Mega Comparison: Drugstore Eyeshadow Primers

In February, I did a mega comparison of eight eyeshadow primers to test for both their effects on eyeshadow pigmentation and longevity. You can read the original post here. Of the eight primers tested, seven were mid-(to high-ish) range brands.

Since then, I have had a myriad of people request a drugstore-only version of this same test… and it is finally here! This comparison included ten drugstore eyeshadow primers. (They were literally 100% of the drugstore eyeshadow primers I had access to. This is not a place where the drugstore has decent selection.) From the original post, the $1 ELF Sheer Eyelid Primer made a re-appearance in this comparison.

Two of the primers were not available to purchase by themselves, meaning they only came as part of a set. I had a fair bit of internal debate about how to quantify the price per ounce on those products. I ultimately decided to use the full price and count ONLY the ounces of the primer in question. Those two products have asterisks next to their names. I also want to note that I used the full price for each of these primers to calculate price per ounce. Unlike higher end products, you can frequently get drugstore products at some sort of discount.

Primers all Together!

The Primers Tested (In order from least expensive per ounce to most expensive per ounce):

ELF Sheer Eyelid Primer, $1 for 0.17oz ($5.88 per ounce)
Wet’n’Wild Take On the Day Eyeshadow Primer, $4.99 for 0.34oz ($14.68 per ounce)
Prestige Eye Primer, $9.49 for 0.5oz ($18.98 per ounce)
ELF Mineral Eyeshadow Primer in Sheer, $3 for 0.15oz ($20 per ounce)
NYX HD High Definition Eyeshadow Base, $6.99 for 0.28oz ($24.96 per ounce)
ELF Eye Primer and Liner Sealer, $3 for 0.09oz ($33.33 per ounce)*
Almay Bright Eyes Eye Base + Concealer, $8.99 for 0.22oz ($40.86 per ounce)
L’Oreal Magic De-Crease Eyelid Primer, $8.99 for 0.19oz ($47.32 per ounce)
Hard Candy Eyeshadow Primer, $7 for 0.14oz ($50 per ounce)**
Revlon PhotoReady Eye Primer + Brightener, $9.99 for 0.08oz ($124.88 per ounce)

*Also includes 0.14oz liner sealer.
**Also includes 0.28oz In the Shadows Five Pan Eyeshadow

I want to draw your attention to something before we start: I think this list really effectively demonstrates why we talk about price per ounce and not just price. Your eyeshadow primer is something that you use frequently (if you’re me: every single day). It’s not something you are probably using for a one-time event. Thus, products that are on the more inexpensive side of things but that contain very little product are kind of awful. The Revlon PhotoReady Primer, for example, is $124.88 per ounce. There was only a single eyeshadow primer in my original comparison (Smashbox) that costs more than that, ounce per ounce. Thus, it seems awfully difficult to justify purchasing a Revlon eyeshadow primer over, say, NARS (which is LESS. FUCKING. EXPENSIVE.). While it is certainly true that the drugstore eyeshadow primers tend to be less expensive than the mid-range ones from my original comparison, there are plenty of these drugstore primers that are more expensive than way fancier brands.

I applied five swipes of Urban Decay’s Zero over each primer. I like using Urban Decay eyeshadows for this kind of test because I find that their quality is really dependent upon the quality of the primer that you use. Use a bad primer and you’ll get a bad result; use a good primer and you’ll get a good result.

I also did one control (so no primer at all) and one condition that was LORAC’s Behind the Scenes Primer, which I have previous established as one my favorite not-too-expensive eyeshadow primers (read about by clicking here). It costs $44.68 per ounce (and is also the eyeshadow primer that I use every single day). This isn’t a part of the test, but it provides a sort of baseline about what a really good eyeshadow primer would be doing in the same conditions.

From left to right: Control, ELF Sheer Eyelid Primer, Wet’n’Wild, Prestige, Elf Mineral Eyeshadow Primer, NYX, Elf Eye Primer and Liner Sealer, Almay, L’Oreal, Hard Candy, Revlon, and (behind the line) LORAC.

All of the primers intensified the eyeshadow to some extent. The ELF Sheer Eyelid primer did the worst job at intensifying the shadow, followed by Wet’n’Wild, Prestige, the ELF Mineral Eyeshadow Primer, Almay, and L’Oreal. The ELF Eye Primer and Liner Sealer, Hard Candy, and Revlon did pretty well. The standout, though, by a LOT, was NYX. The color was even darker and more intense than LORAC Behind the Scenes. Seriously, look at that swatch. That looks like the swatches I see on blogs that makes me suspicious of their authenticity because they just look too damn nice.

