Eye Primer Style Guide [2022 Picks]

If you’re wondering why your eyeshadow won’t stay where you put it because it fades, flakes, or creases, you need this eye primer style guide. If your shadows don’t look as vibrant on your skin as you’d expect them to by looking at them in their pans, this guide can help you find out which eye primer is the best for your skin and what you want to accomplish.

First, we’ll consider whether you really need it (spoiler: yes), why you need it, and how you can use it. From there, you’ll get a list of some of the best eye primers on the market right now, in a range of price points.

Why Use Eye Primer?

If you struggle with your eyeshadows not looking vibrant on your eyes once they’re applied or you tend to have fading or creasing throughout the day, eye primer will be your new best friend. It holds the powder in place, helps it last all day, and can even amplify the color. Shimmer, pearlescent shades and duochromes look especially stunning on top of a primer.

When Should You Apply Eye Primer?

If you’re doing your eye makeup before foundation, apply your eye primer before anything else (other than skin care products). If you’re doing your face makeup before eye makeup, you can put it on after that, in case concealer and/or foundation make their way onto your eyelids.

You want the eye primer to be the last thing you put on your lids before you start applying your eyeshadows. That way the slightly tacky surface will grab what you want it to–the eyeshadow–and not face makeup.

The Ultimate Eye Primer Style Guide: Which One Is for You?

Do you really need eye primer?

If you wear eyeshadow, yes, you need an eye primer (usually). The eye primer style guide will help you decide which one is the best for you based on:

  • Do you need or want it to transform the shades of eyeshadow you’re wearing on your lids, either to make them shift in color, deepen them, or have them show up in all their bright or pastel glory?
  • Are your eyelids oily or dry?
  • What’s your budget? (I’ve included a range of eye primers to fit any budget.)
  • How pigmented are the eyeshadows you usually use?

Do You Want to Shift, Lighten, or Deepen Your Eyeshadow Shade?

The main goal of an eye primer is to make your eyeshadows last all day without creasing or fading. There are other things it can do, though, and knowing this can influence the primer or primers you keep in your stash.

Generally, shadow primers are a beige shade that sheers out and fades to almost nothing as you blend it out on your eyelids. However, there are other products out there that do the same thing as the traditional shadow primer, but they come in a range of shades.

Want to make your shadows appear the way they do in the pan and not be influenced by your skin tone (especially helpful with pastels or brights)? A white primer that stays white will help. Want to add a depth and smokiness to a shade you have? Put a black eye primer under it. Have an eyeshadow that is just a little too blue, red, yellow, etc? Layer another color under it and shift the color.

Black eye primers (some are marketed as cream shadows but work like primers) can also amp up the magnificence of a duochrome.

Are Your Lids Oily or Dry?

If you’ve chosen a face primer, you know that your skin type plays a role in determining which one is the best for you. The same goes for eye primers. Oily lids and dry lids need different products.

There may be some that work well for oily or dry skin, but keep your skin type in mind when you start to shop so you can narrow your choices down before you begin. You’ll save time, money, and frustration that way.

The Budget

Buying primer is a lot less exciting than buying a new eyeshadow palette or lipstick. Plenty of primers fall into the $19.00 to $25.00 range and it may be tempting to think those are the best you can get. However, there are some that cost less than $10.00 that get the job done, just as well. Don’t worry if you can’t or don’t want to spend more than that on an eye primer. You can still get creaseless, vibrant color that lasts.

Pigmentation of Your Usual Shadows

The tackier an eye primer, the better it will grab onto the color. If your shadows already have plenty of pigment, you’ll want a smoother, silkier shadow primer. If your eyeshadows disappoint you when you put them on bare lids (or over concealer, if you’ve been using that as a primer), the tackier, thicker formulas will most likely give you the color payoff you’re hoping for.

The Advantages of Eye Primer

If you want your eye makeup to last longer, there’s a good chance you could use an eye primer. Here are some of the things it can do for your makeup look.

  • They can make your shadows last longer.
  • They keep your eyeshadows from creasing.
  • They make your application of eye makeup look smoother.
  • The eyeshadow colors you use will look more vibrant and seem more pigmented, which can make shadows that don’t normally perform all that well act like higher quality options (which could actually save you money in the long run).

The Disadvantages of Eye Primer

Nothing is perfect, though. There are some downsides to using and depending on eye primer.

