Thursday, February 14, 2013

Mega Comparison: Eyeshadow Primers

Eyeshadow primer is a handy tool for keeping your fancy makeup on the right part of your face. There are so many eyeshadow primers out there, and everyone has a different favorite.

The purpose of this test was to see if, all other factors being equal, there is a significant difference between different brands of eyeshadow primers. I intentionally chose brands that I trust (plus Elf because fuck it, it was $1) and brands that I frequently saw cited as a favorite. I tested them on my arm for four hours.

There are definitely limitations to this method. For one, there may be some intangible element of eyelid-ness that my arm is not appropriately catching. (I used my arm so I could see all of them at the same time.) My arm also is touched a fair bit more than my eyes are. It is also possible that there are some individual difference in oiliness that causes certain primers to be more or less effective.

Regardless of these limitations, I think this is an appropriate test that will give a helpful comparison between different brands.

The Primers Tested (In order from least expensive per ounce to most expensive per ounce)
Elf Eyelid Primer, $1 for 0.17oz ($5.88 per ounce)
TheBalm Put a Lid On It Eyelid Primer, $18 for 0.4oz ($45 per ounce)
Urban Decay Primer Potion, $20 for 0.37oz ($54.05 per ounce)
Too Faced Shadow Insurance, $20 for 0.35oz ($57.14 per ounce)
Benefit Stay Don't Stray, $26 for 0.33oz ($78.79 per ounce)
Nars Pro Prime Smudge Proof Eyeshadow Base, $24 for 0.26oz ($92.31 per ounce)
Tarte Smooth Operator Amazonian Clay Eye Base, $8.95 for 0.08 ($111.88 per ounce)
Smashbox Photo Finish Lid Primer, $20 for 0.08oz ($250 per ounce)

Five swipes for each swatch.
From left to right: Control, Elf, TheBalm, Urban Decay, Too Faced, Benefit, Nars, Tarte and Smashbox.
I used five swipes of Urban Decay's Ransom over each primer. Every single primer intensified the shadow color (even Elf!), although Elf only had a slight increase in pigment. TheBalm and Urban Decay's increase was greater, with Too Faced being being even slightly brighter than that. The brightest colors were over Benefit, Nars, Tarte and Smashbox, and I could not tell any difference between those four. That suggests to me that there is a correlation between price per ounce and ability to intensify a shadow's color.

Since I have light skin and the products varied significantly in terms of pigmentation, I also swatched each of the primers by itself on a white piece of paper so that you can see how pigmented they are. Hopefully this will be helpful for women with darker skin, since some of the more pigmented primers could potentially look ashy. Elf, theBalm, Urban Decay and Too Faced were all very slightly pigmented. Benefit, Tarte and Smashbox were all heavily pigmented. Nars was completely sheer.

Unblended swatches on white.
From left to right: Elf, TheBalm, Urban Decay, Too Faced, Benefit, Nars, Tarte and Smashbox.
Next, I waited four hours.

Based on their ability to last, I divided the products into four general categories: low performers, medium performers, high performers and the highest performer.

As a warning, there a few differences that were a little more evident in real life than they are in photographs, so you will have to trust me a bit.

After four hours. Note that my arm faces significantly more touching and the like than my eyes, hence the amount of fading.
From left to right: Control, Elf, TheBalm, Urban Decay, Too Faced, Benefit, Nars, Tarte and Smashbox.
Low performers: Elf, Tarte
Picture sources: and
I doubt that you are shocked to hear that a $1 Elf product is not a high performer. However, I am still really glad that I included it in my test because it was clear that Elf Eyelid Primer did do significantly better than the control condition. For anyone who can't afford a pricier primer, that's pretty good news.

Since Elf is very inexpensive, I am willing to be forgiving of their relative inability to keep eyeshadow on my skin. I am, not, however, willing to be so generous for Tarte. Tarte Smooth Operator Amazonian Clay Eye Base did not outcompete Elf, and they were the second most expensive product (per ounce) that I tried. This was a big disappointment because the product itself feels very luxe and creamy. Plus, many Tarte products are favorites of mine. However, over time, this primer got cakey and unattractive. It was clearly visible against the eyeshadow and looked almost like it was flaking off. By the end of the four hours, the pigmentation of the eyeshadow was seriously lacking, even though it started off as one of the most pigmented swatches.

Medium performers: Urban Decay, theBalm, Benefit

Sources:,default,sc.html,, and

Urban Decay Primer Potion (UDPP) is one of the best-loved beauty products out there. However, in this test, it seems that the love it gets may not be fully warranted. It certainly did an adequate job, but many other products were more successful. I speculate that UDPP is popular not necessarily because of its kickass formula, but because of its accessibility. Urban Decay adds samples of this primer to online orders, and samples are included when you buy an eyeshadow palette. If you don't typically use an eyeshadow primer, you might be super impressed and become a convert-- even though better products exist! I was a little surprised that Urban Decay didn't fare better simply because it is the primer that I use on a daily basis, but the results don't lie. There's better stuff out there.