Next, I waited four hours. Here’s what my arm looked like at the end of the test:

From left to right: Control, ELF Sheer Eyelid Primer, Wet’n’Wild, Prestige, Elf Mineral Eyeshadow Primer, NYX, Elf Eye Primer and Liner Sealer, Almay, L’Oreal, Hard Candy, Revlon, and (behind the line) LORAC.

I actually find this picture to be so self-explanatory that it seems a little bit naval-gaze-y to try to discern the microscopic differences between a bunch of mediocre primers when one was such a clear winner. However, for the purposes of discussion, I will do a more in-depth analysis of what I found. Still, if you only came here to answer the question, “What drugstore eyeshadow primer should I buy?”… well, you probably don’t need to read the next few paragraphs.

Low Performers: ELF Sheer Eyelid Primer, Wet’n’Wild Take On the Day, Prestige Eye Primer, ELF Mineral Eyeshadow Primer,  L’Oreal Magic De-Crease Eyelid Primer

Low-performing primers.

I would have to really strongly recommend skipping all of these primers. They did just a truly awful job. I’ll admit that they all looked very, very slightly better than no primer at all, but the difference was so minute I think you’re probably better just saving your money for something that’s going to work.

I was really surprised that the $1 ELF primer didn’t do any better than the $3 ELF primer since I would imagine that they would, like, test them and make sure that the more expensive product was better. I was also super bummed that the Wet’n’Wild primer was such a dud, since I love Wet’n’Wild eyeshadows and it just seemed to me that they might make a decent primer to go with them. What’s more, I have been recommending this to people when they tell me they have a ‘budget of basically nothing and please, how do I eyeshadow’. I heard it was good and repeated it. Well, it wasn’t good. Sorry, various high school students who asked my advice. The Prestige one did just as bad, which is too bad since it’s in such a big, nice tube. The SHAME finger-wagging, though, goes to L’Oreal. Seriously, L’Oreal, what the eff. At FORTY SEVEN DOLLARS AND THIRTY TWO CENTS PER OUNCE, this is truly atrocious. First of all, that is unreasonably high for a drugstore brand in general. That’s more expensive than my beloved LORAC primer. But if you’re going to charge prices like that, you have to live up to it. This was just awful and unacceptable.

Worth noting: if you have literally exactly $1 and all you want in this world is an eyeshadow primer, the $1 ELF primer is better than nothing.

All five of these were lightly tinted some degree of beige. Prestige and Wet’n’Wild were in squeeze tubes, which I prefer because it’s more exact. The rest had doe-foot applicators.

Medium Performers: ELF Eye Primer and Liner Sealer, Almay Bright Eyes Eye Base + Concealer, Hard Candy Eyeshadow Primer, Revlon PhotoReady Eye Primer + Brightener

Medium-performing primers.

These are the primers that performed okay. The ELF Primer here comes with a liner sealer that I haven’t tested. The primer side is a stick form, which is very unusual for eyeshadow primer, but it clearly worked better for them than the doe-foot ones. It’s also tinted, and the beige color is, on my skin, very dark.

The Almay Eye Base is designed TERRIBLY in terms of packaging. It’s got a little brush a la a Stila Lip Glaze. But instead of turning it to get little clicks, it’s a squeeze tube. That means that you will never be able to get all the primer out and every time you use it, you get way too much. It’s also very pigmented and doesn’t seem to be available in darker colors (although there is a light and a medium version), so that limits the potential audience.

The Revlon primer also had a Stila lip glaze-esque brush, although it’s system of clicks is a bit easier to handle. It’s still a huge pain, though. At $124.88 per ounce, skip this hugely overpriced product!

Hard Candy also performed okay. It’s a clear base in a squeeze tube. However, you can’t buy it separately. It’s only available with Hard Candy eyeshadows. I tried the one that came with this primer and it was terrible. One of the five colors was okay, and the other four were invisible.

All four of these were more expensive, ounce per ounce, than our high performer.

High Performer: NYX HD High Definition Eyeshadow Base

Daaaang I was not expecting such a high quality primer from any drugstore brand (even NYX, who I generally really like). Neither my LORAC comparison swatch nor the NYX swatch faded significantly, but since NYX started out more intense, NYX also ended more intense. At $24.96 per ounce, NYX is pretty cheap. LORAC costs 179.01% more and NARS Smudgeproof costs 369.83% more, ounce per ounce.

The NYX eyeshadow base is slightly beige tinted and applies with a doe-foot applicator.


1. These posts of yours are my favorite, followed closely by the beauty bullshit ones. I love the scientific approach to prove empirically which one is better. The only slight issue I have, is that you test on your arm, which I imagine is not nearly as oily as an eye lid would be and is touched a lot more. I still love this post though, and am seriously considering getting the nyx primer to add to my collection of medium-high end ones.

