Smashbox describes their Photo Finish Primer Water as a multi-purpose product, designed to deliver moisture, “radiance” and, of course, to “prime” your skin for makeup application. Marketing claims aside, what you actually get is a basic toner, consisting of mostly water, glycol, and one antioxidant ingredient along with a few minerals and fragrance. The amount of fragrance isn’t excessive, but it does linger for a bit after application and makes this an iffy product for those with sensitive skin.
Smashbox also mentions that Primer Water is free of “silicone, alcohol and oil”. While we’re all for products free of high amounts of skin-damaging alcohol (i.e. SD alcohol, ethanol, denatured alcohol and the like), we thought it odd they would portray silicone and oils as negatives when both types of ingredients are used in the rest of their makeup primers and many of their foundations. In short, there’s no blanket reason for everyone to avoid silicones or oils.
Photo Finish Primer Water isn’t the first product of this type to hit the market—M.A.C Fix+ is arguably the most popular of them. Like Fix+, this isn’t any more suited to makeup prep or adding radiance to skin than any average toner, and you could add a spray bottle top to your choice of toner and achieve the same result.
Unlike Fix+, this is an unfortunately bland formula whose only beneficial antioxidant, caffeine, isn’t going to remain stable for long thanks to the clear plastic packaging of Photo Finish Primer Water. The “revitalizing electrolytes” (which are minerals) present aren’t going to benefit skin—because they can’t be absorbed topically. These ingredients have an actionable effect in the body, but you’re not supposed to drink this product.
If you’re curious, there isn’t enough diamond powder to add shine or “radiance” to skin, nor does diamond powder bring any unique or expensive benefit to skin.
To be clear, there is absolutely nothing about Photo Finish Primer Water that makes it any different than any average toner that you could use as part of your skincare routine, to dampen your makeup sponge (like the BeautyBlender), or to mist on your face as the last step in your makeup routine.
Are makeup primers really necessary? In a perfect world, they’re no more necessary than “extras” like highlighters or contour powders, but if you enjoy the aesthetic feel a well-formulated primer brings to your makeup routine, we say go for it. Just stick to those that are free of needless potentially irritating extras (like fragrance). See those that we recommend as the best in our list of Best Foundation Primers.
Two interesting things about Smashbox are that its name refers to the early, accordion-style cameras and that Smashbox is first and foremost a Hollywood-based photography studio. The company's creators, Dean and Davis Factor, have their heritage in makeup—their great-grandfather was the legendary makeup artist Max Factor. The makeup, which debuted in 1996, began as a collection of trendy and fashion-forward colors coupled with a pleasingly neutral palette of foundations, concealers, and powders. Nowadays, there are exceptional options to choose from, but also some color products that fall short due to too sheer formulas or other issues noted in their respective reviews.
Where Smashbox has lived up to their Hollywood makeup pedigree is with a few standout formulas, including impressive lip products as well as excellent foundations, BB and CC cream options. Of course, the brand is also well-known for their range of makeup primers—whether that’s a necessary step is up for debate—but nevertheless they do offer a few products in this category that are worth considering.
For more information about Smashbox, now owned by Estee Lauder visit www.smashbox.com.
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