Face primer: how to use it, what it does, and the best ones to buy

A primer prepares your skin before applying makeup but can also be worn on its own

Elf Primer, Estee Lauder Primer, Elizabeth Arden Primer, Benefit Pore Primer, Veil Hourglass Primer, Urban Decay Primer

by Samantha Price |
Updated on

A good face primer is one of those products you never knew you needed until you start using it. If you’re fed up of your foundation setting into your skin as the day wears on, or you’re looking for a way of adding a little bit of smoothness to your complexion without heavy makeup then trust us, you need a face primer.

You might be using primer on a regular basis already and looking for the best buys, or you might be wondering what it is, how it should be used and what the best one for your skin type is. Well, we’ve got all the answers you need, including our pick of the best face primers for mature skin.

What is a face primer?

A face primer goes on underneath makeup to help it go on evenly and stay in place, but it can also be worn on its own. We think it’s the perfect alternative to heavy makeup on a warm day, or just for day-to-day use when you’d rather not wear makeup. Many face primers offer some level of UV protection or SPF.

What forms of face primer are there?

Selecting the right primer will depend on your skin type as well as the look that you're hoping to achieve. Some will have the consistency of regular face cream, while others can take the form of a lightweight gel. Different types of primers will also have various benefits depending on their formulas. That's why we've also enlisted advice from skincare experts to answer some frequently asked questions about face primer for mature skin.

How to apply primer on the face

You should always apply face primer on clean skin, so be sure to wash and cleanse your face beforehand. If you're following the steps of a traditional skincare routine, you might then follow this with toner and then your favourite moisturiser.

Once you've finished your skincare routine and your moisturiser has had time to sink in, you can follow it up with the best face primer for mature skin. Simply dab a small amount of product onto the applicator of your choice, and apply it to all of the areas of your face. Take care to really get into the crevices, especially the corners of your nose and laughter lines.

Finally, after you've applied your primer, you're ready to move on to applying the rest of your makeup if you want to, and our guide to the best makeup for older women has our top picks, such as a good foundation for mature skin, plus a concealer for mature skin.

The best face primer for mature skin at a glance:

Best face primer overall: Laura Mercier Pure Canvas Primer - Buy now on John Lewis
Best face primer for all skin types: Facetheory Ultraglide Silicone-Free Face Primer P1 - Buy now on Facetheory
Best face primer on a budget: e.l.f. Mineral Infused Face Primer Mineral - Buy now on Boots

The best face primer for mature skin UK

Best face primer overall

best-face-primer-for-mature skin
Price: $41.50
Alternative retailers
Neiman Marcus$47.00View offer

Laura Mercier products consistently garner outstanding reviews, and it’s easy to see why with the Pure Canvas primer. It’s fairly pricey, but we feel the price tag is justified due to the quality of the product. 
As we age, we need skincare products and makeup that will hydrate the skin and not dry it out. The Pure Canvas primer offers long-term moisture, and we love that it’s both silicone-free and contains naturally derived ingredients to help skin appear more radiant. 
One reviewer said, “I am happy with this product and it works on my skin at 57.” We feel it’s a great option to wear either on its own for an added glow, or underneath your makeup.

Pros

  • Hydrates the skin
  • Promotes long-term moisture recovery
  • Free of parabens

Cons

  • Not great for oily skin
  • Expensive, but we do think its quality justifies the cost

Best face primer for all skin types

A budget-friendly rival to the Laura Mercier primer is the Ultraglide silicone-free face primer from Facetheory. As one reviewer put it: “This primer provides a good base without drying skin or rubbing off when I get hot. It feels moisturising, and I like that it's unscented and vegan."

It’s suitable to wear as an everyday cream or as a primer under makeup, and reviews have praised the level of hydration it offers: “I don't wear foundation a lot during summer, usually just bronzer, and need something as a base for my dry, mature skin.” Although it does leave skin with a little more shine than we'd like, we think this primer offers superb quality at an affordable price point.