  • It’s an extra step.
  • It’s an extra expense.
  • The wrong eye primer can make your eye makeup crease more.
  • Some can grab on too hard to the color and make it more difficult to blend.

Top Eye Primers You Can Buy Now

Here are some of the best eye primers you can buy right now. Some are as inexpensive as $3.00, while others are just over $20.00, so there’s something for every budget.

Too Faced Shadow Insurance

This has been my personal go-to for years because I have dry lids and don’t experiment with colorful primers much anymore. It’s creamy but lightweight, and it doesn’t crease. It holds eyeshadow colors all day at a greater intensity than they would have on their own.

Pros

  • Good for dry lids (not exclusively, but it does work well on dry lids)
  • A little goes a long way
  • Smooth application
  • Tube keeps things sanitary
  • Helps neutralize redness
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • Can separate in the tube and come out as an almost-clear, oily liquid instead of the thicker beige cream, so you’ll need to make sure you shake it before using it
  • Kind of expensive
  • Some users with sensitive skin reported stinging

Urban Decay Primer Potion

This is another one of my top picks, and it comes in a few different shades and finishes (nothing too dramatic, though). It’s slightly better for oily lids than dry ones, in my experience, but it has the same lightweight, smooth finish as the Too Faced option. It also keeps shadows looking pigmented all day.

Pros

  • Good for oily lids (not exclusively, but it does perform well for oily lids)
  • Comes in a few shades so you can slightly shift the color or finish of your shadow (or, in some cases, wear the primer alone)
  • Comes in a tube with a wand applicator for a more sanitary option than a tub, plus convenience
  • Has an anti-aging option available
  • Comes in travel size or full size so you can travel with ease and make less of a financial commitment to give the product a try

Cons

  • Kind of expensive
  • Wand applicator makes it potentially less sanitary than a squeeze tube
  • Some people reported that the product was runny

MAC Paint Pots

mac paint pot

Pros

  • Can work as eyeshadows, too, so you won’t always have to layer powder on top
  • Good for dry or oily lids
  • Variety of finishes
  • Comes in several different shades
  • Can be used as primer, shadow, or eyeliner

Cons

  • Comes in a pot, not a tube (the more sanitary option), so you’ll need to dip your finger or brush in
  • Kind of expensive
  • Because it’s in a pot, it may dry out before you get a chance to use it all
  • Some shades have shimmer, which may not perform as well under shadows as the ones without shimmer/glitter

NYX Professional Makeup Jumbo Eye Pencil All-in-One Eyeshadow Eyeliner

These NYX Jumbo Eye Pencils aren’t the best at keeping shadows from creasing, and some people’s lids like them better than others’. However, if they work for you, they’re amazing for creating all kinds of makeup looks. They can be used as primer, shadow, liner, etc. They can be used alone or with other colors, layered with shadows to get different effects. This is the jackpot of colored primers, too–there are 16 colors to choose from.

Pros

  • Come in a wide range of colors, including black and white, so you can alter your shadow shades by layering them an endless number of ways
  • Inexpensive
  • Somewhat easy to find in stores (some drugstores, Ulta, and big box stores)
  • Can be used as eyeshadow
  • The pointed tip makes them good for inner corner application

Cons

  • Not the best on oily lids
  • If you apply more than a very light layer, they may crease
  • You’ll probably want to collect them all
  • Needs to be sharpened

Smashbox 24 Hour Photo Finish Eye Shadow Primer

Smashbox 24 Hour Photo Finish Eye Shadow Primer

The Smashbox eye primer does everything you’d expect a primer to do, and it does it without interfering with the color of your eyeshadow or standing out against your skin tone. It’s silky, smooth, and designed to last all day on any skin type.

Pros

  • Good for oily skin (not exclusively, as it’s good for all skin types but does a good job at absorbing oil)
  • Almost invisible once it’s spread on the lids, so it’s good for all skin tones and shadow looks
  • Comes in a tube

Cons

  • Kind of expensive
  • Though it’s good at controlling oil, it may not be the most effective option

Bare Minerals Prime Time Eyelid Primer

bare minerals primer

The Bare Minerals eye primer was designed specifically for the Bare Minerals shadows, but you don’t have to limit yourself to those in order to take advantage of the lasting power of this product. If ordering online, keep in mind that the tube is pretty small (smaller than Urban Decay’s Primer Potion, for example).

