Why use an eye shadow primer?

If you've never used an eye shadow primer then you're in for a treat. Essentially an eye shadow magnet and enhancer, it's one of those products that once you've tried it, there's no going back. It makes such a difference, with way more tangible results than a face primer.

  • eye shadow applies more smoothly and evenly
  • pigmentation is stronger; colours look deeper and brighter
  • there is way less (if any) creasing
  • lasting power is increased x 100.


Spread a small amount evenly over the eyelid with a finger tip and allow to dry for around one minute before applying eye shadow as normal. That's it. 

Some primers leave skin feeling slightly tacky or a little more matte than usual. This can be fixed by applying a neutral shadow (or translucent face powder) all over the lid with a fluffy brush. Everything will then apply more smoothly on top and it works equally well with cream and powder shadows.


I'm particularly prone to creasing so there's not a whole lot of point in me even wearing eye shadow without a primer. When I do, it keeps my shadow looking pretty perfect until I choose to remove it. Of course this varies a little between products; some may fade a little, but eye shadow + primer is a bit like Poundland nail polish + Seche Vite top coat. ie it can make average products look and perform like much more expensive ones. 

To use another nail analogy, I'd compare eye shadow with + without primer to regular nail polish vs gel nails. Both look good at first; one soon chips and peels while the other stays perfect and glossy until you remove it.

Of course all eye shadow primers are not equal and I have two distinct favourites. I've used NARS Pro-Prime Smudge Proof Eyeshadow Base for years, almost exclusively since discovering it. It's a thick lotion which dries in seconds on the skin. The doe foot applicator makes it very easy to use, (though annoyingly mine has separated from the handle after a long period of use). 

Over the past few months I've been trying out MAC Prep + Prime 24 Hour Extend Eye Base and been very impressed. It has a waxy, balm-like texture and comes in a squeezy tube... the tiniest smidge about the size of a rice grain is enough for both of my eyes and it sets quickly. The finish is very matte, which may appeal to oily lidded girls, though I'm not one and still like it a lot. 

Other popular primers are Urban Decay Primer Potion, which I liked but don't think it compares to these two and Too Faced Shadow Insurance, which I've heard good things about but not got around to trying it yet (any thoughts welcome in the comments).

TIP: take care to blend primer at the edges of eye to avoid product gathering. 


For me, no creasing and added lasting power are the two main benefits of using an eye primer, but I thought I'd illustrate the instant effects too. I used two of my fave eye shadows for this, which was probably a bit daft in retrospect - rubbish ones would have given more dramatic results. This is the bronze shade from Bobbi Brown's Sunkissed Pink palette and the second darkest colour from Make Up Atelier Paris 5 Ombres palette in Bois de Rose (T19).

I used the same amount of product for every swatch, the first two on bare skin, second over NARS primer and third over MAC primer. Can you see how much more intense and even the colour looks over primer? What I should also have photographed was the result when I rubbed a finger and then tissue vigorously over the colours later. Those without primer smudged and disappeared quickly, while the others barely budged and needed makeup remover to take them off.

TIP: eye primer can also be used to help concealer stay put - 
I only do this on areas of redness rather than around eyes or on blemishes, which it might irritate. 

I'm sure many of you already use an eye shadow primer but I know that lots of my friends don't. If you love experimenting with eye makeup, or just want to keep your favourite neutral in place all day, it's really worth giving one of these a go. They both perform brilliantly - if I had to split hairs I'd say the MAC outlasts the NARS by a hair's breadth in terms of longevity (and is slightly cheaper), whereas some may prefer the lighter texture of the NARS and find its applicator easier to use.

NARS Smudgeproof Eyeshadow Base, £19.50 | MAC Prep+Prime 24h Extend Eye Base, £16

If you use an eye shadow primer, which is your favourite?

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