Best Overall: NARS Cosmetics Smudge Proof Eyeshadow Base
What We Love: It has nourishing, gentle ingredients that give it a smooth, balm-like quality.
What We Don’t Love: The applicator’s handle is a bit too long for our liking.
This NARS option is one of the most popular eyeshadow primers around, and it’s for good reason. It comes in four different shades, ranging from light to dark — so there’s an option for almost every skin tone. The best part is that it’s super blendable and easy to manipulate, so even if you don’t have a perfect match, a little elbow grease will help get you there. “It felt like a smooth balm, so it was so easy to blend in,” our tester says. “Ultimately, it’s a no-fuss primer that works well.”
One thing we wish we could change: The applicator’s handle. “I would make the handle shorter; it feels really long and too intense for how simple the product is,” she explains. “It feels like half of the packaging is an applicator, so I’d like more product in place of the larger handle.”
Price at time of publish: $45
Size: 0.26 fl oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Number of Shades: 4
Best for Oily Eyelids: Ilia Natural Brightening Eye Primer
What We Love: This eyeshadow primer is derived from natural ingredients and won’t cause irritation for those with sensitive eyes.
What We Don’t Love: It disappears into skin right away.
If you have oily eyelids, you know just how frustrating it is for your eyeshadow to slip right off, minutes after application. This clean eyeshadow primer from ILIA, which uses natural ingredients, is weightless and won’t contribute to slippage. In fact, thanks to botanicals like rosehip oil, arnica, and jojoba, this primer actually soaks up excess oil and offers long-lasting hold. And, as you may have been able to guess, it serves as an illuminating base for makeup that can be worn on its own for a glowy boost or under shadow, but whichever you choose, you can trust that it’ll stay put.
One thing to note: It’s very serum-like, so it blends into the skin right away. While this is a great thing for some, our tester found it a little confusing. “It soaked right into my skin after I applied it, so I wasn’t totally sure if it was still there,” our tester explains. “But, I was surprised to find that it certainly was and it made my eyeshadow look more vibrant and smudge-proof.”
Price at time of publish: $24
Size: 0.14 fl oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Number of Shades: 1
Best for Contact Lens-Wearers: SEPHORA COLLECTION Beauty Amplifier Eye Shadow Primer
What We Love: This eyeshadow primer has been ophthalmologist-tested and proven safe for those with sensitive eyes.
What We Don’t Love: The applicator isn’t very useful.
When you wear contact lenses, you avoid anything that weighs down your eyelids — it’s just plain uncomfortable. Allow us to offer you a solution: This lightweight primer from Sephora. The formula contains chamomile extract to reduce redness and irritation on the lid, so even if you get a little in your lenses, you won’t be in too much pain. Slipping and sliding likely won’t be an issue though, since it’s designed to dry down, stay put, and leave behind a flawless, translucent finish.
Although the applicator tip is easy to use and manipulate, the tester found that it’s better suited for dispensing product, rather than using it to apply the primer directly to the eye. “A little goes a long way, so to avoid using too much I’d recommend tapping a few dots onto a finger and then rubbing it onto your eyelid instead of applying it directly,” she explains.
Price at time of publish: $13
Size: 0.20 fl oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Number of Shades: 1
Best Smoothing: Fenty Beauty Pro Filt’r Amplifying Eye Primer
What We Love: The lightweight one-color-fits-all shade is designed to be used on all skin tones.
What We Don’t Love: It goes on very light, so you may need to layer it on to get more coverage.
Rihanna’s beauty line Fenty Beauty is all about inclusivity, and this eyeshadow primer is no different. The product has a light pink tone that dries down clear all skin tones. According to our tester, it has a creamy, off-white color when you first put it on, but then, over time, it blends into your natural skin tone. “I couldn’t even see it after a few minutes,” she explains. “I didn’t notice it underneath my eyeshadow either.”
The weightless formula offers light coverage, which means you might need to layer on some more to get your lids completely covered. “It took a little more product than I thought I’d need, but it went on smoothly, no matter how much I added,” our tester says. “Regardless, after applying a hefty amount of eyeshadow, I didn’t notice any creasing and barely felt like I had anything on my eyelids.”
Price at time of publish: $22
Size: 0.27 fl oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Number of Shades: 1
Best Brightening: Rare Beauty Always An Optimist Weightless Eye Primer
What We Love: This no-fuss primer brightens eyelids and acts like a glue for eyeshadow.
What We Don’t Love: It only comes in one shade.
Using this eyeshadow primer is as effortless as it gets. A little goes a long way — just a dab is all you need to brighten and prep your eyelids. It goes on thick and creamy, but once you buff it out (your finger is the perfect tool), it turns velvety smooth and powdery, making it the perfect base for pigment to stick to. “It smoothed easily and provided consistent coverage across my entire eyelid,” our tester explains. “The tinted peachy color immediately brightened up my eye area, disguising the bluish veins I have on my lids.”
That’s not all, thanks to its unique tube shape, you won’t have to worry about it rolling around your bathroom sink countertop. “Tubes usually roll around my vanity if not propped up against something,” our tester says. “This tube’s flat edge ensures that it won’t roll onto the floor or potentially break.”
Price at time of publish: $18
Size: 0.10 fl oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Number of Shades: 1
Best Hydrating: MILK MAKEUP Hydro Grip Eyeshadow and Concealer Primer
What We Love: The primer’s gel-like formula is loaded with skin-loving ingredients and goes on completely clear.
