Eye Primer – What Is It, Why Wear It, and Which Is Best?

15 Oct

When you first start becoming interested in makeup, it starts with the obvious things. Bright lipsticks. Dark eyeliners. Then, if you’re like me, you started to explore all the other products – the ones that were harder to figure out. You may have wondered what on earth primer was, or what all the different brushes did, or when and how to use lip exfoliators or gel eyeliners.

One of the most puzzling items I encountered was eye primer. Now, of course, I couldn’t live without it. So, what is eye primer, and what does it do? Well, there are three main purposes of eye primer:

  1. To provide an even base colour that will either act as a blank canvas for the true colour of a shadow to show on or as a colour that will augment a particular tint within a shadow;
  2. To give eyeshadow something to cling to so that you can get maximum pigmentation and build colour; and
  3. To set shadow in place and act as a barrier between pigment and skin’s natural oils, thus preventing creasing and holding colour in place all day.

A good primer will do all of these things. Of course, a good primer isn’t easy to find – and what works for one person may not work as well for another. There are several (including some cult favourites), so I’ll list some and outline my own personal experiences with them, and what I consider to be their pros and cons.

Before I launch into my opinion of the products, let me tell you a bit about my eyes that will help you to determine whether you are likely to find the same issues and benefits I did with these products.First of all, I have quite small eyelids, so I don’t have a large area to work with. I have what you might call “hooded” eyes – meaning that the lid folds nearly entirely over itself when I open my eyes. This leads to a terrible problem with creasing. There are almost no cream shadows out there that I can wear for more than an hour or two without shadow collecting in my crease line and looking completely ridiculous. I have dry skin (I can only imagine how much worse it would be if it were oily), but my eyes are sensitive and easily irritated, so I have to be careful about what I use on them. All of these factors affect the performance of my eye makeup and which primers work best for me.

Now, on to the products!

Urban Decay Primer Potion

The first, and probably most well-known, is the Urban Decay Primer Potion. The main problem with this primer, which is a great product, was the container. It came in a dip-stick twist-top container that made it nearly impossible to get the last of the product out. It also meant using a doe-foot applicator on the eye area and then dipping it right back into the product – thus increasing the chances of transferring harmful bacteria. I never applied it directly to the eyes – just dabbed it on a clean ring finger. Now they’ve come out with a squeeze tube, which is a huge improvement – both from the point of view of hygiene and product use.

As for the product itself, I’d give it an 80. For two reasons. First, it’s quite translucent. While this is fine most of the time, it does mean that you don’t get that opaque, even base to work with, and it doesn’t help colour to pop the same way. The second is that it didn’t do the best job for me in preventing creasing. It lasted a work day, so pretty respectable, but there are others that I have found to last most of the evening as well. However, many people swear by it, so it’s worth a try if you’re looking for the right one for you!

Smashbox Photo Finish Lid Primer

The next is Smashbox Photo Finish Lid Primer. This one I’d probably give about a 75. It’s more opaque than the UDPP, so it’s a better base for colour. However I found that it was a bit of an oilier feeling formulation, so creasing tended to happen by the end of a work day, if not a bit before (depending also on the shadow used). It also has the doe-foot applicator and the issues that accompany it. I got it free in a Smashbox palette, and I’m glad I got to give it a try, but it’s not going to be my go-to primer.

Too Faced Shadow Insurance

Next is Too Faced Shadow Insurance. I have to admit that this is pretty much my holy grail – so far! I like the squeeze tube for ease and hygiene, and the product itself is great. It isn’t as opaque as the Smashbox or MAC Paint Pots (hold on  – we’re getting there!), so it doesn’t provide the best colour base – but that’s fine by me. I’m pale skinned to begin with, so really, how much lighter does it need to get? What I love about this stuff is that you need the tiniest possible amount and the effect will last all day long flawlessly. I’ve had a tube of this for over a year, using it nearly daily, and it’s still got some left. Though it might seem pricey at first – bear this in mind. Ends up being incredible value for money.

Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Cream Shadow

Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Cream Shadows aren’t technically eye primers – but then again, neither are MAC Paint Pots (still getting there!). And they’re very similar. Remember how I said that I can’t wear cream shadows? These and paint pots are the exception to that rule. Why? Because they set rock solid. Okay, not literally, but you get my meaning. Once they’re on there, they’re not going anywhere. Bobbi Brown has some great neutral shades that are gorgeous, and I’d recommend trying them out if you get a chance. The down side is that they really are quite pricey – the pots are much smaller than the MAC ones, and if memory serves they cost 1.5 times as much. If you’ve got the money, though, by all means have at ‘er.

MAC Paint Pots

Okay, it’s finally time to talk about MAC Paint Pots. I know a lot of you will swear by them, and others think they’re disappointing – for one reason or another. So here are my pros and cons. First of all, these provide a flawless base in terms of colour. Pick one that’s close to your skin tone (Painterly for me, perhaps Groundwork or Quite Natural for darker skintones, and Soft Ochre for really pale skin or skin with yellow undertones) if you want a natural base that will give you even pigment. If you want a primer that will show the truest colour of your shadow, go with a light one like Soft Ochre – remember, even if it doesn’t match your skin, the shadow will completely cover it by the time you’re done. It’s just a matter of how that shadow looks.

Another big plus for the Paint Pots is that they go on as cream and set. Though it can be frustrating to work with them because you have to move fast, this means that they have a tacky (slightly sticky) texture when they go on, so shadows and pigments – even glitter – will cling to the surface. When they dry, everything is locked in place.

Also they come in a range of shades, and limited edition shades often turn up in collections. It’s actually pretty amazing how dramatically you can change the accent colour in a shadow by using  different base colour under it, and having such a wide range of shades that I’ve collected (everything from neutral to blue to coral to black) means that I can create endless variety with my shadows.

There are a couple of things to bear in mind with these, however. They don’t necessarily prevent creasing, so if this is a big issue for you, proceed with caution! I’ve found that sometimes they’re fine, other times they’re a disaster. Not sure if it’s the weather, how much I apply (word to the wise – you want to apply enough to create an even base, but if you pile too much on it won’t dry properly and will slide around) or the combination of shadow and Paint Pot, but sometimes they keep going and going, other times I’m a hot mess by the end of the day.

Nars Pro-Prime

Finally, a primer I only recently discovered. I’ve written a whole review of it here, so I’ll keep it brief. The Nars Pro-Prime has the same unfortunate doe-foot applicator fiasco as the old UDPP and the Smashbox primer. It is quite translucent, so doesn’t provide a colour base. However – it is great for preventing creasing! Which, given my issues, is top priority for me.  I’ll sacrifice everything else for crease-free lids any day of the week. So this has my vote. It might even be better than the Too Faced – but I’ve only used it a couple of times so far, so I’m still deciding. At any rate, definitely worth trying if you have the same problems as me – and if you can afford it – this shit ain’t cheap!

I hope this was helpful to those of you who wondered what on earth eye primer was and thought it was a gimmicky non-product. If my own opinions of individual products was also useful – even better! I’d love to hear what you think and which primers you swear by, so feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments!

Until next time…

xo M.


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