Thursday, May 16, 2013

Do I Need This? Eyeshadow Primer (with comparison, reviews, and photos of seven primers)

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Here is the latest installment of "Do I Need This?", a series about new and trendy beauty products (or just those that might be unfamiliar and baffling to both of us). I'll offer my experience and opinion about whether or not I think the product under consideration is worth shelling out for. Obviously, you don't need ANY beauty products, so the answer is always going to be no, a little bit. But is it going to change your life (or face)? Is it going to make things easier? Are you going to notice any difference at all if you use it? That's what I'm getting at. You may disagree with my verdict, because we all have different bodies/faces/brains/desires, but I'll try to give you a starting point at least.

Short answer: Yes, if you wear eyeshadow or eyeliner.
What is it?
This is probably self-explanatory. Eyeshadow primer is something you apply to your eyelids prior to putting on eye makeup, and it is designed to make the application of your makeup better and longer-lasting. And yes, if you wear eyeshadow or liner at all, ever, primer will make it approximately 1 million times better, regardless of your skin type, provided you find one that does what you need/want it to do. Primer can keep eyeshadow from fading and creasing, or intensify it, or both. The first part is the most important - the second can be nice, but it can also make the shadow harder to blend. Seriously, I thought cream eyeshadow was pretty much useless, but primer is what makes it useable. Everything will crease on me eventually without primer. With the right primer, I can do anything.

Here's my deal: I have oily/combination skin, and my eyelids will get a little oily, though nothing major, after a few hours. Even with powder eyeshadow, I can't go more than 4 or 5 hours before it ends up all caked into creases and patchy everywhere else. It's fucking annoying. So primer is a must for me. But not all primers are created equal! Basically, I think (almost) any primer is better than no primer, but I thought I would do a big comparison to see if the more expensive brands actually work better than the cheap shit. Recently there have been more and more affordable primer options available, so you really can get one for just about any price.

I've been planning this post for months, and finally the weather is good enough that I could take nice photos in my brightly-lit sun porch, which makes them so much better. In the meantime, some of my favorite makeup blogs have done primer comparison posts (e.g. Makeup Withdrawal, Project Swatch), so check these out if you want to compare even more brands than what I have to show you here. I am including the 7 primers that I own, which range in price from $1-$21. I've tested each of these on my eyes at least twice for at least 8 hours at a time.

Here are swatches of an eyeshadow I have that is particularly difficult to get good coverage from without primer: CoverGirl Eye Enhancers in Indigo Impact. I let each of the primers set for about 1 minute before adding the eyeshadow. Each swatch is two swipes with a sponge applicator. The primers are arranged in order from least to most expensive.

In natural light, left to right: (1) no primer, (2) e.l.f. Essential Eyelid Primer, (3) NYX HD Eye Shadow Base, (4) NYX Eye Shadow Base in White, (5) Urban Decay Eyeshadow Primer Potion in Eden, (6) Too Faced Shadow Insurance, (7) LORAC Behind The Scenes Eye Primer
With flash, left to right: (1) no primer, (2) e.l.f. Essential Eyelid Primer, (3) NYX HD Eye Shadow Base, (4) NYX Eye Shadow Base in White, (5) Urban Decay Eyeshadow Primer Potion in Eden, (6) Too Faced Shadow Insurance, (7) LORAC Behind The Scenes Eye Primer
In natural light, left to right: (left) no primer,
(8) Wet N Wild Fergie Take On The Day Eyeshadow Primer
And here are some closer looks at the first 7 swatches:
In natural light, left to right: (1) no primer, (2) e.l.f. Essential Eyelid Primer, (3) NYX HD Eye Shadow Base
In natural light, left to right: (4) NYX Eye Shadow Base in White, (5) Urban Decay Eyeshadow Primer Potion in Eden, (6) Too Faced Shadow Insurance, (7) LORAC Behind The Scenes Eye Primer
2. e.l.f. Essential Eyelid Primer in Sheer ($1): This primer dries completely matte, and it is smooth and easy to blend your eyeshadow on top of it. It's translucent, but it does leave some pale beige color behind, which might be more noticeable on darker skin. It does intensify shadow, though not as strongly as some of the other primers tested here. It keeps things in place for me with oily lids (i.e. no creasing and minimal fading) for 8+ hours.

3. NYX HD Eye Shadow Base ($7): This primer does not set quickly. It stays creamy: in the photo with flash above, what looks like shimmer is just the texture of the primer, which has not dried down after several minutes. This is one of the sheerer primers, but it is hard to apply shadow over it without it being patchy and not blending smoothly, due to the sticky/wet texture. It's also not very intensifying. However, once I got it on, it allowed my eyeshadow to last for more than 8 hours with no creasing or fading.

4. NYX Eye Shadow Base in White ($7): I've seen recommendations on other blogs to use the white NYX shadow pencil under bright shadows to bring out the color better. I thought that I'd try this primer and get a sort of 2-in-1. This one is weird. It's the only primer I have that comes in a pot, rather than a tube. The texture is very firm, and it smells like a bar of soap. Odd. None of the others have any scent at all. I don't generally want to put perfumey shit right up by my eyes. It also doesn't set fast and stays creamy like the other NYX primer, though it's not as wet to begin with. The white does provide a good background for bright shadows, but when you're using it as a primer, this means that you have to cover it entirely with eyeshadow or it will look weird, whereas with more translucent primers, it doesn't matter if you sheer/blend out your shadow around the edges. This detail makes it less versatile. I didn't experience any creasing with this stuff, but my eyeshadow did start to fade within the first 2 hours. It also seemed to make my eyes itch a little, maybe because of the fragrance. Although you can get this in shades other than white, I wouldn't recommend it, overall.