Pros

  • Vegan friendly
  • Excellent value
  • Free of parabens

Cons

  • Not as mattifying as claimed

Best face primer on a budget

For an affordable primer that performs well under foundation, the e.l.f Mineral Infused Face Primer is your best choice, especially if you tend to sweat (hello hot flushes). One reviewer said that as a beginner to makeup, she loves this primer, adding “It’s so easy to apply and my makeup stays on, and I don’t feel like my foundation is running down my face."

It's made from a lightweight clear gel formula rather than a cream, which means makeup glides on effortlessly. For a gel, it’s surprisingly mattifying but it also does a great job of brightening the skin.

Pros

  • Contains minerals
  • Silky formula
  • Suitable for all skin types

Cons

  • Contains parabens

Best face primer for dry skin

Alternative retailers
Ulta$45.00View offer
Kohl's$45.00View offer
Sephora$45.00View offer
Neiman Marcus$45.00View offer

Dry skin seems to be increasingly more of a problem as we age, when skin loses its natural moisture and elasticity. The classic beauty brand, Estée Lauder, offers the perfect solution with its Futurist Aqua Brilliance Primer. 

Reviews have praised its hydrating properties and, although it is more expensive than other products on our list, a little goes a long way: “I really liked this primer. I only had to use a small amount before applying foundation and it really helped to smooth it on. I have mature dry skin and was impressed with the results."

The cream creates a good barrier under your foundation, so makeup won’t settle into fine lines, but it’s also suitable to wear alone for a natural glow throughout the day. It contains Hyaluronic Acid plus Glycerin to promote healthy-looking skin.

Pros

  • Contains naturally derived ingredients
  • Free of drying alcohols and mineral oil
  • A little goes a long way

Cons

  • May become oily after many hours of use, but is to be expected with primers

Best face primer for combination skin

This little gem isn't just your average primer – it's like a burst of freshness for your face, and we love it. We felt it was most suited to combination skin – while it does a good job at hydrating the skin it also helped avoid breakouts from wearing makeup. Thanks to menopause, many of us will still suffer with spots or oily patches, along with some dryness as our hormone levels fluctuate. 

I've been using this primer for the past couple of months, and I don't know how I did without it. I can tell the difference if I've missed this step out of my make-up routine, as my foundation applies dry and patchy without it.

As it's creamy in consistency, I'll usually apply with a stippling brush to all areas of my face and allow for it to dry slightly before applying my foundation. The scent took some getting used to, as it's a fairly strong citrus scent, but it's not unpleasant.

Pros

  • Plumps the skin
  • Lifted feel
  • Contains vitamins

Cons

  • Quite a strong scent

Best face primer for sensitive skin

Clinique Even Better™ Light Reflecting  PrimerClinique

For those with sensitive skin, the Clinique Even Better™ Light Reflecting Primer is a great choice, as it’s more gentle on the skin than other brands. It has an illuminating, lightweight formula, which is really noticeable when applied. In fact, as one reviewer pointed out, this makes it perfect for creating a really dewy, natural look across the face, neck, and shoulders: 

“I use it under my makeup where I would usually apply my highlighter, and it makes my skin so glowy all day, without looking sparkly. I've also been dabbing it on my cheekbones over the top of my makeup for a more natural highlight, as well as my collar bones and shoulders."

Pros

  • Fragrance-free
  • Suitable for all skin types
  • Packed with vitamin C and hyaluronic acid

Cons

  • May be too glowy for some

Best face primer for uneven skin tone

best-face-primer-for-mature skin
Price: $33.65

I used this colour-correcting Rosalique 3-in-1 Anti-Redness Miracle Formula primer on a relative who has Rosacea before applying her foundation, and it definitely made a difference to the red tone in her skin. However, a little goes a long way with this product, and you definitely don't need a lot on your brush, as it's VERY pigmented. 

She has sensitive skin and had no reaction to this product at all. We loved that this product also contained SPF to protect the skin against the sun's rays. It's important to protect the skin from the sun anyway, but especially for those with uneven skin tones, like Rosacea, or pigmentation in the case of age spots and moles.

