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6 Lipstick Primers Tried & Tested (With Photos!)

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Lipstick is that magical makeup item that can transform your whole face, even if you’re not wearing anything else. So for me, making it last is a big priority! I don’t want it to bleed out, or worse, get that ring-around-the-lips effect (pigment on the outer edges of my lips, and my natural lip color shining through in the middle). One way to keep product in place is by using a lipstick primer which is specially formulated for the lips.

Sasha Plavsic, founder of ILIA Beauty (one of my favorite lipstick brands), doesn’t typically use a primer herself, but says they do work. “It’s an extra step. Re-applying lipstick a few times a day with a tube does the job for now at my age, but primers are especially great for mature lips,” she says. Why? Because older lips are more likely to experience bleeding, and because primer can help protect the moisture-sapping effects of lipsticks. But you do want a lip-specific product, which tend to be wax-based versus the creamier primers designed for the face and eyes. “Since our lips are more moist, a face or eye primer would probably just come off quickly,” says Plavsic.

With that in mind, I decided to test six different lip primers, all designed to make color last as long as possible. The ground rules: Every morning, I applied one of the primers, let it dry, followed with Anna Sui Lipstick #401, and then snapped the “before” photo. Roughly six hours later, after sipping coffee in the morning, water all day, and eating lunch (note, I’m a diligent napkin-user), we took the “after” photos. No reapplying in between. The idea was to see how well each one wore and compare the results.

Multipurpose: bh Cosmetics Eye & Lip Primer

$11.95

Lipstick Primers: Multipurpose: bh Cosmetics Eye  & Lip Primer

A multitasker that comes in the tiniest little pot, this one has the most built-in color of the group. The product is a creamy-beige tone, which really seems to brighten the shade of your lipstick (According to the package, the product “neutralizes color to bring out your makeup’s optimal shade.”) Use a brush or your finger—a little goes a long way toward creating a smooth canvas for longer-lasting color. And yep, it works really well for shadow and under eye makeup, too.  

Glossiest: NP Set Lip Primer Set

$14

Lipstick Primers:Glossiest: NP Set Lip Primer Set

This primer from NP Set (the more price-friendly line from Napoleon Perdis) comes in a tube and has a sheer pink tint to it, and goes on like a glossy balm. Cocoa butter and green tea extract add to the moisturizing, soothing effect, but made me a little skeptical that it’d do much to hold my lipstick in place. But it did help! My color faded a bit after lunch and all, but I still had a stain at the end of the day. This one is supposed to give a light plumping effect, but I didn’t notice that—just extra moisture and a little extra wear. If you’re interested in hydration over lasting power, or an everyday primer, this would be a good choice.

Best All-Around: MAC Prep+Prime Lip Base

$16

Lipstick Primers: Best All-Around: MAC Prep+Prime Lip Base

Leave it to MAC to create a truly invisible lipstick primer that smoothes and defines the lips and maintains the finish of your lipstick—glossies will stay glossy, mattes will stay matte. The product comes in a simple, skinny twist tube and feels like an ordinary lip balm, light vanilla flavor included. It did the trick, helping most of the pigment last throughout the day without much feathering.

Longest Wear: Too Faced Lip Insurance

$19 | Shop it here!

Lipstick Primers: Longest Wear: Too Faced Lip Insurance

Too Faced’s Eye Shadow Insurance is much-loved eyelid primer, and fans of that product won’t be disappointed by this lip version. After you smooth on the colorless cream with the wand applicator, it initially feels glossy before drying seconds later. You can actually feel the product setting, and then, after layering on your lipstick, see the color drying onto it. That’s when you know it’s going to work! There are anti-aging ceramides and peptides to nourish the lips, but the important thing is how well it wears; this was a standout of the bunch, for lasting power, and it made the color really pop. For special events, it’s a great lipstick primer to have in your kit.

Most Precise: Bite Beauty Line & Define Lip Primer

$22

Lipstick Primers: Most Precise: Bite Beauty Line  & Define Lip Primer

This twist-style balm-in-a-pencil also has a built-in sharpener hidden the base—so genius! This means you can get a really fine point, and therefore, a perfectly shaped application. It’s the most natural of the bunch (it’s free of parabens, sulfates, petrochemicals, phthalates, triclosan, and GMOs) and feels hydrating but not at all slippery. The product is completely translucent, with a pleasant hint of mint, and made the color really pop initially. Throughout the day this primer kept much of the color hanging on for hours.

Line-Fighting: Mary Kay Timewise Age-Fighting Lip Primer

$23

Lipstick Primers: Line-Fighting: Mary Kay Timewise Age-Fighting Lip Primer

Mary Kay’s lip primer is packed with antioxidants and skin conditioners, which makes it ideal for aging and sensitive lips. In a stick applicator, it looks and feels like a silky, translucent balm. It helps to smooth out fine lines and even out the surface of the lips, and is supposed to reduce the appearance of fine lines over time with regular use. In the one-day test, it wasn’t the stickiest of the bunch, but it helped my lipstick hold and made my lips feel smooth.

The overall verdict? All six of these generally lived up to their claim, at least somewhat! My trusty Anna Sui red lasted a lot longer than it does on its own. Especially for special events, I think a primer is well worth the investment—it’ll make your color more vibrant and even, and help it stay put. So are there any DIY lip-priming tricks? According to Plavsic, if you exfoliate your lips before applying, lipsticks with strong pigment should last longer. “It’s the same way we prep the complexion; by exposing new skin, it will absorb color well,” she says. To do it, use a toothbrush or washcloth to lightly exfoliate, or try an exfoliator like ILIA’s.