Do you need to wear another product under your foundation - and if there is an advantage, which is the best? Our guinea pig narrowed the field down to just one makeup primer that worked...

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Primers are formulated to prepare your skin for foundation, but I’m cynical. If foundations do what they say they do, is it really necessary to prepare the skin first?

My favourite foundation is by Bobbi Brown.  It was expensive to buy and gives my skin an even tone, radiance and diminishes the appearance of fine lines. Can a primer improve on that?  Or are they just another ploy by companies to fleece us for more money by preying on our insecurities?

To find out, I lined dozens of primers along the mirror in my bathroom and spent a couple of weeks trying every single one.  It became clear that there are three different categories of texture:  serum bases, which are silky, non-oily, transparent formulas that glide on easily; fluffy, paraffin-wax textured balm; and iridescent, light-diffusing liquids. Some were tinted, but I didn’t like those - I mean, if I’m going to cover it with foundation, do I need one tint on top of another? After narrowing my trial down to colourless primers, these are my favourites.

Serum-textured primers

For the serum-textured primers I really liked L’Oreal Paris Studio Secrets Smoothing Resurfacing Primer, £14.29, . It’s an anti-shine mattifying primer and does just that. I liked the way it glided on, the instant disappearance of shine and the over-all evenness of my skin tone after applying.  I would even go far as to say that if I’m abroad with a sun tan, I might not bother with foundation at all, as this would be enough on its own as I tend to travel to humid countries and shine is always a problem. However, did it make a marked difference to my foundation? Not really, but that could be because I already have good skin, thanks to a six-month course of Roaccutane when I was in my early twenties and suffering from acne!

I would recommend this for anyone who feels they need an improved base on which to apply their foundation, because it does the job  -  after all, an artist needs a perfect canvas for paint.  I also liked Mattifying Primer by Autograph, £12, , Lancome La Base Pro (right), £27,  and I-Prime by New Cid Cosmetics, £27, .

For those with dry or mature skin, No 28 Primer Serum (left) by Hourglass, £62,  has the most luxurious silky texture that sinks into the skin within a few minutes, leaving a velvety sheen.  This is definitely more moisturising than the others, and at first I thought it was going to be too greasy, but it wasn’t, it was lovely, and my skin definitely looked nice and dewy.

Balm-textured primers

I have always been a fan of Clarins Instant Smooth Perfecting Touch (below), £25, , for its anti-shine and mattifying effect, so I was pleasantly surprised by Benefit’s The POREfessional PRO balm, £29.50,  and Time Defy Anti Ageing Primer by Autograph, £12,  because they have a similar quality and result.  These balms are very good for older women as they really do diminish the appearance of fine lines, much better than the serum-textured primers, and they did have a positive effect on my foundation. I found they worked well mixed with my foundation. However, I have to say that Autograph’s Time Defy smells a little like bathroom cleaner, which lingered under my nose all day.

Iridescent liquid primers

Finally, the iridescent liquids.  These managed to shine through my foundation and really did give my skin a youthful radiance – and I received very flattering comments from friends, which wasn’t the case with the previous two categories.  The winning pair are Dior Skinflash Primer, £28.50, , which comes in a handsome brush dispenser (although I found it rather annoying and applied it with my fingers instead), and Guerlain’s Météorites Perles, £35.50,,  which is a bottle full of small pearly balls – gimmicky maybe but it does the trick!

The winner

But would I actually go out and buy a primer? After much deliberation, because I would say it’s a luxury rather than a necessity, I conclude that yes, I would definitely part with my cash, and it would be for Guerlain’s Météorites Perles.

Read our pick of the  best primers for oily skin