Pros

  • Evens out redness in the skin
  • Can be used under foundation or alone
  • SPF 50 protection

Cons

  • If you use too much, there's a green cast

Best face primer for long-wear

An issue we often find with primers is that they just don’t seem to last, but the Urban Decay All Nighter Face Primer is designed for long wear to boost your foundation’s staying power. 

One customer described it as “The only primer that truly works to keep makeup on for 12 hours,” calling it the best primer ever before adding “Makeup looks just as fresh and vibrant after 12 hours, like it was just applied.” It's also surprisingly affordable and does a fab job of smoothing out the skin.

Pros

  • Vegan friendly
  • Fantastic staying power
  • Lifted feel

Cons

  • Better to wear under makeup than on its own

Best face primer for luxury

best-face-primer-for-mature skin
Price: $57
Alternative retailers
Sephora$24.00View offer
Neiman Marcus$24.00View offer
Walmart$38.99View offer

The high-end Hourglass Veil Primer has a price tag to match, but reviews have said that a little goes a very long way (we would hope so, too!). It’s free from parabens and goes on silky smooth to offer a subtle glow. 

If you’re already a fan of Hourglass products, this is one for you to add to the collection, as this review highlights: “This primer is another classic I'll be using from now on. It gives foundation a great base, covers pores and adds a nice glow to my make up which lasts all day. Highly recommend, a little goes a long way too."

Pros

  • Vegan-friendly
  • Suitable for all skin types
  • SPF 15 protection

Cons

  • Some felt the packaging could have been better for the price point

Best face primer for pore coverage

best-face-primer-for-mature skin
Price: $32
Alternative retailers
Kohl's$15.00View offer
Sephora$15.00View offer
Macy's$15.00View offer
Bloomingdale's$15.00View offer

In all honesty, the Benefit The POREfessional Primer is not one I use often. But if I feel my pores are particularly noticeable that day, I'll use some of this around my nose and cheeks along with the Bobbi Brown Vitamin Enriched Face Base on the rest of my face. 

Although it comes out of the tube tinted, it applies translucent. It's very lightweight in consistency and glides over your skin. It creates a blurred and mattifying effect which does make the pores less noticeable. I imagine this would be a good primer to use with fine lines as it almost fills the space in the skin.

Pros

  • Blurring and mattifying effect
  • Minimises pores and wrinkles
  • Contains vitamins

Cons

  • Staying power isn't as good as competitors

Best face primer for a blurring effect

The Touche Éclat line from Yves Saint Laurent is a much-loved by many beauty fans. The YSL Touche Éclat Blur Primer has a lightweight gel consistency, and reviews noted that “a little goes a long way on the skin.” 

It has a subtle and fresh fragrance, and it works really well, as noted in many positive reviews such as this one: “It evened out my skin tone wonderfully and lasted all day. I use it mainly on its own and it gives me that no makeup look. It also makes my foundation look natural when I do use it with makeup.”

Pros

  • Blurring effect
  • Great for wearing on its own
  • Light reflective

Cons

  • Silicone gel primers aren't for everyone

Best face primer for a dewy finish

If creating a glow under your foundation is your main concern, the Charlotte Tilbury Wonderglow Face Primer works to provide a dewy finish for younger-looking skin, as reviewers have noted: “I have been using this primer for a while now, and it is a staple in my makeup kit. I’m 66 years old and am constantly getting compliments on how good I look."

This primer contains Hyaluronic Acid to hydrate the skin and rosehip oil to reduce inflammation. Combined, these vegan friendly ingredients produce a lovely subtle glow, suitable for wearing alone or under makeup. You can even vary it according to season, as this reviewer does: “I wear it alone with just a light dusting of powder in the summer and under foundation in the winter.”

Pros

  • Vegan friendly
  • Hydrating ingredients
  • Clinically tested

Cons

  • Tinted finish

Best face primer for reducing appearance of wrinkles

The Elizabeth Arden Flawless Start Instant Perfecting Primer is a great choice for a woman with mature skin, with reviewers noting: “I love this product, it softens the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Foundation goes on very smoothly."

