Au Naturale Eye Essentials Kit

$32 Primer vs. $8 Primer: Which One Wins?

I don't always wear a facial primer under my makeup. I use Everyday Minerals and Silk Naturals mineral makeup on my skin, so I typically don't need one because they work the way I want them to.

Primers can be a fabulous addition to your makeup routine, though. When I was freelancing in the makeup industry, I used both Smashbox and Laura Mercier primers on my clients, especially on brides who needed that perfect looking makeup application to last well into the night. 

A good facial primer will provide a velvety smooth finish to the skin, help foundation last all day, and smooth over uneven texture and fine lines.

Perhaps the most popular primer on the market is Photo Finish by Smashbox. Just because it's the best-selling, though, doesn't mean it has good ingredients. Today, I am going to compare this best-selling primer to the primer I use on my face.

Here are the ingredients in the best-selling Smashbox Photo Finish Primer:

Cyclomethicone, Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Ethylhexyl Salicylate, Isopropylparaben, Isobutylparaben, Butylparaben, Retinyl Palmitate, Tocopheryl Acetate, Propylene Glycol, Water, Grape Seed Extract, Kolanut Seed Extract, Camellia Oleifera Leaf Extract 

Here are the ingredients in my favorite primer:

Active Ingredient: Dimethicone (1.2%). Inactive Ingredients: Cyclopentasiloxane, Dimethicone, Dimethicone/Vinyl Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Silica, Tocopheryl Acetate, Trisiloxane

This is a silicone-based product. Dimethicone is the active ingredient and is both an occlusive and skin conditioner. The silica in this helps with the texture and will make it so foundation doesn't cake because of the smoothing properties. The tocopheryl is essentially Vitamin E. The last ingredient is a benign skin conditioning agent. It is considered safe in the Safe Cosmetics Database.

Primers almost always are silicone-based. This is not a good vs. bad type of issue. Silicones have their place and sometimes get a bad rap. Primers aren't known for being natural, botanically based, etc. An effective primer uses the silicone to provide that silky smooth base for your makeup.

The second primer I listed here and call my favorite is one I've been using for years. It's one of those products I want to put on when I need my makeup looking fresh and new all day and night without really touching it up. As you can see, the ingredients in both primers are very similar.

The Smashbox, though, contains parabens. Actually, it's terrible because it contains three different parabens. There is also harmful propylene glycol in the Smashbox. Yes, there are some natural ingredients in it, but they come in after the parabens on the ingredients list, so when you see the natural extracts listed, keep in mind that they most likely make up about 1% (possibly much less) of this product. 

It bothers me that their website says, "Create a perfect canvas for foundation application with this silky, lightweight blend of vitamins A and E, grape seed extract and green tea..." when in fact the amount of those ingredients used in this product cannot possibly be effective. Either that or the company is using 10X the amount of parabens required. Ignore the claims that this has the green tea and vitamins. While it does, there simply isn't enough to be of any benefit to your skin.

What is my favorite primer? It's not actually designed as a is Monistat Soothing Care Chafing Relief Gel. Yes, a feminine care product....something designed for thighs that rub together and chafing from shaving....I know what you're thinking. Yuck. I once thought the same thing. Then I remembered how I used to use Milk of Magnesia on my then very oily skin in my early 20s and how it really helped. "Odd" remedies really can be effective.

The Bottom Line:

I read online a few years back about the use of this product as a primer. I went to Target, spent $7, used it the next day and it's been my go to primer ever since.

Let's also mention the price of the two products. The Smashbox retails for $32. It is a 1 ounce tube. The Monistat sells for $8.49 on and is a 1.5 ounce tube. Like I mentioned, I happened to pay around $7 at Target last time around. You are getting 50% more in the Monistat tube for 1/4 of the price. The Monistat is safer for use on the face, is paraben free, and works just as well.

I also briefly mentioned the popularity of the Laura Mercier Foundation Primer. If you insist on buying a department store primer and can only choose between the LM and the Smashbox, choose the latter. I wouldn't use either with the parabens, but the LM actually is far worse for the skin. It not only contains parabens, triethanolamine and formalehyde releasers, but a host of artificial dyes. Avoid it.

Our pick--the $8 non-primer primer. It's basic. It's cheap. Best of all, it works and is paraben free!