Foundation Primers: Review of NARS, Make Up For Ever, Smashbox, Korres and more!

One of the things that bugs me most about the cosmetics industry is that sometimes they try so hard to get us to buy their product (instead of a competitors, or simply to increase their share of wallet) that they try to make us believe the product will do magical, miraculous things...and oftentimes, they don't. Now, I feel like mascaras and foundations tend to be two of the biggest culprits in this area (airbrush finishes only work if you already have perfect, even skin and I've yet to actually use a mascara that makes me look like I'm wearing false lashes when I'm not), but perhaps the all-time winner is foundation primers. Whereas most of us need (using need loosely, since I guess cosmetics as a whole aren't really a need) things like foundation, mascara, blush and eyeshadow in our collection, I don't really think that many of us thought we needed a foundation primer until all of the big companies started making us promises about how a primer would "make your foundation" last all day, "keep oily skin from getting oily" and "shrink your pores and fill in your wrinkles." It all sounds great, but the truth is that very few, if any, foundation primers really live up to those expectations. How do I know this? I feel like I've tried them all (ok, I haven't tried them all, but I have tried a great number of them, including Make Up For Ever's HD High Definition Primer, NARS Makeup Primer, Korres Quercertin & Oak Anti-aging Face Primer, Urban Decay Complexion Primer Potion, Benefit the Porefessional, Tarte Clean Slate Natural Face Primer and Smashbox Photo Finish Oil Free, among others over the years). Today's mission is to save YOU some money by de-bunking some of the myths about these primers and telling you which ones actually work. You can thank me later. :)

The "classes" of primers
Here's something I've noticed: there are basically two classes that primers fall into -- those that feel lightweight on the skin and disappear into it, and those that feel a bit greasy but sit on top of your skin. Among the primers I just listed, the NARS, Make Up for Ever and Korres primers fit into the former category, whereas the Benefit, Smashbox, Urban Decay and Tarte primers fall into the latter category.

I feel like people tend to prefer those "lighter weight" primers (and the companies that sell them use this as a big selling point during their pitches), but the truth is that I find them to be significantly less effective than their thicker cousins. For one, they simply aren't good at shrinking pores and filling in wrinkles, and two, because they almost immediately absorb into the skin, I don't find that they have the same staying power. Among the NARS, Make Up for Ever and Korres primers, I don't notice that ANY of them keep my foundation on for any longer than usual and not one keeps my oily skin from ruining my foundation throughout the day. However, if I had to choose one favorite, I'd probably pick the Make Up for Ever primer, solely because its white coloring disappears immediately once applied to the skin, so it's easy to spread about without leaving any sort of residue. Both the NARS and Korres primers tend to get a little streaky upon application, and although you can easily rub out the white coloring, I can't help but believe that it leads to a less even distribution on the skin (and also makes you have to tug at your skin harder, which we all know can lead to premature wrinkles!).

Among the second "class" of primers, I can see more of a differentiation between formulas. The Smashbox and Tarte primers are probably the closest, with both being a gooey clear gel. Urban Decay's formula is white in color, and tends to suffer from the streaky problem that I encounter with the NARS and Korres primers, and finally the Benefit primer has a skin tone coloring, that I think can actually help even out redness in the skin while it's shrinking your pores.

Here's the main plus about these primers: they absolutely are more effective at making pores disappear (even if only in the short term), fill in shallow wrinkles and give your face a truly even look (no, they don't get rid of redness, but they definitely make your face look more flawless). They also, in my opinion, create a slicker, smoother surface for your foundation application. In terms of staying power, I've really only ever noticed a difference in my foundation when using the Smashbox primer. Although it's still not perfect, and in my most oily areas (nose and chin) I still see some scattered foundation, I definitely feel like this primer does the best job at keeping my foundation in place, and also keeping the makeup I apply on top of my foundation (bronzer, blush, highlighter) from disappearing throughout the day.

Of course, there's always some negatives, and here I've heard that some people feel like these thicker primers break them out or clog their pores. Some people just don't like the gooey-er consistency on their skin. Personally, I haven't encountered any of these issues, but as I've heard them from others, I feel it's only right to add the warning to this post.

All in all, here's where I've landed: Foundation primers are expensive (the ones I've tried range from $30 to $36 in price for a full size item), and really and truly, they don't work the magic that their companies claim they do. If you have to buy one, I'd go with the Smashbox primer and use it primarily for those special occasions where you need a truly flawless look. If you take that route, it'll last you forever and possibly even minimize the clogged pores/breakout potential. And whatever you do, don't toss out those blotting sheets or translucent powder just yet, because at the end of the day, you'll probably need them too.


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