If the pricer products are a bit of a stretch for you, theBalm's "Put a Lid On It" swatch was absolutely indistinguishable from the UDPP swatch. They were exactly the same. It's both less expensive overall and less expensive per ounce, so it might be a good alternative for you. Plus, the packaging is way cuter.

Benefit also had a medium performing product. However, I think it fared slightly worse in terms of pigmentation than both UDPP and theBalm. Since it is pricier than both of those products, I would skip it if I were you.

High performers: Too Faced, Smashbox

Sources: and
It is good that Smashbox performed well, since they were by far the most expensive product I tried in this lineup. However, at $250 per ounce, they are far more expensive than two other products that fared even better.

Too Faced is one of those products. Their great performance was actually a bit of a surprise for me, since I had my own biases about what was going to work well. However, it kept very pigmented and everything stayed put with no smudgeyness. This was definitely the second best product that I tried.

Highest performer: Nars

However, the star of the show, BY FAR was Nars. Not only was Nars one of the products that got the shadow the most pigmented at the start of my test, the Nars swatch continued to be the brightest color at every point over the entire four hours. Nars also had the least fallout and smudging by a substantial margin. Their "smudge proof" claim, as it turns out, is not a gimmick. No other product even came close.


  1. I'd love to see these compared against Pixie Epoxy.

    1. Interesting! I have never tried that product. I will have to check it out.

  2. You are a genius. This is genius.

  3. This was great, thanks for all the work!

  4. Thank you so much! You completely validated my purchase! VALIDATED!

    Maybe I just shop around more? But, Smashbox Photo Finish Lid Primer is $10.00 for 0.08oz., making it $125 per ounce. Still sounds painful, but you'd be surprised how long a small amount of anything lasts.

    Proof of that price can be found here at the (west coast US) retail store, Ulta:

    1. ...what the hell? Is Sephora selling the exact same product for TWICE the price?

      I got my pricing here, where it is being sold for $20 for 0.08oz:

  5. I kinda agree with you. UDPP isn't that awesome at all, for me at least. Though I have different opinions on the the 3 higher performers. Nars and Smashbox hold so well that they make blending difficult for me. Too Faced holds well, but still allows a little movement. I got a tiny sample of Too Faced a few years ago, and I'm barely halfway through it.

    1. That is an interesting note and something I hadn't thought much about. Thanks!

  6. This was incredibly helpful, thank you sooo much for this review!
    (I bookmarked this for my future primer purchase :)


  7. Does this take into consideration the oiliness of some eyelids? I get the whole oily eyelid, darker eyeshadow line in the crease effect and am not sure what can actually prevent it.

    1. I considered going to the gym with this set up on my arm to simulate oily lids, but then I decided that was imprecise (and weird).

      I have heard from the internet machine that Nars is supposed to be a godsend for oily lids, though.

  8. I found this post googling for an eyeshadow primer comparison, and I'm SO glad I did! I've been using UDPP in "Sin" for several years and I just wasn't getting the hype over the product. A beauty youtuber said she swore by the NARS primer, and I can see why! It's definitely on my list to pick up at Sephora after reading your post. Thank you so much for taking the time and money to try all of these out!

  9. I love your blog. You are doing really well for starters. I loved your primer swatches here, but i think you should have enlarged the photos a bit so it can visibile for everyone.

    I started blogging the period you started off, so I know how it can be hard beauty blogging at first. Checkout my blog and tell me your opinion :)

  10. I am one of the (apparently) few people out there who don't like the nars primer. I got creasing just as badly as with UDPP. My favorite used to be Too Faced Shadow Insurance, but I found it dried my lids out and so wasn't good for daily use (a few times a week would be ok). Have you tried Lime Crime's primer? I think it's vegan but they don't make that claim anymore so I'm not sure. These days I use ELF because it is cheap and vegan.

    1. I try to avoid Lime Crime for a wide variety of reasons...

    2. Yeah, agreed. I googled Lime Crime scandal once, and backed away...

  11. truly the vehicle insurance part within Russia is facing serious problems. your drastic growth involving fraud cases will be occurring. this affects both insurance solutions services AND car owners willing to get a good insurance contract.trucking insurance

  12. Like just about all health-related associated prices, vision prices possess soared within the last few years, specifically within the last 5-years. Currently, for the reason that economy tightens many health care strategies usually do not incorporate optometry or maybe Trucking Insurance
    care. Perhaps health professional prescribed a pair of glasses or maybe contacts could price tag a bundle along with in addition you will end up hit for the vision examinations in which accompany them, these could price tag a pretty penny these days. For those who have a substantial household or maybe you may need the little brown eyes in order to earn a living, you undoubtedly are not without having vision health care or maybe vision insurance policies.

  13. I am definitely enjoying your website. You definitely have some great insight and great stories.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...