I have never really seen the point of primers and tended to regard them as a way for a cosmetic company to sell a product that is essentially superfluous. That is until I bought Smashbox Photo Finish SPF15 ($17) and discovered that it completely transforms the look and behavior of foundation to create a super smooth and long-lasting look. OK, I get it now. But there's a lot more going on with this primer.

Smashbox Photo Finish SPF15 is an anti-aging version of its cult status foundation primer, Photo Finish. In addition to sunscreen ingredients, it boasts something called Dermaxyl, which makes this version of Photo Finish an ‘anti-ager”. Makeup morphing into skincare is a trend that we are going to see more of. In a way, this makes Photo Finish something of a BB cream – these new multitaskers that are all the rage in Asia and are taking off in the US. But do these additional bells and whistle’s really add up to much?

My guess is that Smashbox’s Dermaxyl is one of the collagen-boosting peptides that is known as Matrixyl 3000, palmitoyl oligopeptide, and antioxidant green tea and grape seed extracts. Plus there’s kola seed (which is a source of caffeine) and moisturizing ceramide-2. These are all worthwhile additions and I like the thought that a humble primer is doing my skin some good.

On the other hand, I would prefer Photo Finish SPF15 if Smashbox hadn’t decided to include a sunscreen at all. I can see why it wouldn’t choose chalky (but relatively safe) zinc oxide, but I wish it hadn’t opted for the toxin and estrogen mimicking, octinoxate (although researchers disagree on the concentrations needed before it becomes harmful). The other sunscreen used here is the relatively safe octisalate. There’s also diethylamino hydroxybenzoyl hexyl benzoate, a UVA absorber, which the EU has pronounced as harmless in concentrations up to 10%.  So, all in all, it could be worse.  There is, though, retinyl palmitate and this is increasingly being regarded as to be avoided if exposure to sun is expected as research has shown it to be carcinogenic.

There’s a ton of silicone here, but then it is a primer after all and that silky layer has to be achieved somehow. Most of the other ingredients, even the solvent methyl perfluroisobutyl ether, seem to be fairly benign.

Before buying this again, I’d prefer that Smashbox made a few formula alterations such as leaving out the retinyl palmitate and finding alternatives to phenoxyethanol and propylene glycol. But until then, Smashbox has given its cult primer a nudge in the right direction for those of us that want makeup to contribute to their anti-aging regimen.

Active Ingredients: 7.5% octinoxate, 5% octisalate. Ingredients: Cyclopentasiloxane, dimethicone crosspolymer, dimethicone/vinyl dimethicone crosspolymer, methyl perfluroisobutyl ether, methyl perfluorobutyl ether, diethylamino hydroxybenzoyl hexyl benzoate, safflower seed oil, cola acuminata seed extract, green tea, grape seed extract, c12-15 alkyl benzoate, tribehenin, ceramide-2, PEG-10 rapeseed sterol, palmitoyl oligopeptide, tocopheryl acetate, retinyl palmitate, water, ethyl trisiloxane, caprylyl methicone, methicone, silica, silica silyate, hexylene glycol, propylene glycol, triethoxycaprylysilane, caprylyl glycol, ethylhexylglycerin, phenoxyethanol, (+/- iron oxides, titanium dioxide)