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We Tried It: Color-Correcting Primers in Every Shade of the Rainbow

Do the new breed of primers deliver on their promise to reduce redness, brighten skin, and smooth over discoloration?
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You know you've got a problem when you briefly consider both bribing a TSA agent and/or missing your flight because you think you packed an illicit, full-size tube of expensive foundation primer in your carry-on. Throw it away? When hell freezes over. (True story.)

You're about to witness this full-blown obsession at its best. A few of our in-house primer junkies gave up their favorite primers ( Laura Mercier Foundation Primer SPF 30 and Smashbox Photo Finish Primer — Allie's can't-live-without-it makeup product) and road-tested some of the new tinted color-correcting face primers to see if any offer the makeup benefits they promise. Find out which ones we loved, and which ones we're giving to a 4-year-old who loves to finger paint.

Image via @smashboxcosmetics

Smashbox's Photo Finish Primer is pretty much the gold standard — over and over again in testing, we kept coming back to the same question, 'How does it compare to Smashbox?' So how does Smashbox 1.0 compare to the color-correcting 2.0? Smashingly. Just like the original "it's one of the only primers that doesn't make my skin feel like it's being assaulted by yet another layer of makeup," said one tester.

The primers go on super silky and create that always-hyped but rarely achieved smooth "canvas" for foundation. "It glides across my foundation without any pilling or splotching," said another tester.

The apricot tint was designed to conceal dark spots and veins -- a major issue for one of our very fair-skinned testers. She liked the coverage, and said it gave her face a "soft glow." Likewise the purple version: "It absolutely made my face look brighter and more awake," she noted.

Our finicky red-faced tester did raise one flag about the color-correcting green: side-by-side with the original, translucent Photo Finish primer, the difference in the redness (after applying foundation) was so subtle as to be... undetectable. "It's lovely and smooth, and it made my foundation do its job better — precisely what a great primer should do," she said. "But I didn't see a notable difference between the original and the color-correcting version."

Warning: this redness-reducing primer goes on very green — like, Wicked Witch of the West green. This is not a primer you can wear on its own, but once applied, our road tester said the green tint "completely vanished under my foundation, along with some of the redness in my skin." That's the good news.

The bad? So. Much. Sparkle. If you believe (as our testers do) that the best primers are the ones you don't see, this shimmery formula is not for you. But if you want a luminous shimmer underneath your foundation, knock yourself out — you'll love this primer.

We also found the pump on this face primer to be a bit too generous. A little product goes a long way, but one tap and a full stream of product shoots out, which makes for a messy container and too much wasted product.

In a word: love. These are the primers we'll reach for after this road test. A pea-size dab covers your entire face, and they feel rich and silky. All of the testers noted the unusual way these primers "dry" to a powdery finish (one tester remarked that this feature "seemed to suck up the oil on my face throughout the day").

One tester said that both the peach and lavender primers brightened and evened out her skin tone and kept her foundation in place all day. She also noted that these primers have a blurring effect: "It was like seeing my skin through a soft-focus lens," she said.

For our redness-prone tester, the yellow primer did a great job muting the irritated red patches around her nose and cheeks, and she also found that it lightened the dark circles under her eyes. This was her top pick because "it didn't sink into my skin the way some primers do — it created a smooth barrier between my skin and foundation, so the coverage was as close to flawless as it gets without professional help or Photoshop."

If this primer was a drugstore buy in the range of $15-$20, we'd give it our blessing. The light green tint offers some color-correcting coverage of red patches, it created a great surface for the different foundations we paired it with, and one tester with sensitive skin remarked that she loved the "light, lotion-like consistency."

But for the price, this little tube needs to wow us more than a great drugstore primer (like L'Oreal Revitalift Miracle Blur, $19). DermaBlend's SkinPerfector didn't completely deliver on its promise of "full coverage" of irritated, red skin or rosacea. This color-correcting primer also loses a few points for poorly designed packaging. Too much primer pours out when you squeeze the coated aluminum tube, and you can't easily stop the flow.

And despite billing itself as a color-correcting primer, if you read the fine print on the back, it lists "sunscreen" as its purpose and in the directions for use. Sneaky? Yes. But on the bright side, it's a color-correcting primer with SPF 15.

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