlds with one single product, for a single price.
Unsurprisingly, then, the best primer on our list is a priming moisturiser that not only helps to create a flawless and hydrated base but is also super affordable. And it’s called the Good Molecules Lightweight Moisturiser – or by its previous name of Good Molecules Silicon-Free priming moisturiser.
If you haven’t heard of Good Molecules yet, it’s a US brand that specialises in affordable yet highly effective skincare products. The majority are vegan, the entire brand is cruelty-free and it sells a great range of products to suit different skin types.
In our hydration test, its Silicon-Free Priming Moisturiser increased hydration by a significant 8.6 points, or 23%. This means that after just five minutes, our skin’s hydration jumped by a quarter.
Over the hour, these levels did drop slightly but this entry in our best primer list still scored an admirable total of 7.4 points, or 20.6%.
There aren’t any ingredients that are described as icky or have been shown to cause problems either.
The reason the brand makes a point of highlighting that it’s silicon-free is that silicone-based primers do occasionally get a bad rep. They create a great, smooth and flawless base but this is usually because they fill in your pores. This isn’t a problem, per se, but if you’re not effectively cleansing your face and exfoliating your skin, this can lead to build-up and breakouts.
The downside is that this brand is only currently available in the US. You can get it shipped to the UK, and it was available on Beauty Bay for a short time, but it’s not as readily available as we’d like!
Base: More than 77% of the formula of this primer is water so this is a water-based primer.
£15.99 | Buy now
Why we love it: If you’ve watched any of our TikTok videos, you’ll know what huge fans of the Face & Base Gel Priming Moisturiser we are.
It’s run by a UK-based, indie brand that is absolutely smashing it, having been featured in Vogue as well as becoming a staple for a growing number of influencers.
We’re such big fans because its lightweight, fragrance-free, gel consistency is absolutely perfect for our oily/combination skin.
It glides on and absorbs immediately. It leaves your skin feeling tacky enough for makeup to cling to it, but not so sticky or thick that it’s uncomfortable.
Plus, over time it can help improve your skin thanks to the addition of hyaluronic acid and niacinamide.
In our hydration test, it rose the hydration levels of our skin by 7.9 points, or 21.3% after just five minutes. Just like the Good Molecules priming moisturiser, these levels dipped slightly after an hour but it still resulted in a total hydration increase of 6.7 points, or 18.6%.
Ingredients-wise, it scored the maximum amount of points in the INCIdecoder ranking, and has a zero irritation rating and a low comedogenic rating.
These ratings should be used as a guide only, because it’s the formula as a whole that determines how irritating or comedogenic a product is, but it’s interesting to know.
Elsewhere, it’s relatively affordable – at £15.99 – and is fully vegan and cruelty-free. It takes a lot for an indie brand to make its mark on the huge beauty stage, but that’s exactly what Face & Base has done and we commend them.
Base: This is a water-based primer.
£10 | Buy now
Why we love it: The Oui Cherie Hydrating Gripping Primer from The Beauty Crop is a relatively new release and a new entry in our top three best primers.
Not only is it affordable, at £10, it increased the hydration levels of our skin by 5.9 points, or 19.7% after five minutes.
This total hydration did drop by 0.5 points after an hour but that still meant it increased and maintained hydration at a level of 18%.
In addition to being a hydrating primer, this primer also makes the skin look smooth and even under foundation, and it’s an even glow that lasts for hours. Even on oily skin.
The primer itself is bright red, which can be a bit disconcerting if you suffer from redness like us, and it feels thick when it first comes out of the tube.
However, as soon as you start massaging it into the skin and it warms up, it turns transparent and has an almost watery consistency.
This thin consistency also means a little goes a long way and we can cover our entire face with a single pump.
Speaking of pumps, it’s not easy to get the primer out of the tube and we find ourselves having to pump multiple times, which feels like a design flaw.
You also only get 20ml for £10 whereas many of the other primers in this list are 30ml or more.
These are very small flaws for what is a brilliant primer so it deserves its podium place.
£20 | Buy now
For months, this primer was all over TikTok.
Every influencer and their Mum was praising how lightweight and hydrating it is under makeup and how it’s the best primer around.
We were skeptical but after succumbing to the hype and buying the Embryollise Lait de Creme, we get it!
It’s incredibly lightweight, almost watery in its consistency but this means it feels light and refreshing on the skin – perfect for use under makeup, especially if you prefer a full-coverage finish.
It doesn’t take long to absorb into the skin, and just like with the Face & Base priming moisturiser, the finish it creates is tacky enough for makeup but not sticky or greasy.
In our hydration tests, it rose the hydration levels of our skin by 3.6 points (12%) after five minutes.
We tested this entry in our best primer list before we started doing hourly tests so we need to repeat the test again to get that longer-term score.
Price-wise, it’s not the cheapest on the list but it’s not the most expensive either. And because of the consistency, a little goes a long way so it should last you a long time.
Base: This is a water-based primer.
From £17 | Buy now
Why we love it: Milk Makeup‘s Hydro Grip has been our go-to primer for years because it feels cool on the skin, helps balance redness and leaves it feeling tacky. Thus making it the ideal base for makeup to stick to.