Pros

  • Comes in a tube
  • Good for loose mineral shadows
  • Stays on all day, even if you have oily skin

Cons

  • Small tube
  • Expensive
  • Some say it’s sticky and heavy

Milani Eyeshadow Primer

Milani tends to be a standout drugstore makeup line. Their quality tends to be on par with department store brands, so it’s no surprise that the shadow primer made the list.

Pros

  • Inexpensive (less than $10.00)
  • Available at big box stores, drugstores, and Ulta
  • Dries clear
  • Best for dry skin

Cons

  • May not last as long as other options (it seems to max out after around eight hours of wear)
  • Some say it’s oily

CoverGirl Lid Lock Up Eyeshadow Primer

This eye primer option from CoverGirl lasts an impressively long time and makes shadows look vibrant all day–and it’s one of the cheapest on the list. If you’re looking for a good primer to start out with just to see what the hype is about, this may be the best one.

Pros

  • Inexpensive (less than $10.00)
  • Available at drugstores, Ulta, and big box stores
  • Lasts and lasts, even with oily lids

Cons

  • May be difficult to remove
  • Some users say it feels tacky and sticky on their lids
  • Even though it’s a drugstore brand, it seems like it could be hard to find

e.l.f. Shadow Lock Eyelid Primer

elf eyelid primer

e.l.f. Shadow Lock Eyelid Primer is another good option to try if you’re just stepping into the world of eye primers.

Pros

  • Very inexpensive, at under $5.00
  • Comes in a tube
  • No smudging or fallout
  • Improves vibrancy of lower quality shadows

Cons

  • Having a wand in the tube isn’t the most sanitary option (squeezing the product onto your finger would be best)
  • Some reviewers say it dried out their eyelids

LORAC Behind the Scenes Eye Primer

lorac behind the scenes primer

The LORAC eye primer is one of the top picks at Ulta, with 4.4 stars and over 600 reviews.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Silky application
  • No oil, fragrance, or parabens
  • A (very) little bit goes a long way
  • Good for oily or dry lids

Cons

  • Thicker than some other options
  • Kind of expensive
  • Online only (at Ulta)

Clinique Touch Base for Eyes Eyeshadow Primer

Clinique’s eye primer has an interesting spin–it comes in a few different shades that seem to be based on skin tones, and it can be worn alone or with shadow on top. This primer is free of fragrance, phthalates, and parabens.

Pros

  • Comes in three shades: Canvas, Canvas Light, and Nude Rose for a hint of color that shows up just enough on any skin tone
  • Hint of shimmer (may not be a pro in all cases)
  • Lasts all day and prevents creasing
  • Can be worn alone for a quick makeup look
  • Nice, smooth texture

Cons

  • Comes in a pot, not a tube (the more sanitary option), so you’ll need to dip your finger or brush in
  • Some reviewers say that the colors are lighter than they appear on the site
  • Even though Clinique has a reputation for being gentle and good for sensitive skin, some reviewers had reactions to it (others reported that they have sensitive eyes and had no issues, however)
  • May dry out before you have time to use it up

The Main Differences Between Eye Primers and Face Primers

To save money, time, and space, can’t you just use a face primer on your eyes and get the same effect? Not really, unfortunately. Despite the similarity in the name and the implication that they’d probably perform the same way, these really are two totally separate products. Here are some of the main differences between eye primers and face primers:

  • Eye primers are designed to have a slightly tacky finish in order to grab the powder shadows, whereas face primers are designed to fill in pores and create a smooth (not sticky) surface for foundation to adhere to.
  • Eye primers on the face would make your makeup go on patchy, whereas face primers help foundations and concealers spread evenly across the skin without catching and caking in spots.
  • Eye primers come in a variety of colors and finishes when you count cream shadows that are meant to act as primers, whereas face primers are usually sheer (some may have a color-correcting tint or pearlescence for a glowing complexion).
  • Eye primers are safe to use around the eyes, whereas face primers may not be.
  • Eye primers are designed not to crease, whereas face primers may make creasing worse in the eye area.

FAQs

Question: What shade should eye primer be?

