Although they may seem harmless enough, and we’ll do our best to play Switzerland here, primers are a very triggering category of
makeup and skincare within the beauty industry. I know plenty of makeup artists and fellow beauty editors who absolutely swear by them, and I know just as many who absolutely loathe them. For those who love them, primers are the ultimate way to ensure a smooth, oil- and budge-free makeup application. But for those who despise them, they’re just a needless and often disappointing extra step in your routine.
We won’t tell you which camp to pitch a tent in, because honestly, whether or not you’ll stan a makeup primer mainly comes down to personal preference regarding skin concerns, the kind of finish you seek, the bandwidth of your beauty budget, and more. That said, if the only thing stopping you from experimenting or investing in a primer is a limited spending quota, we have great news: Some of the best primer formulas in the business can be found at the drugstore or with drugstore-compatible prices. (Think $20 and under!)
From primers for your lids to primers for your face and lips, all of our favorite drugstore beauty brands have come to our rescue, launching complexion-improving formulas that you’ll love if you’re already camp primer and which might just convert you if you’re not. Ahead, we’re rolling out our 15 beloved primers found at three of our favorite drugstore-offering beauty retailers: Amazon, Walmart, and Dermstore. Keep scrolling!
Great for: minimizing the look of pores. It’s no secret Maybelline is one of the most iconic drugstore beauty brands on the planet. Its Baby Skin collection is an editor favorite, especially. If you’re going for a matte, virtually pore-less finish, work this into your skin in lieu of or on top of your moisturizer, and pre-foundation and concealer.
Great for: on-the-go touch-ups. Nothing is more annoying than applying a perfect face of makeup in the morning and then getting to your car (or the office, ugh!) only to realize you’ve gone creasy and melty. However, this innovative and multi-tasking blurring stick from Milani is here to save the day. It effortlessly fits into every sized bag and works to blur away fine lines, suck up extra oil, and work as a pre-foundation primer to extend your makeup wear from the get-go. (Hopefully, you won’t even need a touch-up!)
Great for: every single skin tone. Similar to the ever-annoying issue with some sunscreens, primers can sometimes alter the natural cast and undertones of our skin—not good. To ensure a glowy, airbrushed finish (sans ashiness), this HD-ready drugstore primer is great worn alone or as the perfect canvas for foundation. Plus, it’s oil-free and infused with an extra punch of SPF to bolster the sunscreen you’re already wearing underneath. (Or that you should be.)
Great for: a soft (not sparkly) glow. Okay, I may be biased, but this as a beauty editor who has tried (and disliked) almost every primer under the sun, this drugstore formula is a standout. I actually use it in my regular makeup rotation. Whenever I wear it, I never feel like I need to swipe a filter over my face, and it’s great for adding a subtle and believable luminosity to your skin! It helps calm the look of redness, is steeped in antioxidants, and features five filtering luminescent pearls for that blurring perk I mentioned.
Great for: keeping your lipstick from melting off your face. A perfect lipstick application is hard enough any time of the year, but it starts to feel especially impossible come summer. However, if you swipe this brilliant pencil from NYX all over your lips before you go in with your lip liners, sticks, and glosses, you’ll have a feather-, fade-, and chap-free application on your hands this season. Oh, and did we mention this drugstore primer is less than $5?
Great for: summer sun protection. I recently tried this drugstore primer/sunscreen hybrid for a five-product makeup tutorial on IG with Who What Wear and Walmart. To be honest, my expectations were low and thanks to the sunscreen addition, I was worried this primer would feel far too heavy and cloying under my foundation. But I was so, so wrong and have found myself using it pretty regularly since. It’s surprisingly lightweight, makes your skin look bright and glowy sans oil, and gives your makeup application an A+ finish worthy of a professional job. It’s seriously impressive.
Great for: age-related concerns. For those seeking a best-of-the-best drugstore primer that will not only make your face look pore- and oil-free but brighter and more youthful, look no further. We love this hydrating and advanced formula for filling in the look of fine lines and helping reduce other age-related qualms like pigmentation over time.
Great for: color-correcting. The art of color-correcting is all about the act of naturalization, and adding green to curb redness is one of the best pro makeup tips we’ve picked up over the years. Not surprisingly, countless primers and makeup products are modeled after the benefit. This drugstore favorite primer and CC cream from Rimmel is the perfect antidote for those with sensitive or quick-to-flush skin. It’s also lightweight enough not to exacerbate blemish-prone skin.
Great for: keeping your greasy lids in check. Eye shadow primers are one of those annoying products you never think you have to but, but once you try them, you never go back. We’d go as far as to say this $8 formula from Flower Beauty is as talented at keeping our shadow locked in place as a far more expensive (and cult-loved formula.) Since you’re likely to go through a product like this pretty fast, we recommend saving versus splurging!
Great for: skin that’s as dry as the Sahara. So many primers on the market are geared toward mattifying away excess oil, which, while totally reasonable, isn’t exactly fantastic for those with dry, flake-prone skin. If you’re someone who’s after a velvety-smooth complexion that’s hydrated and chap-free, we recommend opting for Aveeno’s rich serum hybrid, which has all the hydrating and skin-perfecting perks of a serum, combined with the makeup- and endurance-perfecting benefits of a primer.
Great for: healing and reducing the look of scarring. Technically, we wouldn’t call Dermaflage a drugstore, but price-wise, it’s comparable and boasts an amazing formula, so we couldn’t not include it in our roundup. The brand is known for its spectrum of formulas specifically formulated to help health (and expertly conceal) the look of scarring, and this primer does just that in addition to soothing and smoothing the skin thanks to ingredients like lavender oil. Fun fact: The brand was previously only available at dermatologist and plastic surgeons offices.
Great for: a 24K glow. If you’re on part of Camp Glow versus Matte, this gold-flecked mineral primer potion (try saying that 10 times fast!) will be your ultimate skin and makeup sidekick. It’s reasonably priced, boosts your complexion with a subtle sunkissed shimmer, and also boasts extra brightening skin perks like vitamin C, orange fruit oil, peptides, and antioxidants.
Great for: um, everything? We struggled to land on this primer’s most promising strength, so we just decided to throw in the towel and commend all of its wonderful skin and priming perks. It smoothes, soothes, conditions, controls oil, and shine, and also feels magically lightweight. It’s a tad more expensive than some of the other best drugstore primers on our list, but then again, you’re killing way more birds with your stone.
Great for: the pimple-prone. Again, technically DHC (a fave Japanese beauty brand hailing from Tokyo) isn’t drugstore, but its prices are affordable and its formulas are fantastic, so don’t fight us here. This primer option comes in at less than $20 and is specifically formulated by the brand to tackle issues of excess grease, oil, and acne. Your T-zone will stay matte for hours, and the rest of your makeup will remain smudge- and move-proof to boot.
Great for: the French beauty hoarder. No drugstore beauty roundup would ever be complete without a staple from French favorite La Roche-Posay, and while this is the spendiest drugstore primer in our bunch, it might also boast the most benefits number-wise. It’s packed with SPF 50 (the brand consistently wins best-of awards for its sunscreen formulations) and also primes skin pre-foundation to look and feel silky smooth sans the oil and grease of so many sunscreens. Next up: The $20-and-Under Eye Creams That Will Make Your Skin Look Like a Million Bucks