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Battle of the Bases: Foundation Primers for Every Skin Type

By Amalah

Ahh, foundation primer. I remember my exact thoughts the first time I looked at the wee sample of Smashbox Photo Finish in my Sephora bag. “This,” I thought, “is a load of horseshit.”
And then I tried you, cynically and with a nasty-looking crease in my forehead, and behold! I loved you. I loved how smooth and even you made my skin look and feel. I loved how fresh and long-lasting my foundation looked and wore over you, and I loved — LOVED — how much you reduced oil and shine.
Yes, it’s been a good ride, foundation primer. But I’ve learned one thing: you aren’t one size fits all. Like every other cosmetic product in the whole fool world, different skin types need different primers. Shocking, I know. I am a geeeeenius.
So now, I present: Foundation Primers for Every Skin Type, Including Skin That Doesn’t Actually Wear Foundation, Like, Did I Just Blow Your Mind?
clarins%20primer.jpgBest Foundation Primer for Dry/Sensitive/Aging Skin: Clarins Instant Smooth Perfecting Touch, $27.50
So I started using this one over the summer, thanks to a recommendation from Sheryl. It took me a few days to get used to the application (hint! ignore the stupid plastic spatula thing; you will totally use too much product with it.). I used waaaay too much at first and whoa, Nelly, I could literally feel the primer and my makeup sliiiiiiiding off my face in the mid-day heat. Once I got the hang of how much to use, I no longer had this problem. But I noticed that while I loved (LOVED, L-O-V-E-D) how the Clarins looked and felt on my cheeks and around the fine lines around my eyes, it was just too much for my oily t-zone. The packaging promises to reduce enlarged pores, but unfortunately, it had the opposite effect on mine.
But there is no denying that it is GREAT on fine lines — better than the Smashbox version with Dermaxyl Complex. It’s also insanely rich and creamy, which is why I think it went on so well on the dry patches on my cheeks. My makeup (liquid AND powder) stayed put, looked even and stayed OUT of my wrink…COUGH…laugh lines.
smashbox%20primer.jpgBest Foundation Primer for Normal/Combination Skin: Smashbox Photo Finish in Original, $36
This remains a love-it-or-hate-it recommendation of mine, for reasons that I now believe have to do with different skin types OR EVEN different moisturizers and foundations. Some other products don’t quite jibe with the ingredients in foundation primers, resulting in a pilly, slippery mess instead of the silky smooth canvas us primer devotees are always blathering on about. So no matter what primer you are thinking of buying, try it out first. Preferably WITH a fresh application of your regular moisturizer and foundation.
Regardless, I stand by the Smashbox. (Hand over heart, bottom lip quivering, taking this all entirely too seriously.) If you’re just looking for that extra bit of help to even out your skintone, or are having issues with your makeup not lasting past happy hour, Smashbox does it up right. Got a little oil/shine problem, but nothing too serious? Smashbox will SUCK UP THAT NONSENSE.
brandt%20primer.jpgBest Foundation Primer for Oily/Congested Skin: Dr. Brandt Pores No More, $45
OK, so this recommendation is a little…off the wall, I suppose, since 1) Pores No More is not marketed OR labeled as a foundation primer, and 2) I have hated hated hated every other product I’ve tried from the Dr. Brandt line. EXCEPT this stuff. Which…I have decided is a foundation primer. And a downright kick-ass foundation primer at that.
I tried this stuff first as a sample, then sacked up and bought a bottle. And at first, I was not super-enamored with it. It suffers from Big Box/Small Bottle Packaging, which I hate. I HATE. And although the bottle does NOT say that you should shake it first, you totally need to shake it first. The first two times I tried to use it, all that squirted out was a separated, oily mess. Once I shook the bottle up, all was as it should be. (But at $45 a bottle, I do not want to lose two whole applications. I will be angry about losing two whole applications. Still. Even now, after 30 problem-free applications.)
But. Dudes. My pores. My blackheads. After one month, they are so, so, so teeny. Since this stuff really ISN’T a primer, it’s a little bit medicated, so instead of just being an extra layer of crap you slather on your face, it actually does some good. But it does produce the same silky-smoothness, foundation-for-your-foundation of the Clarins and Smashbox.
My favorite part, though, is that it’s tinted, so it provides a nice basement-level concealer for your pores and blackheads and really evens out your skintone — way better than the Smashbox tinted varieties, I have to say. You can even wear this stuff by itself. So if you DON’T wear foundation but just want a little something to shrink/conceal your pores, BUY THIS. NOW.

Published December 16, 2007. Last updated December 16, 2007.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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