'The $9 eye primer that's the secret weapon in my makeup bag.'

I have a secret weapon in my makeup bag. It’s tiny and invisible, like a mini superhero, and it holds onto eyeshadow tighter than any guy in a cape. I’m talking about eye primer, and if you love wearing eyeshadow but hate how it can fade and crease and get lost on your face faster than me without Google Maps, then you need this little guy in your makeup kit.

Here’s the thing: if you see me wearing eyeshadow, it means I am Making An Effort. It’s the opposite to a laid-back “I just put on moisturiser and lip balm” vibe. I have deliberated over which shades to wear, I have swept it on and blended it out and wiped off any excess. My eyelids are like little Sistine Chapel ceilings, and like these famous frescoes, it would be great if the art on my eyelids could last for 500 years – or at least for the day. Is that too much to ask?

It turns out that no, this is not too much to ask of my little eye primer. It is only too happy to please, like a butler for my eyes. And here’s why.

Do I really need an eye primer?

If you wear eyeshadow, then yes! An eye primer makes your eyeshadow last throughout the day without fading or creasing. It will bring out the best of your eyeshadow colour, which means – and here’s another beauty hack – that even the cheapest eyeshadow will look expensive if you wear an eye primer underneath.

Personally, what I love most about eye primers is that they create a barrier between my eye makeup and eyelid, so that when it comes time to remove it, it will slide off smoothly without rubbing. This is especially useful when using long-wear or gel formula eyeshadows, such as Maybelline Eyestudio ColorTattoo 24HR Cream Gel Eyeshadow, which is super easy to swipe on but takes real elbow grease to get off, if I use it without primer. As a woman in my 30s, rubbing my eyes vigorously seems like a bad, wrinkle-inducing idea.


What actually is eye primer, and how do I use it?

Eye primer usually comes in a lightweight cream formula, and is applied using a sponge-tip applicator, or squeezed from a small tube. After applying your skincare (and eye cream, if you’re into that – I am!), and before makeup, put a thin layer of eye primer all over your eyelid, where you would usually apply your eyeshadow. I like to pat on a few dots from the sponge applicator onto my eyelid, and then blend it out using my fingers. A good eye primer will dry instantly, after which you can go crazy with your eyeshadow.

Listen to Leigh Campbell and Kelly McCarren discuss the role of primer in your makeup routine on You Beauty.

Okay, now I want eye primer. So which one do I get?

As your friendly local makeup addict, I can tell you that I have bought and tried many different eye primers, from the expensive cult brands to dusty chemist bargains. And guess which one I reach for the most? My e.l.f. Shadow Lock Eyelid Primer, which is $9 from Kmart. The tube, applicator and formula remind me so much of the NARS Smudge Proof Eyeshadow Base, $38, except I like the e.l.f. version more! Yes, the NARS eye primer is the one that you will hear all the beauty experts raving about. But the e.l.f. eye primer applies more smoothly, and isn’t as grippy or tacky as the NARS one, which means that eyeshadow can just glide over on top. And when you consider that it’s often recommended that we refresh our eye makeup products every few months to prevent eye infections, a cheaper product would be the better choice.

A tiny thing that annoyed me about the NARS eye primer is that the packaging has a matte, rubbery finish, which seemed to attract all of the powdery debris from the bottom of my makeup bag, so that the tube is now the colour of dirty carpet. The e.l.f. tube is shiny and tapered, and will sit prettily amongst your makeup collection.

best eye primers

Eye primers also come in different shades and finishes. Which one is the best?

I personally prefer an eye primer that creates a sheer, smooth surface, that can work with any type of eyeshadow, from matte to metallic. The e.l.f. Shadow Lock Eyelid Primer is a good all-rounder like that. I have purchased textured and tinted eye primers in the past, such as the metallic (think champagne sparkles) Urban Decay Eyeshadow Primer Potion. I found that it actually limited my makeup choices in the morning, because if I changed my mind and went for a matte eyeshadow over a metallic choice, it would end up looking uneven and gluggy over the metallic primer. With all of the multi-texture eyeshadow palettes on offer (such as Urban Decay’s own Naked palettes), a do-it-all eye primer seems to be a better choice. It’s also worth noting that for many makeup brands, any product that is “tinted” to match the colour of one’s eyelids is never my skin tone – they tend to cater to paler complexions - which is why a sheer or colourless products would be the better choice.


Now, go forth, and may your eye shadow application be as subtle or hectic as you like – but whatever your style, at least you know that it will last all day.

What’s the tiny hero of your makeup bag? Tell us in the comments below.

Carla Gee is a writer and illustrator, living in Canberra. You can follow her on Instagram, @bycarlagee.

Love all things beauty? Come join our You Beauty Facebook group for more chit chat about things to put on your face. And body. And hair.