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Price Tag Cage Match: Boots No7 Make-up Base vs. Everything Else

By Amalah

Review of Boots No7 Make-up Base
So I was wandering the cosmetics aisles in Target the other day and came across what looked like one of my 2008 wishes come true — a drugstore-brand foundation primer. Specifically, Boots No7 Mattifying Make-Up Base, priced at a delicious $9.99.
Now, Target brags that Boots is the U.K.’s number-one cosmetics line, and why would Target lie to a person? Of course, if we were to export the U.S.’s number-one line, I’m guessing we’d be talking…Maybelline? Or Cover Girl? But still. $9.99! For a nice-sized bottle! I practically did a little jig right there.
no7%20colour%20calming%20makeup%20base.jpgBoots has two primers — a basic white cream and a green-tinted correcting version for overly-red complexions. I tested the green one on the back of my hand and…holy lord, is that stuff GREEN. It didn’t absorb very much and made my skin look sickly and, well, green. There’s no way my face needs that much tint, so I opted for the other one.
And I’m just going to skip all the crap and tell you now: I’ve used this stuff over two different moisturizers and under three different foundations. And. It’s awful. Possibly one of the worst products I’ve tried in awhile, and I am kind of baffled. Did anyone…like, try this stuff before they bottled it up for sale?
A good foundation primer can do any number of helpful things. It can fill in and minimize fine lines, absorb oil and shine, even out a blotchy skin tone AND keep your foundation out of your pores to prevent blemishes. Even if you love your moisturizer and foundation, adding the right primer is like installing a supercharger under the hood of your Lamborghini.
No7%20Mattifying%20MakeUp%20Base.jpgThe Boots base does not seem to do any of these things. While it comes out of the bottle like a cream, it smears on very dry and streaky — like a diaper rash cream with cornstarch. I couldn’t figure out if I was supposed to keep rubbing it in (like the green version, it doesn’t absorb easily) or leave the white gunk visible on my skin. After using it, my fingers are covered with white pilly bumps and my face looks flaky and dry…but the flakes are actually the primer.
When applying liquid foundation over a primer like Smashbox or Clarins, your skin’s surface should be silky and impossibly smooth. It’s very easy to get an even, natural-looking coat of make-up. Applying my Sue Devitt over the Boots was like…man, I still can’t come up with a good metaphor. Like putting makeup on a dirty car? Or a cinderblock? My make-up was streaky and the Boots base pilled up MORE with every stroke of the foundation brush or my fingers. Everything was just dry, dry and more dry.
It does live up to one of its promises, however, which is no shine or oil. Since the stuff goes on sooooo dry it absorbs every speck of oil your face may produce during the day. So perhaps if your face is oily (and I mean EXTREMELY oily, like one big oil slick all day and all night), this stuff might work for you.
With the anti-shine factor in mind, I pulled out some powdered Bare Escentuals foundation and tried that over the Boots. (I get really shiny with the mineral make-ups if I don’t prime first.) And…yuck. I took extra care to fight with the texture of the Boots to get it on evenly and smoothly, but then blotting with the powder brush undid all that and I got the weird pills and flakes all over the place. It caked up around my eyebrows, made my cheeks look like they had chunks of skin flaking off, and…yeah. Yuck.
I keep waiting for some drugstore brand to reverse-engineer a bottle of Smashbox and offer a cheaper version — and I feel like one day that WILL happen and I WILL find it and I WILL buy it and spend all that money I save on some wine. But sadly for us all, that day is not today. Thanks for trying, Boots, but I think you may want to go back to the drawing board.

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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  • Isabel

    January 21, 2008 at 10:59 am

    Well, crap. I was hoping and praying that the cheaper version would be even better.
    As always, thanks Amalah for taking one for the team!

  • Joy

    January 21, 2008 at 11:15 am

    I’ve been eyeing the Boots line- nice to know that I should save my money.

  • Hot Librarian

    January 21, 2008 at 11:34 am

    The thing about Boots is that it’s just a drugstore in the UK… like CVS or Walgreens. So basically Target is carrying the UK equivalent of a storebrand/generic. They’re marketing it all oooh fancy British! But ultimately, it’s nothing special.
    That being said, I am in love with their Stay Perfect Lip Lacquer, and I highly recommend it.

  • Karen S

    January 21, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    British person here. Hello.
    You wrote: “Of course, if we were to export the U.S.’s number-one line, I’m guessing we’d be talking…Maybelline? Or Cover Girl?”
    Well, you do. And I’m surprised they don’t sell better than Boots No7 brand!
    There is one Boots product that has sold very well over here. I think it’s called ‘No7 Protect and Perfect Beauty Serum’. It’s supposed to reduce the appearance of pores and wrinkles and whatnot. I think it’s popularity has a lot to do with it’s pro-retinol content.
    It’s upsetting enough that US beauty products mysteriously double in price by the time they reach the UK, but it’s even more infuriating to see that UK products halve in price when they make it over to you in the States!
    It’s no wonder us Brits have a reputation for looking so rough, we just can’t afford the products!