2. Yeah… unfortunately, there is no way to do an empirical comparison on my eyelid because I would have to do trial after trial and since each day is different, it could be attributed to weather/me running to catch a bus/humidity/any number of things. If I had a giant eyelid to test on, I definitely would, but at least this lets me know how they compare with all else being equal… :/

3. Hey!
Why don’t you just do a head to head of your highest performers only? NARS vs LORAC, LORAC vs NYX, NYX vs NARS, one on each eyelid, 3-5 trials of each? You can also throw in a one eye no primer control, one eye primer of the winner of your above trials if you don’t mind looking silly if one side fades.
– This presumes that your two eyelids fade evenly. Presumably that’s true since you apply the same primer to both eyes every day and you don’t note one side fading more than the other.
– This internally controls for day to day factors but of course given this setup you could not extrapolate results about NARS from say, the NYX vs NARS trials to make statements about LORAC vs NARS. But you could say with some confidence that on any given day between the two primers compared, one is better or equivalent.
I would do it myself, but I don’t own the LORAC or NARS primers. I own the UDPP, Too Faced, and NYX primers. After a year of near-daily use, I have yet to finish an 0.13 oz UDPP sample sized primer, so it would be hard for me to justify buying another full sized primer without in situ evidence that it’s better enough for me to waste all these other products 🙂

3. Add my vote to the request for a head to head battle of the highest performers. I have used both NYX and LORAC and found the staying power of NYX to be higher (that stuff is like GLUE) but it also seems like I have more trouble blending with NYX primer than with LORAC primer. Would love to see your take on this!

4. These posts are so amazing! I’m about to do a big makeup haul and I have the Nars primer sitting in my Sephora cart because it performed so well in your high end primers post but I feel like the Nyx primer does an amazing job and is way cheaper. 🙂 You just saved me a ton of money. You’re my favorite beauty blog for sure.

5. I hope it works out well for you! I don’t feel totally comfortable stating that this works as well as NARS without more comparisons, but this is super, super solid.

6. Awesome job, as always,

I feel terrible that wnw is in low performer since there’s some blogger promoted them as cheaper udpp (which based on your previous mega comparisson doesn’t perform well).

7. Yeah, it’s definitely much worse than UDPP, and I am not a big UDPP fan.

8. I’ve been using NYX primer for ages and was thinking of splurging on UDPP or something else more high-end. Thanks for this; now I know I don’t have to!

9. Yeah, I’d save your money. I am not confident that this works as well as the very, very best eyeshadow primers on the market (at least without more testing!) but it definitely does better than Urban Decay.

10. Chiming in to say I love these posts, too. I’ve been using NARS for a couple months now based on your earlier review, and I love it. I can’t believe what a difference it makes to use a good eye makeup primer. Based on this one, when my NARS runs out I will definitely be trying NYX. The only think I’m skeptical about is the beige tint; I’m pretty fair skinned, and even a little color in the primer seems to change the color of my eyeshadow. But given my handy-dandy cost comparison, thanks to this entry, it definitely seems worth a shot! Thanks again,

11. I hope you like it if you pick it up!

12. Thanks for another excellent post. NYX is so consistently good for a drugstore brand. I love their blush and eye shadows. I’ll be picking up that primer now too. Love your blog!

13. Thank you!

14. ETA – I like NYX and their quality is overall good – Except for the notable exception of the horrible “nudes” pallet that you reviewed a while back.

15. This post was super helpful! I use Urban Decay eyeshadows all the time, and I agree that a good primer will make your actual look sink or float. My eyelids have to be abnormally oily though, since I use the LORAC behind the scenes primer too and no matter what within a few hours my eyeshadow is noticeably dull. I’m definitely going to go out and grab that NYX primer though, it seems like it’s worth a shot since it’s not insanely expensive!

16. You’ll have to tell me what you think about it.

17. Holy mackerel, the NYX is insane! I’m definitely going to check that out when my current ones run out (in, um, a few years). Thanks for testing and sharing!

18. Two questions:
What’s your opinion on using cream shadows as primers? I’ve seen using the Color Tattoo Maybelline things recommended, or Mac Paint Pots, but so far I’ve been like meh and not bothered.

Second, did you find the NYX altered blendability at all? That’s my big hesitation on eyeshadow primers – I feel like I sacrifice longevity for blending, but maybe that’s not an issue here? (Or is this just a case of skillz, or lack thereof, on my part?)

And one last thing: I was about to criticize you for using “myriad” as a noun, but it seems that OED has accepted that, so myriads FTW. Still bugs the hell out of me though, completely irrationally. Stupid OED and stupid high school English teachers mucking with my pedantry.

