Stephy Loves…

The Great Lash Primer Road Test

Lash primers may seem like an unnecessary product, but a good one can completely change the way a mascara wears.

As I stated in my last post, I’m picky about what I put on my lashes. It has to look great, wear well, and not flake off into my eyes or onto my glasses. When I was a teen, some of the first dual-ended drugstore mascaras came out, and I wasn’t completely convinced. The products are not what they once were, though, and the white flakes showing through the mascara are (mostly) a thing of the past. However, since not all primers are created equal, I decided to test out an assortment to see which ones hold up and which are a waste of money. In the interest of consistency, I tested all of them with the same mascara, Tarte Lights Camera Lashes. It’s not my very favorite, but it’s a solid middle of the pack, and allows me to see the difference in primer performance. I wore each for a full day to see how it performed, and stayed out of water/rain the entire time with all. I removed them all with Banila Co. Clean It Zero Original and followed up with Cerave Hydrating Cleanser and the rest of my convoluted evening skin care routine.

The Fails:

Ulta Lash Primer

Ulta Lash Primer ($10.50, Ulta) is an “it sounded like a good idea at the time” kind of product. The cobalt blue color is supposed to make mascaras appear blacker, and I will say that for that one purpose, it worked. However, the product is too thick to go on evenly, and it made my lashes clump. In addition, the wand is abysmal. Instead of long bristles that coat and separate lashes, it has these terrible short bristles that do nothing but allow product to accumulate between the rows. It only lasted about 4 hours before starting to flake and itch. I wish I weren’t so squeamish about returning products, because I totally would.

Estee Lauder Lash Primer Plus

I got a mini of Estee Lauder Lash Primer Plus ($26.00 for the full size, Nordstrom) in a bag of samples from Cosmetics Company Store, an outlet selling products from the various brands under the Estee Lauder umbrella. This is very much an old-school lash primer formula, white and cakey. It lengthens and thickens, but it feels gunky and is hard to cover fully with mascara. I don’t object to a white primer if it’s easy to cover, but this one isn’t. The wear time was medium, about 7 hours before it became uncomfortable.

The Middle Of The Pack:

Clinique Lash Building Primer

Clinique Lash Building Primer comes in the mini size I prefer in a duo with their High Impact Mascara, and it’s very affordable for a non-drugstore brand ($8 for the duo, Ulta). Interestingly, Clinique is owned by Estee Lauder, but this primer had a lot better result than the Estee Lauder formula. It goes on more smoothly and stays put until I get ready to take it off. My only objection is that Clinique’s products tend to be geared to a rather subtle look, and I expect a lot more drama, especially if I’m going to the trouble of layering two products. I have not tested it in tandem with the mascara that is meant to go with it, so it may work better using the two together. If you like a natural look, it’s great, but that’s just not me.

It Cosmetics Tightline 3-in-1 Primer

Much like their Superhero mascara that I reviewed previously, the formula for IT Cosmetics Tightline 3-in-1 Black Primer ($24, IT Cosmetics) is excellent for the health of the lashes, but because the brush is designed to get all the way down to the base of the lashes to give a tightline effect, the bristles aren’t long enough to give good coverage. Supposedly it’s an all-in-one product that replaces primer, mascara, and eyeliner, but it doesn’t do a great job at any of them. The “tightline” effect wears off pretty quickly and is uncomfortable while doing so, and the visual effect on the lashes themselves? Nothing special, because the very thing it’s marketed for is the thing that makes it perform so poorly. However, I can’t totally pan it just because of the beneficial ingredients in the formula, loaded with peptides, antioxidants, and amino acids to promote healthy growth. I’ll keep it around, but I think I’ll probably use a different brush with it.

L’Oreal Voluminous Lash Primer

L’Oreal Voluminous Lash Primer ($5.99, Target) is by far the most affordable on the list. However, it’s very generic. I don’t hate it the way I did the Ulta or Estee Lauder options, but it just didn’t impress me. Did it lengthen and volumize the lashes? Sure. But it was neither particularly good nor particularly bad. It was just sort of there. If you’re having trouble with getting mascara to stick and want to see if a primer will help before ditching it, or if you’re on an extremely tight budget, this would be a fair choice. However, it did nothing that a dozen other primers don’t.

The Big Winners

Benefit They’re Real Tinted Primer

When I tried on Benefit They’re Real Tinted Primer ($12 for the mini or $24 for full size, Sephora) I was almost tempted to wear it by itself. If it had been black instead of dark brown, I might have. The tint means that there’s nothing to show through the mascara, and it coats evenly and stays put until I take it off. It has an excellent silicone wand with a ball at the tip that can be used to get tiny bottom and corner lashes for maximum coverage. I have actual mascaras that don’t give this good a result.

Smashbox Photo Finish Lash Primer

Smashbox Photo Finish Lash Primer ($23, Ulta) is the kind of product I was hoping all the others would be. Lengthening, thickening, but not clumping. Long wearing, conditioning, and absolutely gorgeous. Even though the product is white, it goes on so smoothly that there’s no trouble covering it. But the real magic here is in the brush–one side is a half-round that gives the coverage of a standard mascara wand, while the other side is comb-shaped to give perfect separation. This is the best of the best, and going through the fail products was worth it to get to this one. I can’t wait to see how it performs with a more exciting mascara. If you can only get one lash primer out of the ones I’ve tested, get this one. The only thing that I can see bothering some people, which wasn’t a real downside for me, is that it takes a little longer to dry than some of the others.


As you can see, there is a HUGE disparity in quality across brands of lash primer, but a good one can make a good mascara into a great one. Have a favorite primer I haven’t tried? Let me know in the comments!


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