Answer: The most foolproof, versatile eye primer shade is one that spreads and becomes so sheer, it’s almost colorless. Many of them are like this unless they’re designed to be used as an eyeshadow and/or liner in addition to a primer (so MAC Paint Pots and NYX Jumbo Pencils are out, in this case). They start out beige but don’t add a lot of obvious color to the skin when applied.

Question: Do you apply eye primer before or after concealer?

Answer: It’s best to start with your eye makeup before applying your face makeup because there could be shadow fallout during application that leaves powder and/or shimmer on your cheeks, stuck to your foundation and concealer.

Apply primer first, then shadow, then do your face makeup. If you prefer applying foundation and concealer first, you can do that, but try to keep the lids clear of concealer if possible. This will make it less likely that the shadows will crease as the day goes on.

Question: How do you use eye primer for beginners?

Answer: It’s easiest just to use your finger and practice with one of the beige/skin tone options that blend to almost no color first. Squeeze a tiny bit onto your finger (or dip your finger into the pot, depending on the kind you have), then smooth it onto the eyelid, starting in the middle and working out to each side and up toward the brow. You could use a flat, dense paddle-shaped brush with synthetic bristles, too, if you’d prefer.

Once you’ve spread the eye primer, you can pat your shadow on top, on the lid, or do windshield wiper motions with a fluffy brush in the crease to start your shadow application. That part is a personal preference. If you find that the color is sticking too much and looking patchy, refusing to blend, you can apply a skin tone shadow shade first, from lash line to brow bone, then apply your other colors on top of that to make blending easier.

When you’re ready to graduate to the colored primers, use a brush to apply them for more precision. Use only the tiniest amount at a time so there’s room to spread it out before you lay your eyeshadow on top.

Question: Does eye primer have to match skin tone?

Answer: No, it doesn’t. A lot of them start out beige or off-white and have barely a hint of color once they’re all spread out. Those don’t interfere with the shadows’ color, other than making them look more vibrant, but you can have fun with eye primers that are nowhere near your skin tone, too.

Question: What is the difference between eye primer and face primer? Can you use face primer as an eye primer?

Answer: No, don’t use face primer as an eye primer. It may or may not be safe (it would depend on the product), but the goal of a face primer is to smooth your skin so products glide on and look flawless. An eye primer is definitely safe to use around your eyes since it’s created specifically for that, and the finish will be ideal for grabbing onto your powder eyeshadows and intensifying the color.

Under the eyes, use face primer (for your concealer), unless it’s right at the lower lash line, where you’re applying more eyeshadow. In that case, “line” your eyes with a bit of the eye primer, too.

Question: Can you use foundation as an eye primer?

Answer: In a pinch, you can, but it won’t provide the same kind of crease-free, all-day wear an eye primer would. If you’re looking for something to cancel the redness in your lids more than you’re worried about the longevity of your eyeshadow look, it could be a decent option. So could concealer, unless you’re using an especially creamy formula.

Question: Can I use Vaseline as an eye primer?

Answer: You may be surprised to see this answer, but: yes! However, it’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to eye primers. It won’t last as long, but it can make your shadows look more vibrant for a while (so it may be better for photoshoots or quick outings and less ideal for all-day wear).
Apply a very thin layer to your lids, then apply shadows that tend to look much duller on your lids than they do in the pans (pat them on, don’t sweep them across). Anything that’s already highly pigmented may be unblendable and look patchy on top of Vaseline because it will stick right when you put it down.

Conclusion: Not Just Any Ol’ Eye Primer Will Do

Who knew there was so much to consider when choosing an eye primer that will, most likely, be invisible and just hang out under your eyeshadow all day? If you’re just starting out, I do recommend a sheer (or skin tone) primer product that can go all over the eye area and work well underneath any eyeshadow shade.

There’s always room to branch out and choose colors and other finishes once you get the hang of blending not just the product itself, but your shadows on top of it.

My favorites are Too Faced Shadow Insurance, Urban Decay Primer Potion, and the MAC Paint Pots (choose the shades that work best with your skin tone at first), but if you’re just looking to experiment with a product you’re not 100 percent convinced you to need yet, feel free to try one of the drugstore options on the list to save money and see if it’s for you.

Who knows, maybe Milani, CoverGirl, or e.l.f. will be your holy grail primer and you can spend more on the shadows you wear on top (because that’s the fun part, right?).

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