  • Fidget

    January 21, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    I have a confession… I use Monistat Soothing Care Chafing Relief Powder-gel as my face primer. ( I KNOW, but, seriously, hear me out. . . )
    I LOVED the Smashbox primer, but it ain’t cheap. I would have kept buying Smashbox primer anyway, because it is magically wonderful stuff and is everything Amalah has promised. But! Somewhere in the blogosphere I read a recommendation to try the chafing relief gel as a substitute. For seven measly bucks (!), I’d thought it’d be worth a try. And it? IS AWESOME.
    The gel is completely clear and looks and feels just like Smashbox primer. It makes my face feel like satin, it totally cuts any shine, and makes my foundation stay put. I’ve even cheated and used it on my eyelids to help my eye makeup stay where it belongs. I have exactly precisely religiously identical results with the powder-gel as I did with the Smashbox primer. No breakouts, no allergic reactions, no weeping into a martini when it all went horribly wrong. Just more cash in the knock-off handbag I bought before Amalah told us not to.
    I am not generally one to use products for anything but their intended uses, much less to use on my sensitive (and always visible) face, but I rationalized that this product was meant to be used on some rather, er, delicate areas , and threw caution to the wind.
    I now use the chafing gel as my primer every time I wear makeup, and happily spend all the money I save, and then some, on the Philosophy skin care line which I also adore.
    (Thank you Amalah for the beauty blessings you bestow! I swear I would not recommend that your readers put something made by Monistat on their pretty faces unless it really worked!)
    Product info:
    Ooo- they offer a free sample, and I heart free samples:

  • Lori12309

    January 21, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    Fidget, your comments had me laughing my head off.
    FYI: the ever-radiant-and-youthful Marylou Whitney uses Vagisil as a face cream, and I am sure she could afford the Smashbox.
    I, myself, love the Smashbox, but hoard every drop because I don’t want to have to sell a cornea to buy the next bottle at Sephora. And Monistat is covered under our Flexible Spending Plan! Whoo-ee!

  • Isabel

    January 21, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    Fidget…I read your comment and raced over to Rite-Aid to buy the Monistat Soothing Care Chafing Relief Powder-gel. I’m all about the $7 primer.

  • Meghan

    January 21, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    Now that you mention it Fidget, they do have the exact same texture! I got the Smashbox primer as a free sample when ordering my Make-Up Free Skin kit at Sephora, and that’s my only experience with it. I wear makeup for weddings and funerals, and that’s about it. Maybe 2-3 times a month? So I’ve never worried too much about priming my face for the make-up that would never follow. I can say that the Monistat chafe relief gel is a godsend! My thighs don’t “kiss” they get into an all out battle if I’m not wearing pants (remember the line from Steel Magnolias? “Looks like two pigs fighting under a blanket”? That comes to mind. . .) Anyway, I previously would never dream of wearing a skirt, it would be nice for a bit but by the end of the day I’d have red sore thighs that would take a day or two to recover. Since buying the gel I’m a skirt convert, and wear them all summer long. I usually toss the tube in my purse for a mid-day application, depending on how humid it is and how much walking I was doing. (A day at work? Morning application only. A day walking around Disney World? probably need a touch-up at some point.) I never would have thought it could do double duty, I’ll have to try it out!

  • hebgvc

    January 21, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    OMGOSH! She is right!! It is awesmome! It makes your skin so smooth and fills in my pores!!!!!!! Just putting it on my hand, I can tell a huge diffrence between my hands! I bought 2 tubes of it last summer and didnt use it all. I now have about a tube and a half left! Whohoo!!!!! Thanks for posting that! I also googled it and lots of others claim it works well and blocks oil! Yes!!!!
    Thanks Fidget!

  • emilygrace

    January 21, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    I can’t speak for the makeup base but their mascaras are amazing!

  • missbritt

    January 22, 2008 at 9:37 am

    I’ve never been so excited to buy Monistat in my life.

  • Harper

    January 22, 2008 at 11:37 am

    I also love the Smashbox primer – but it is so expensive. My “secret” – I don’t know if it really is one – is that I buy it on Ebay. I can usually find it for $15-$20 instead of the $42 it is at Sephora. Worth a try!

  • Alli

    January 22, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    Please please please please do a Cage Match! Not that I don’t trust Fidget, but I’d love a break down of how the Monistat works like only Amalah can give! I mean, it may go on and feel like Smashbox, but is it noncomogenic? Does it do all the rest of the tricks Smaskbox does? Thin little wallets want to know!

  • Kelly J

    January 22, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    Yes, yes, a Monistat v. Smashbox (v. Dr. Brandt, please?) Cage Match!

  • djgroovyslug

    January 23, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    Okay I saw this way too late but I just had to say that the Boots brand eye makeup remover cream is the best I’ve ever used in my entire life. Gentle, doesn’t sting, isn’t greasy or gross. But I don’t think they have carried that over to the states, but maybe they have. If not, then this qualifies as one of the most useless comments ever. Carry on.

  • Suzy Q

    January 23, 2008 at 5:51 pm

    Fidget, this is hilarious! I am SO gonna try it! Just wish those free samples were still being given out. 🙁
    This might be the best beauty secret evah.

  • Sandy

    January 24, 2008 at 10:46 am

    I’m kinda late, I had to join just to comment. I love your site!! Not a huge fan of boots either, and I’m going to try this beauty secret also, hehe. Hello from Florida by the way!!

  • Isabel

    April 8, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    I blogged about trying the Monistat gel as a primer. It rules, of course.
    Check out to read about my experiences.
    And then go and buy yourself some!

  • samm

    June 9, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    So I am waaaaaay late on this, but that new primer that Revlon came out with is super comparable to Smashbox Photofinish. It’s called “Beyond Natural” and it’s about 10 or 12 bucks a tube.

  • DaniGyrl

    October 16, 2009 at 12:26 am

    i’m so late in reading this review, but i’m glad i did…i’ll stick to what i’ve been using…it’s just as good as Smashbox, but wayyy cheaper: Monistat Chafing Relief Powder Gel. goes on smooth and clear and WORKS. just offering a suggestion for you. sorry the Boots didn’t work out. i’ve heard so many good things about the brand…but i just went to check out their day cream and it has mineral oil in it!! i was like !?!??!?! that’s just acne in a bottle!! eh, oh well.