19. I don’t find that cream shadows work well as primers. I think they need a primer under them.

And I didn’t have any problems with blendability, personally.

Sorry about your pedantry. 😉

20. It would be great if you could post a resource page with these comparisons. Even just a small table comparing prices and results along with the link to the original experiment. I’m always rolling back through your archives to remind myself what you said about this, that, or the other.

21. If I figure out how to website…

22. On your backend, under posts, there’s a tab called ‘pages’ which creates a static page usually linked to in your sidebar. Easy-peasy!

23. FYI – NYX is on sale on Haute Look today, but alas! No shadow primer.

24. This is really helpful to see the impact on the vibrancy of eyeshadow color! I know it would be impractical to test, but as a person with hooded eyelids I know I use primer primarily to prevent creasing and color transfer. I wonder how the different primers perform in that respect. I’ve only tried the ELF $1 primer and Wet n Wild, and for me Wet n Wild does a much better job at preventing transfer but I’d be very curious to see how it compares to other primers!

25. Would love to see a comparison of lip primers next! I have MAC Prep AMD Prime but I’m not convinced it is all that great.

26. I’ll get to it… one day…

27. I know you’ve said this time and again (even here)… I love these comparisons, and will definitely try the NYX, but I stick to the NARS b/c it is best with the creasing issue. I wish there was some mechanism by which you might replicate conditions of the eyelid. Perhaps using lotion on your arm first, thus creating something like a slightly slick top coat? I’d love to not pay $24 a tube. Also a question, I haven’t yet finished my NARS primer, but I fear that given the hard doe foot construction I may not get all the product out. Given the cost, might it not then be even more expensive than its soft container cousins? How the hell do you get everything out of a doe foot applicator!!

28. The doe foot applicator definitely prevents you from getting everything out…

29. Surely though, if it’s almost half the price per ounce of the comparably-performing LORAC, there’d have to be an awful lot left in the applicator for it to be expensive enough to matter. Or if you compared it just to terrible but better-packaged products… it’s at least twice as effective as anything else in the drugstore tests, based on a totally unscientific eyeballing, so let’s see… I would never use the poor-performing ones no matter how cheap, and the pretty good ones were actually all more expensive per ounce… so say if they average around $10 more per ounce or around 33% more than NYX… it would have to be leaving like a third of the primer in the tube, unreachable, to make it unacceptable? Seems unlikely, but I’ve never used anything with a doe foot applicator so what do I know. Thank you for letting me ramble 🙂

30. I want to echo the popular sentiment of, “I love these posts.” Seriously, I daydreamed about doing such things but that laziness has overwhelmed such desires.

I’m curious about what you think of NYX pore filler (perhaps a drugstore primer test…)? I’m just so impressed with how NYX performed that literally I was just looking through the ulta weekly ad with a UDPP duo, and I thought, “Nah, next time I need a primer I’ll try the NYX.”

31. If I see it, I will use this comment as justification for why I totally definitely need to buy it.

32. I have the NYX but I never use it because I feel like it never really dries on my skin. Any tips on that? Or do you not have that problem?

33. I’m a greaseball, sorry!

34. This is really interesting! I did a similar comparison recently (but a mix of drugstore and higher-end) and thought the NYX on was terrible. It made my eyeshadow apply patchy and didn’t intensify it much. I also had the problem the commenter above mentioned, where the NYX always feels a little sticky, never really sets. The Wet N Wild one worked really great, on the other hand. I used a poorly pigmented CoverGirl eyeshadow to test. I wonder if that made the difference?

35. Yeah not to be a jackass cause I know doing these is probably a lot of work but I kind of find this an irrelevant comparison (and it’s not because I’m partial to a product you ixnayed either, really). My eyelids are completely different from my arm skin. Eyelids are intertriginous (word i learned from your blog!) and also quite oily. To say that the ones that performed badly are comparable to no primer at all… have you PUT eyeshadow on naked eyelids? it migrates almost immediately for me and my hooded lids. While enhancing color payoff is one benefit of using a primer, I think it’s not the only box that needs to be checked.

How useful would doing one to two primers per eye (one each or half and half each), and then making sort of a tournament grid be? I realize it doesn’t eliminate a lot of variables but I think it would give a lot more relevant results than a strip on your arm. A lot of work and time investment, but I think I am willing to do this… for science

36. This comment has been removed by the author.

37. amazing results from nyx considering the price but i had a look at the ingredient list and it contains lots of parabens so i don’t think i’ll be in a hurry to purchase

38. Comparisons are really useful for us to really discuss the best products that will fit our personalty. Now, I’m equipped with knowledge about these things. Thank you for this 🙂

~Pauline @Kallony