5. Urban Decay Primer Potion in Eden ($20): This is a great primer. It's smooth and easy to apply, and it sets quickly. Eden is a fairly opaque yellowish beige, which makes a nice base color (for my pale skin at least), without looking weird if you don't cover it completely with other eyeshadow. In fact, you could use this alone, if you wanted to.  You can also get Primer Potion in other shades, including sheer, which work as well. This one intensifies eyeshadow very well, and it maintains a smooth, non-sticky surface, so that application of your eyeshadow is easy. It works very well for keeping things in place: no creasing, no fading, no complaints at all.

6. Too Faced Shadow Insurance ($20): This primer is very sheer and sets quickly. It intensifies color, but it's not as smooth to apply shadow over as the Urban Decay. I got 8 hours of wear without any creasing or fading.

7. LORAC Behind The Scenes Eye Primer ($21): This primer applied totally invisible and dries matte. It intensifies really well, maybe the best of all the primers I've tested. Unfortunately the same quality that makes the shadow intense also makes it much more difficult to apply smoothly and blend out. I also don't like the applicator (a squeeze tube with a flat, angled top), because it's hard to not squeeze out too much at a time. I had a little bit of fading after 6 hours or so, but no creasing.

8. Wet N Wild Fergie Take On The Day Eyeshadow Primer ($5): After I'd swatched and tested all my primers, I found that I was disappointed in the selection, especially on the more affordable side. I had picked up those NYX primers initially for that reason, but I didn't like either of them much. So I decided to try out the Wet N Wild primer, and I'm glad I did. Anyway, the reason it's photographed separately is that I didn't have it yet when I swatched the first six. The Wet N Wild primer sets quickly, though not as quickly as the e.l.f. primer. It's very good for intensifying, and it's not difficult to blend if you give it 30 seconds or so to dry before you apply your eyeshadow. It's translucent, almost invisible, though some pale color might show up on dark skin. I had absolutely no creasing or fading after 8 or more hours. It really, really keeps things in place. You might find that the product has separated a bit before your first use, so give it a good shake - but even if it's a little watery, it works just as well. After I shook it the first time, it didn't separate again in 2 weeks.

So what do I recommend? For your money, I'd go with either the e.l.f. or the Wet N Wild. Not everyone likes the e.l.f., so if you do go that direction and it doesn't work out, just call it a dollar lost and try the Wet N Wild. As far as I'm concerned, the Wet N Wild is as good as any of the higher end primers. Honestly, I like the WNW better than the LORAC and about the same as the Too Faced. I like the smooth texture of the Urban Decay better, but I don't think it's four times better than the WNW. Another affordable option that I haven't tried (and won't, since I have way too fucking much primer as it is, obviously) is Milani's, which is also supposed to be good.

But as with all cosmetics, your skin type, skin color, your hopes and dreams, and all sorts of other shit are all going to determine which one you like best. Hopefully I've given you some sense of where each of these excels or fails, but if you are desperate for an expensive primer, at least test it out at Sephora or ULTA or something first. And I mean, make sure you test it for a full day to see how things hold up, since that's the main purpose of the primer in the first place. Then buy it on sale! Urban Decay has a good sale section where primers sometimes appear, along with additional promotions fairly frequently.

Do you use eyeshadow primer? Which type do you prefer?

(Update: See additional swatches and review of another e.l.f primer and Nars eyeshadow base here.)


  1. Lol, your writing style is awesome!

  2. This is great. :D
    Your analysis was fair, and your writing style is particularly engaging. :D

  3. This is a great post.

    I had the same experience with the NYX, but what I do that helps is I actually use a normal primer underneath and the just add a thin coat of the NYX to help the shadow some pop and give it something a little sticky to hold on to.
    Since my skin is dark, having a white or colored base is a necessity to maintain the integrity of the shadow color.
    Also haven't had any problems with creasing or fading using it like that.

    1. That's a good idea, and good to know, thanks it's just too bad that the primer needs a primer. So many steps!

  4. Omg, thanks for this review! I ordered the NYX HD primer (the one in the tube) before reading this. Should have googled first!

  5. I've heard rave review on ELF primer. So, i just got myself one and tried it. I used a pencil eyeliner (UD All Nighter Eyeliner) and it started smearing after 2 hours! I have oily eyelids and I may be a little impatient. How long do I have to wait for the primer to set in?

    1. I don't really wait for any set amount of time. Maybe an average of 1-2 minutes? I've had better luck with the primer keeping powder shadows in place than eyeliners, for the most part, though I haven't noticed any major problems like that with eyeliners. I know that some people just don't get along with UD liners - I've seen very negative reviews of them in terms of their longevity, while they seem to last forever for other people. It might be some kind of personal body/skin chemistry thing that's causing either the primer or the eyeliner not to work for you. If the primer doesn't work for you with any products, you might just have to experiment with a different one. If it works with other things but not this liner, it might be the liner's fault. Hope you find something functional!

  6. Oh! Thank you for this review. Really practical for most of the readers!

    ~Pauline @Kallony

  7. Great article. Informative and laughed my ass off. Now, do you have one for eyeshadow? I apologize if it's out there and I missed it.

    1. What kind of eyeshadow post are you looking for? I haven't done a comparison of a lot of brands all at once. But apparently I have 47 posts tagged "eyeshadow" according to the list in the sidebar! More than I thought.

  8. Hi. Where can we get Wet N Wild Fergie Take On The Day Eyeshadow Primer? I don't see that anywhere in watson or John little.


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