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The 5 Best Illuminating Primers

By Marissa DeSantis

Sure, you can obtain glowing skin by drinking a ton of water, getting enough sleep, and faithfully following a skin-care routine loaded with vitamin C products. But that's not always possible. When life happens and you find yourself skipping out on one (or all three) of the aforementioned skin-care rules, prepping your face with one of the best illuminating primers will have your skin looking healthy and radiant in a snap.

Applying primer is relatively self-explanatory: It goes on your face before foundation and directly after moisturizer/sunscreen. But here's where things get a little less obvious. Unlike SPF where more is more, you only need to be using a dime-size amount (or less) of primer to effectively smooth out your skin. Whether you prefer to use your fingers or a damp Beautyblender, be sure to give your primer at least a full minute to thoroughly dry before applying any makeup on top.

As far as choosing an illuminating primer goes, you've got two different options: a colorless primer that illuminates skin by reflecting light, or a tinted primer that contains a hint of shimmer. Colorless primers are more subtle — think dewy skin vs. a shimmer-y glow — and obviously a great choice for every skin tone, while tinted luminizing primers are the better option for anyone who loves an iridescent finish.

If you're using an illuminating primer with more of a pearlescent sheen, your application options become a bit more varied. First, make sure to choose a color that'll enhance your natural skin tone: Fairer skin types should go for cool, silvery tones, while darker complexions should opt for warmer, bronze hues. You can achieve a subtle, all-over glow by using these primers on their own, or, you can mix a drop or two in with your foundation. You can even save the illuminator for last, blending it where you'd normally add highlighter (like on the tops of your cheekbones, your cupid's bow, and the bridge of your nose).

Without further ado, scroll on to discover five of the best luminizing primers to try now.

1. Best Prestige Illuminating Primer

Don't let the gold packaging fool you. The Jane Iredale Smooth Affair Facial Primer & Brightener is completely colorless, so it works on every skin tone. Like all of the brand's products, this primer is vegan, cruelty-free, and noncomedogenic. With a focus on using clean ingredients, Jane Iredale combines antioxidant-rich fruit extracts to naturally brighten skin and even out its overall tone. The primer also helps keep skin moisturized, thanks to ingredients like glycerin and sunflower seed oil.

"As awesome as advertised. Easy to apply. A tiny bit goes a long way. The rest of your makeup just glides on and stays perfectly. As it says in the name, everything is smooth, glowing and soft and in place until you wash your face at night! This has become a must in my regimen," raved one reviewer.

2. Best Mid-Range Illuminating Primer

For something a little less pricey, the Honest Beauty Everything Primer also uses clean ingredients in its glow-enhancing formula. Made without common irritants like parabens, paraffins, mineral oil, and synthetic fragrances, this primer is hypoallergenic, cruelty-free, noncomedogenic, and suitable for any skin tone. It's also full of antioxidant-rich ingredients that work to protect skin from environmental damage, as well as hydrating ingredients (including hyaluronic acid) which plump and moisturize skin. These all help to contribute to your overall glow (because healthy skin naturally looks more illuminated), but the formula also amps things up with mica powder, which reflects light and creates the illusion of more radiant skin.

3. Best Drugstore Illuminating Primer

At less than $10, the NYX Honey Dew Me Up Primer gets major love on Amazon for doing it all, from hydrating and evening out skin to keeping makeup locked in place all day long. Ingredients like honey extract, hyaluronic acid, and collagen extract plump up skin, while actual gold flecks that are suspended in the formula reflect light for a more luminous finish. And since it's colorless, it's a great choice for any skin tone.

"This puppy right here makes me glow, makes my foundation stick like no other, and lasts throughout the entire day," commented one fan of the primer. Another reviewer with self-described dry and oily skin wrote, "It works like magic...just remember a little goes a long way...it gives my skin the perfect glow without the oily feeling and neither the dry cakey patches."

4. Best Illuminating Primer That Doubles As Highlighter

Whether you're all about iridescent skin or you want a two-in-one product that can prep skin and serve as a highlighter, L'Oréal Paris True Match Lumi Glotion will give you the glow up. This drugstore buy comes in four different tinted shades to work with fair to deep complexions, and it can be used for as subtle or as shimmery of an effect as you like, depending on how you apply it. Glycerin and shea butter help keep skin hydrated as the pearlescent tint brightens and luminizes. Wear it all over your face, on its own or under foundation, or apply it as you would a highlighter.

  • Available shades: fair, light, medium, and deep

5. Best Illuminating Drops To Add To Any Primer

If you like to switch up and play around with your makeup, purchasing a primer that's solely dedicated to glowy skin isn't all that practical. Instead, try an option that's more customizable, like the Algenist Reveal Concentrated Luminizing Drops. This liquid illuminator comes in pink-, silver-, and gold-tinted shades to work with a range of skin tones, and it can be mixed right into your favorite primer, moisturizer, or foundation (you can also wear it on its own as you would highlighter). Mica and diamond powder reflect light, while ingredients like the brand's AlgaCorrecting Complex color correct for more even-looking skin. Algenist's formula is also hypoallergenic and noncomedogenic, in addition to being free from parabens, triclosan, phthalates, and nitrosamine.

  • Available shades: pearl, rosé, champagne

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