How To Choose an Eye Shadow Primer
There are 2 things that eyeshadow primer does for you:
- Provide a tacky base for powder pigments to cling to so the colors and textures look more intense and true
- Keep eye shadow in place and protect from fading, creasing, smudging, and smearing through normal wear and tear
When choosing your preferred primer, it’s important to bear both of these in mind.
There are many products on the market that are used as primers even though they aren’t necessarily called that. You can break them up by:
- Sheer/skintone/colorless ones like Too Faced Eye shadow Insurance, Urban Decay Primer Potion, and Lime Crime Eyeshadow Helper. These tend to go with any shadow shade. Too Faced and Urban Decay also have shimmery versions but I personally prefer the originals as they go with any shadow.
- Strong colored ones that are pretty much eyeshadows in their own right, like MAC Paint Pots, MAC Paints or e.l.f. Essential Duo Eye Shadow Cream. These add intensity and dimension to shadows because you have two layers of pigments instead of one. But these won’t make your shadows color-true because they either have shimmer (matte shadows don’t look good over shimmery primers) or color (if you pack a pale blue over a black base, it will not be color-true).
- Silicone-based: Dries down quickly and is hard to blend or budge after. (Most bases and primers in the market fall within this category.) These will last for hours but you need to apply your shadows fast or they will not grab pigments as well once they are fully dried and set.
- Cream-based: Does not set so you can take your time blending for a perfect finish, but will still smear and shift if rubbed (MAC Cream Color Base). These grab shadow pigments more evenly and intensely, but may be less long-lasting if you have oily lids.
- Always start with clean lids if you want your primer to go on smooth and your shadow to last all day.
- Use a flat synthetic brush if you want precision and more even coverage. Uneven primer = uneven shadow later. Spread on as thin and even a layer as you can.
- **IMPORTANT: It’s better to apply shadow before your primer has set and dried completely. The bit of remaining moisture is what will grab your shadow pigments and give them that really intense finish, and your shadow will meld with the primer and lock into place much longer.
- If you like to take your time, apply primer to one eye and do that one eye before you move on to apply primer onto the other. Otherwise, the primer will have been sitting for 5 minutes before you applied any shadow to it, and one eye will look more intense than the other. Of course this doesn’t work for complicated looks where you need to check one side against the other at every step.
- To get maximum depth and intensity for a particular color, get a base that is in a very similar color tone. (E.g. I used Copper metallic pigment above over various bases. The most intense looking one is over MAC Constructivist Paint Pot, because I’m layering a metallic brown over another deep metallic brown.)
- If you’re using multiple colors and need all of them to pop and look vibrant, your best bet is to get a white base. NYX’s Milk Jumbo pencil is a popular choice as a base for bright shadows, but it is very creamy, and can shift and crease if your lids get oily through the day. You can try a white liquid foundation like one from Stargazer, because they have the right amount of slip to grab onto shadow, but dry down quickly after that. (Plus, it’s so cheap and you get TONS of product in each bottle.)
I did a simple smudge test where I used a clean finger and ran it vigorously over the eye shadow swatches to see how much they smudged or transferred. If you are using a primer that is not included here, remember this is just a reference as to the general performance of each TYPE of base against the other!
1. Bare skin:
Color-intensity is low. Smudges, spreads out easily when rubbed. Transfers onto finger very quickly. Will smear and fade easily. Really don’t suggest wearing your shadows this way as they aren’t going to look good by the end of the day, unless you bring your shadow out to touch-up, which is such a chore.
2. [Best for balancing color intensity and wear] MAC Paint Pot:
Color-intensity is moderate if you buy a flesh colored one, but you have the option of buying paint pots that match particular shadows in order to get an intense look. This does last quite well though. No/Minimal smudging outside of the swatch’s borders, but had moderate transfer onto the finger when rubbed, so this means it will fade a bit over the day.
*Also note that Paint Pots tend to dry out in the pot and you will need to add a bit of glycerin or silicone oil (which I prefer as it won’t breed bacteria) to soften and reactivate it.
3. [Best for Long Wear] Lime Crime Eye Shadow Helper:
Color-intensity is moderate. No/Minimal smudging outside of the swatch’s border, and surprisingly, very little transfer onto the finger when rubbed. In fact, after I applied a facial scrub to my arm to wash off the makeup, this was the only swatch that stubbornly remained after TWO rounds of scrubbing. I had to use an oil-based remover to break it down. I’d heard gossmakeupartist (Wayne Goss) on Youtube raving about this before but since I don’t have oily lids, I never figured out what the deal was. If you struggle with fading and creasing, this one is definitely worth trying!
4. [Best for color intensity] White foundation:
Color-intensity is high and pigments stay color-true. But smudged moderately when rubbed, and transferred onto finger. Better for those who do not need a primer to control oily lids, and just want maximum color intensity.