Best Illuminating Primers: Makeup Must-Try

Y'all know me by now--this girl loves a dang glow. And that would include a variety of glowiness, from the extreme to the subtle. I've covered highlighters before here, but today we are talking about illuminating primers and these are a must-try.

What is an illuminating primer? How do you apply it?

  • Add a glow or radiance to the skin and come in different colors like highlighters do
  • Can be worn alone or under foundation, but they are usually worn before foundation--
  • You can wear these all over the face, like a regular primer, or target certain areas of the face
  • Key words: radiance, glow, luminous, illumination + primer
I got the idea for this post from Shireen, who wanted to know more about illuminating primers. Are they worth the hype? Are these an essential to a makeup routine?
  • Sometimes highlighters can be super intense, like a light beam heading into outer space, but think of illuminating primers as a much more wearable version, almost like a natural glow. My friends who have oily skin and shy away from highlighters, love some illuminating primers
  • Think glow, not sparkle. Shimmer.
  • Not an essential, but a nice addition
What illuminating primers would you recommend?
  • Straight up, I came up with over 40 right off the bat, so this is HARD to narrow down.
Expensive ($40+) but amazing:
Givenchy Mister Smooth, Shiseido Glow Enhancing Primer, YSL Glow Moisture (very, very subtle), Dior Glow Maximizer, Hourglass Ambient Light Correcting Primer (gorgeous, comes in 3 shades), Lancome makes a great one as well

Mid-range ($25+)
Clarins, Cover Fx Illuminating Primer, Estee Lauder Illuminating Perfecting Primer, Benefit That Gal, Chanel Illuminating Base, Illamasqua (you have to dip into this one with provided spatula)

Drugstore (up to $20)
No. 7 Airbrush Away Radiance Boosting Primer (this one is brand new and good), Sephora, L'Oreal Lumi Magic Base, NYX Born to Glow, Soap and Glory Hocus Focus, Not pictured: Juice Beauty has a really good one with good ingredients

My Favorites ($25+)
Armani Light Master Primer, Becca Backlight Filter, Kevyn Aucoin Celestial Lighting, MAC Strobe Cream (look for the travel size version that's $10), Laura Mercier Foundation Primer Radiance

Any you'd skip?
  • Yes, anything with glitter flecks in it in a gel base. Those act more like a moisturizer than an illuminating primer.
NOTE: I have no pictures up today of these on my skin. Since the glow is subtle on these, they don't photograph well, and I don't want to pile them to get them to show since that's not realistic. See my DUPE OR NOT? post here for a MAC Strobe Cream Vs NYX.

Do you use illuminating primers?

Extra Elle--No big plans for me this weekend, but lots to be done around the blog and the house. Again, thinking of those in the path of the hurricane.


  1. I've never tried an illuminating primer, but I have been so curious about them! I love that you break them down by price range. Since I'm new to them, I would probably try something from the drugstore category first. Although, I do love just about everything Laura Mercier makes! Have a great weekend, Elle!

    xo, Rachel
    A Blonde's Moment

  2. I LOVE the MAC Strobe cream! I just got to try it out and it's the best! I also have the Becca Backlight and wear it constantly under foundation. I didn't know there were so many options out there.
    xo, Whitney and Blaire
    Peaches In A Pod

  3. I have never used one before. This is a great round up. I might have to try a cheaper one to see if I would like it. Great post Elle!


  4. I've never tried an illuminating primer before before I think I should give it a go - you never if you'll like it on yourself until you try it, right?

    Courtney ~ Sartorial Sidelines

  5. I love how you put your faves for different price points, Elle. That really helps! As much as I'd like to try that Hourglass one, I'd probably opt for the cheaper ones first:D

  6. I bought the MAC Strobe cream on your recommendation and I love it. I wish I started using it sooner. I do have the hourglass one and the first time I used, I loved it. the second time I hated it as it seeped right into my pores. Stay safe this weekend.

  7. Thank you so much for this, Elle! I have L'Oreal Magic Lumi but OMG, I find it to make my skin looks metallic. I have tried using very little but it just sits funny on my skin. I don't know what I'm doing wrong. I have a sample of the CoverFx primer and it's really lovely, much more subtle than Becca Backlight Primer Filter.

    Shireen | Reflection of Sanity

  8. There are so many illuminating primers out there. I'm currently using a deluxe sample of the Becca Backlight Filter that I got in Sephora Play box and I'm really liking it so far.

  9. I really want to try the Hourglass one and great price point too!

  10. Love this idea for those that want a glow but don't like highlighters or aren't the best at using them!

  11. I had no idea they made primers like these. Enjoy your free weekend and stay safe with the hurricane out there.


  12. Great review, you really are an epic makeup guru! <3 - http://www.domesticgeekgirl.com

  13. Great review, you really are an epic makeup guru! <3 - http://www.domesticgeekgirl.com

  14. I always look at make up primers and think...do I need this? You make a convincing argument!

  15. I've never tried primers, let alone illuminating primers! But this sounds like so much fun to test and try! Thanks for the great review to go off of to get my first illuminating primer. xo, Ellese


  16. Wow you did a major recap of illuminators I've never even head of. I need to step my game up haha. Thanks for sharing girl :)


  17. I think I will try them out.

    Thanks for sharing.

  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

  19. Sorry, posted too soon, haha!

    I've never tried an illuminator before! But I'm thinking you might convince me to try one out!

  20. I haven't tried any illuminating primers or bases. I think my matteofyinf setting powder cancels them out whenever I try!

  21. Glow Maximiser is on my wishlist! I love Becca Backlight Priming Filter xx

    Beautylymin| Kat Von D Contour Palette & brush Giveaway

  22. I looove glowy skin, highlighters, etc... and unfortunately my favorite highlighter - not creamy like the ones you showed - broke and was discontinued. Since it happened, I have bought more than 10 highlighters, hoping to find one like that, to no avail :( I have Lumimagique and Le Blanc de Chanel and That Gal. So I will try to give them another try to maybe achieve a shimmering, dewy effect! I would like to have the Laura Mercier primer radiance product!

  23. I have never tried using a highlighter so I really don't have anything to recommend.

  24. Oo, I'm going to Ulta tomorrow, so I'm going to look for some of these :)

  25. I got a sample of the Becca primer in my Sephora play box. I have oily skin so I knew it probably wouldn't work on my whole face, so I've been using it under my eyes and I love how it look! My sister's a huge fan of girl meets pearl by benefit.

  26. My favorite is actually... shimmer in a gel base, it's the Météorites primer from Guerlain! It does add a nice luminosity but without making my skin look oily. I tried Becca's Backlight but it was too much for me, it make me look really oily.


  27. Ohhh I think I am going to get the travel sized MAC Strobe Cream like you suggested and see how it works for me! I could use a little glow...since the only pregnancy glow I get is from sweat! Haha!

  28. I haven't tried any of these because my skin can get quite oily, but I'm glad to hear the ones you like the most. I might give one of these a try this winter when I know my skin will be dry. I would really love to try the Hourglass primer because I love the mineral veil so much!


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