The blurring and smoothing effects of this primer not only reduce the look of fine lines, but it also helps with long-lasting coverage of your makeup. It’s also suitable for all skin types and tones.

Pros

  • Suitable for all skin types
  • Minimises pores and wrinkles
  • Clinically tested

Cons

  • Not as popular as other brands

FAQs: Best face primer for mature skin

What type of primer is best for my skin type?

Oily skin: When it comes to oily skin, often a mattifying primer is the best choice, as this reduces the shine before applying your foundation. A face powder for mature skin will also help keep you shine-free.

Dry skin: When it comes to dry skin, the best primer you could choose is a hydrating, illuminating or moisturising primer. These bring moisture back into the skin, meaning your foundation is less likely to become patchy and dry. An illuminating primer will give your skin a glowy, dewy finish.

Combination skin: It's possible for you to mix different primers together for the desired look. Or, you may want to apply two different primers to different areas of the face. For example, a mattifying primer around the area of the forehead, laugh lines and chin. An illuminating primer would be great to highlight the cheekbones.

Sensitive skin: Avoid anything with a strong fragrance, and always do a patch test before applying to the face. Shop from brands that specialise in sensitive skin, like No7, Clinique, or La Roche-Posay.

Uneven skin tone: CC cream for mature skin, colour correcting, or tinted primer is best for uneven skin tone or pigmentation. If you have areas of redness in your skin, a primer with a green tint will balance out the redness in your skin.

We ask the expert

We spoke to skincare expert, Alexandra Hayes from Simone Thomas Wellness and makeup artist (MUA), Saffron Hughes at FalseEyelashes.co.uk about the best face primer for mature skin.

Is primer good for wrinkles?

"There are primers for all skin types, including those best suited to reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles," Saffron explains. "While there are many different types of primer, they all aim to create the perfect, even canvas for your make-up."

"With mature skin, it can be tempting to opt for a heavier, pore-filling primer in the hopes that it will 'fill' fine lines, but layering heavier make-up can actually cause make-up to become cakey and exaggerate texture. The best-kept secret for youthful skin is hydration. A hydrating primer will smooth out texture on the skin, as well as create that 'glow from within' appearance."

Is primer just the same as moisturiser?

"Primers are formulated using larger molecules and this is so it can sit on top of your skin, as opposed to being absorbed into the pores," says skin expert Alexandra.

"The best moisturisers are made with small molecules so that they can absorb into and treat the multiple layers of the epidermis, so a primer should be used on top of moisturiser to prepare the skin for makeup lasting longer and looking its best."

Surprisingly, even though the two products are similar, there can be differences in how they perform. Take BB creams and CC creams for example. Knowing the difference between the two will help you make an educated decision on what the best choice for your skin is.

Does primer really make a difference?

"If done correctly, yes!" Saffron, MUA, says. "Moisturiser should be applied before primer and left to fully sink into the skin. You can then go in with whichever type of primer you wish to use, be it pore-filling, hydrating or mattifying.

"A tactic often used by make-up artists is to prime in zones, meaning they will use different primers on their face depending on the skin concern in each area. For example, you may use a mattifying primer on the areas that get the most oily throughout the day and prime with a hydrating primer in the under eye area if they're particularly dry."

"However, it's important to cleanse your skin after wearing your make-up" Skincare Expert, Alexandra, advises. "As with all products, at the end of the day make sure you cleanse your skin and don’t go to bed with your make-up and primer still on as your complexion won’t thank you!"

Meet the expert:

This article contains expert advice from Skincare Expert Alexandra Hayes at Simone Thomas Wellness and Makeup Artist, Saffron Hughes at FalseEyelashes.co.uk.

Samantha 'Sam' Price is a Beauty, Fashion & Wellness Products Writer at Yours magazine. In 2021, Sam began her journey as a Storytelling Executive at Closer and heatworld on an internship, creating beauty and fashion content across these brands. It was 2022 when Sam was employed as a Commercial Content Writer writing about Family Life on Yours, Mother & Baby and Spirit & Destiny. Now, she specialises in beauty, fashion and wellness content across many brands.

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