This is largely because it comes with a host of skincare benefits. Not only does it contains aloe water – so much so, aloe water is the main ingredient – but it contains cherry blossom, hyaluronic acid and Vitamin B, also known as niacinamide.
Between them, these ingredients hydrate and brighten the skin, meaning that over time the Milk primer should – in theory – not just be good under makeup but should actively improve the appearance of the skin.
What’s more, in our experience we weren’t left waiting for it to sink in before we continued our makeup routine. It takes less than a minute to be absorbed into your skin and then you’re good to go.
In our best primer tests, the hydration increase wasn’t as high as we’d expected, given the water base and the hyaluronic acid. It rose hydration levels by 0.8 points (2.4%) after five minutes and a further 0.3 points after an hour. This gives a total rise of 1.1 points, or 3.3%. Not a terrible showing but there have been other products, including primers that have scored better.
It’s also a pricey primer coming in at £35 for a full-sized tube, which works out at £23 per 30ml.
The reason it sits mid-table, and hasn’t been pushed further down by this hydration score and high price, is because its vegan and cruelty-free. Thus scoring maximum points for those categories.
It has no potentially icky ingredients and its irritation and comedogenic rating is zero. This suggests that the Milk Hydro Grip Primer will be a great choice, if not the best primer choice for sensitive skin.
Base: This is a water-based primer so will work best with water-based foundations. It also means it’s silicone- and oil-free so is great for oily skin types, or people with blemishes and congestion.
£23 | Buy now
Why we love it: The Glossier Futuredew may not be an obvious choice for a primer, and if you have oily skin you might feel like running a mile, but due to its hybrid serum-oil formula, it creates a soft and glowy base for makeup without feeling heavy.
It’s been formulated to nourish, as well as brighten and smooth the skin, thanks to its oils, fruit extracts, and vegan squalane (from sugarcane) which all work to hydrate and moisturise the skin.
It also adds an immediate – but not shimmery – glow that helps illuminate your makeup from within. Plus, in our experience with our oily skin, it helped our makeup last much longer than we’d expected.
So much so, we were still getting compliments on the dewiness of our skin for hours after application.
It performed well in our hydration test, too.
Five minutes after applying Futuredew to our skin, the hydration levels rose by 1.2 points, or 3.6%. That’s more than the total hourly increase of the Milk Hydro Grip, for instance, and is one of the highest increases in our best primer group test.
It then carried on increasing and after an hour, our hydration levels rose to a total of 4.8 points, or 15.2%.
It’s not cheap – although at £23 it’s not the most expensive primer we’ve tried – and it does contain a couple of ingredients that could cause problems. Rosemary leaf oil, for instance, is marked as Icky because it’s an essential oil that has been shown to cause irritation on certain skin types and at certain dosages.
Both Evening Primrose oil and jojoba oil have also been linked to causing breakouts. The risk is relatively low but if you have sensitive skin, especially if you have something like acne-rosacea, it may be worth avoiding this primer.
Base: This is an oil-based primer.
£32 | Buy now
Why we love it: This is an absolute dream product. No, seriously. This tube of magic sorts any skin woes we’ve had and we love it so much, this is the third of our Best Buy articles that feature IT Cosmetics CC Cream.
As this is a CC (colour-correcting) cream, it does more than the average primer; working wonders on your skin tone and texture. It offers full coverage and can be used in place of your foundation because of its flawless delivery. This goes some way towards justifying its high price.
For day-to-day use, you can use this great primer with a light coating of tinted moisturiser, to give yourself a bit of colour, but otherwise, you’re sorted, coverage-wise. It’s so popular because it’s also really hydrating – this is why it features in our best foundation for dry skin round-up – and anti-ageing. It even carries SPF50 which solves the hassle of making sure your foundation protects your skin from the sun (or even better if you’re flying solo with this CC cream).
Base: Even though water is listed as the first ingredient on the IT Cosmetics CC Cream label, this product is silicone-based. This is one of the main reasons why it works so well as a standalone foundation, and how it does so well at blurring your pores. If you do choose to use this underneath a separate foundation, however, you need to make sure the foundation is also silicone-based.
FURTHER READING: What is SPF?
£23 | Buy now
Why we love it: After seeing this product go viral on TikTok we had to buy it and give it a go. And we weren’t disappointed.
The Beauty Base Primer is a truly multi-purpose, four-in-one product: it’s one of the best primers we’ve used, it contains hyaluronic acid and peptides to moisturise the skin; it has SPF30 to protect you from damaging UV rays; and its strobe-like effect either gives you a radiant glow or can be used as a separate highlighter.
Four products, and four stages of your makeup routine that take up precious time, in one – all for a relatively affordable £23.
What’s more, you can wear it in a number of different ways – on its own on bare skin for a radiant and protected base, under makeup as SPF and primer, or mixed into your foundation for a quicker application on the go and to lighten your makeup.
Base: This primer contains silicone.
Victoria is founder and editor-in-chief of mamabella, freelance journalist and Mum. She has a passion for empowering people to feel beautiful whatever their age, size, skin type and budget