What We Don’t Love: The product is entirely made of plastic.
If you’re looking for a completely clear and totally clean eyeshadow primer, consider the Hydro Grip Eyeshadow and Concealer Primer from Milk Makeup your match. Despite being loaded with skin-loving ingredients like aloe water, niacinamide, hemp-derived cannabis seed extract, and hyaluronic acid, the formula is crystal clear — and dries down that way too. “It adds no color to the eyelid, that way you know the only color showing up will be the color of the eyeshadow and nothing else,” our tester explains. “Plus, the product is very light; it’s the perfect medium of creaminess and liquidity.”
Our tester loved the fact that the product was entirely cruelty-free, but if she could change anything, it would be to ensure that the packaging used less plastic. “This product itself is perfect, I just wish the bottle could be made of recycled plastic bottles to eliminate waste,” she adds.
Price at time of publish: $32
Size: 0.29 fl oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Number of Shades: 1
Best Waterproof: Laura Mercier Eye Basics Primer
What We Love: The primer comes in several shades, including color-correcting hues like blue and orange.
What We Don’t Love: It can feel thick upon application.
Most other eyeshadow primers on this list are subtle, skin-colored shades. This one from Laura Mercier, on the other hand, has a few unexpected ones. It comes in a range of beiges, plus a color-correcting blue and orange. The pigmented options were designed to help reduce the appearance of dark circles, spots, and redness to create a more even base for eyeshadow. If the idea of a tint turns you off, don’t worry, our tester swears it’s undetectable underneath eyeshadow. “I was worried when the product left a tint behind, but once I applied a light shadow, it wasn’t visible at all,” she admits.
If there’s anything to keep in mind, it’s that a little goes a long way. If you apply too much, like our tester did, it can feel thick. But, after a little buffing and blending, she noted that it worked just fine.
Price at time of publish: $45
Size: 0.18 fl oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Number of Shades: 6
Best Longwearing: Benefit Cosmetics Stay Don’t Stray Eyeshadow Primer
What We Love: This formula has anti-aging properties and even works on the undereye area.
What We Don’t Love: There is only one shade.
Noticing your under-eye concealer fading by the end of the day? Try using this long-lasting primer from Benefit. The dual-action formula can be applied both on the eyelids and the under-eye area, preventing eyeshadow color from fading and concealer from creasing. It melts into the skin with ease and dries down to a matte finish.
What’s more, it is also infused with sodium hyaluronate to help hydrate the skin, along with vitamins C and E to help diminish signs of aging — meaning it’s effective as both a makeup and a skincare product.
Aside from the impressive formula, it comes with a wand that makes blending a breeze. “The wand gives you options: I could either apply it with my finger, a brush, or straight onto my eye,” our tester, Senior Beauty Commerce Editor Shannon Bauer shares. “It has just enough pigment to cover dark spots and redness, but not so much that it looks cakey or requires a perfect color match.”
Price at time of publish: $43
Size: 0.33 fl oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Number of Shades: 1
Best Clean Formula: bareMinerals Prime Time Eyelid Primer
What We Love: This eyeshadow primer combats greasy eyelids by soaking up excess oil.
What We Don’t Love: We wish it was bigger.
Excess oil is one of the main culprits behind eye makeup slippage. So, if you have oily eyelids, check out this primer from Bare Minerals — it’s formulated specifically to prevent oil from ruining your eye makeup. According to our tester, the primer goes on watery, but once it dries, it leaves behind a smooth, silky base for eyeshadow. “To my surprise, it covered all of my little eyelid creases,” she says. Besides preventing any creasing from occurring, the primer also helps eyeshadow pigment stay intense and true-to-color all day long. We especially love that it’s oil- and fragrance-free, as well as allergy- and dermatologist-tested, so you don’t have to worry about irritation.
Price at time of publish: $19
Size: 0.1 fl oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Number of Shades: 1
What to Keep in Mind
The main purpose of using an eyeshadow primer is to make your eyeshadow last longer, so an effective primer shouldn’t budge for 12 to 24 hours. The consistency of the product can also play into its lasting power. If a primer is more tacky, it can provide a ton of grip for the eyeshadow and keep the shadow in place longer, acting like a glue. No matter what the occasion is, how long you intend on wearing eye makeup, or how dramatic your eye look is, the goal is to avoid needing touch ups and a long-lasting primer (like Benefit Stay Don’t Stray Eyeshadow Primer) will ensure this.
On top of keeping your eyeshadow in place and preventing creasing or smudging, a good eyeshadow primer will also maintain the color of your eyeshadow or make it pop even more. Look for a primer that will increase the vibrancy of your shadow, like Ruby Kisses 24 HR Eyeshadow Magic Primer.
According to cosmetic chemist Julie Pefferman, primers for eye makeup are pretty similar to concealers and other face makeup. “They’re usually water-resistant and offer long-wear capabilities all while ensuring safety and comfort for the eyes,” she explains. When it comes to specific ingredients, Pefferman says that in order to get a crease-less, smudge-proof canvas, silicones are the way to go. “Silicones help the eyeshadow adhere to the eyelid and offer a ton of spreadability without weighing anything down,” she says. “Many of my esthetician friends swear by the NARS Pro-Prime Smudge Proof Eyeshadow Base, which makes sense given that the percentage of silicones makes it super spreadable and gives it that long-lasting film,” she shares. But, if you’re looking for a silicone-free option, she recommends the Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Eyeshadow and Concealer Primer, which works just as well, just without the added ingredients.