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Trust us, this is the secret.

By Melanie Rud
Updated January 16, 2020
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
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In the world of makeup products, it can be tempting to skip primer. We get it—it can often seem like an unnecessary step that doesn’t offer much of a reward. But we’re here to tell you it’s not. Just like using a primer before painting a wall, or applying a base coat on your nails pre-polish, primers create a smooth canvas, giving your foundation and concealer an even surface to grip onto. The end result: Makeup goes on more evenly and lasts longer. Not to mention that many primers are also infused with plenty of good-for-your-skin ingredients to offer even additional benefits.

Generally speaking, there are two types to choose from. There are silicone-based options, which work well to smooth out the skin, but have the potential to feel heavy and clog pores; silicones are also considered questionable ingredients in terms of safety for some. A better pick? Water-based formulas, which are not only ultra-hydrating, but completely lightweight. Try any of the seven picks below, and we guarantee you’ll be pumped about primer.

Best Water-Based Primers: Smashbox Photo Finish Primer Water
Credit: Courtesy of manufacturer

1
Smashbox Photo Finish Primer Water

If you want to get the most bang for your buck, choose this multi-tasker. You can mist it onto skin pre-makeup to act as a primer, as the final step in your routine to act as a setting spray, and/or throughout the day as a refreshing touch-up. Either way, it absorbs quickly and offers plenty of hydration.

To buy: $32; sephora.com.

Best Water-Based Primers: Becca Backlight Priming Filter Face Primer
Credit: Courtesy of manufacturer

2
Becca Backlight Priming Filter Face Primer

We have yet to find someone who doesn’t crave perfectly radiant, lit-from-within skin. Breaking news: Highlighter isn’t the only way to achieve it. This formula not only helps lock in your makeup, it also has three different luminescent pearls that make for a gorgeous glow that’s even better than any Instagram filter.

To buy: $39; ulta.com.

Best Water-Based Primers: Honest Beauty Everything Primer Matte
Credit: Courtesy of manufacturer

3
Honest Beauty Everything Primer Matte

For oily skin types, or those who just prefer a more matte complexion, this oil-free pick is choice. Micronized bamboo controls excess oil for a matte finish that lasts up to eight hours, and this also blurs away the look of pores and imperfections, always a win. The clean formula is free of parabens, synthetic fragrances, silicones, and petrolatum.

To buy: $22; amazon.com.

Best Water-Based Primers: First Aid Beauty Hello FAB Coconut Skin Smoothie Priming Moisturizer
Credit: Courtesy of manufacturer

4
First Aid Beauty Hello FAB Coconut Skin Smoothie Priming Moisturizer

This isn’t just water-based, it’s coconut water-based, making it all the more hydrating. Coconut water is also packed with antioxidants and amino acids, offering even more benefits for your complexion. Oil-free and creamy, it easily takes the place of both primer and moisturizer, and makes skin look so dewy and fresh that you may just want to skip makeup.

To buy: $28; sephora.com.

Best Water-Based Primers: Juice Beauty Phyto-Pigments Illuminating Primer
Credit: Courtesy of manufacturer

5
Juice Beauty Phyto-Pigments Illuminating Primer

Fun fact, this pick actually doesn’t contain any water. We’ll let it slide onto our list though, since it’s free of silicones, and instead loaded with hydrating organic aloe juice. Vitamins C and E offer antioxidant protection, always a good thing, and hyaluronic acid adds yet another moisturizing boost, making this choice for dry skin.

To buy: $36; amazon.com.

Best Water-Based Primers: Sephora Beauty Amplifier Mattifying H2O Gel Primer
Credit: Courtesy of manufacturer

6
Sephora Beauty Amplifier Mattifying H2O Gel Primer

Similar to a gel moisturizer, this water-rich formula feels innately cooling, a perfect option on hot summer days. Another mattifying formula, it tamps down unwanted sheen and minimizes prominent pores. Also nice: It comes in a travel-friendly mini size, too, and the price is super affordable.

To buy: $7; sephora.com.

Best Water-Based Primers: MAC Prep + Prime Natural Radiance
Credit: Courtesy of manufacturer

7
MAC Prep + Prime Natural Radiance

No matter whether you’re applying powder, liquid, or cream foundation afterwards, this gel-emulsion works equally well as a prep step. Pearlescent particles leave a nice glow, and it also comes in two different shades—a pink for fair complexions and yellow for darker skin. The tint disappears when rubbed in, working to instead ever so subtly brighten skin and counteract dullness, further upping the glow factor.

To buy: $42; ulta.com.