Velvety makeup primers are a luxurious part of any beauty routine, providing a silky soft feel to the skin, and making foundation glide on flawlessly. Primers only became a fixture on the makeup scene about 15 years ago, but unlike many fleeting trends, they dug their heels in and became a staple. No matter what’s your skin type or how much makeup you like to wear, you will likely be able to find some use for a makeup primer.
The key is to learn about the different types of makeup primers, so you can choose the right one for yourself, to learn how to use makeup primers, so you can apply them flawlessly, and to figure out which are the best makeup primers, so you can make sure to use an excellent product. I cover all these bases in this article, so you can really lay down a flawless base.
Guide to Makeup Primers: Contents
• What Are Makeup Primers?
• Do I Need a Makeup Primer?
• Types of Makeup Primers
• How to Choose the Right Makeup Primer for Your Skin Type and Skin Concerns
• How To Use Makeup Primers – Correct Application Method
• Makeup Primer Hacks
• Best Makeup Primers for Normal Skin or All Skin Types
• Best Makeup Primers for Oily Skin and Acne
• Best Primers for Dry and Mature Skin
• Best Illuminating Makeup Primers
• Best Color Correcting Makeup Primers
A makeup primer is a unique product that straddles the line between makeup and skin care, and yet does not quite fit into one or the other. Makeup primers are lotion or cream-based formulas that are applied to the skin before foundation (or occasionally in its stead).
Their purpose is to sit on top of the skin, where they will fill in any gaps between pores and wrinkles, thereby turning the skin into a smoother canvas to which it is easier to apply foundation. Makeup primers also act as a shield, separating the foundation from the skin and preventing any of its ingredients becoming absorbed by the skin.
This also means that foundations that are applied over makeup primers tend to last much longer, and the skin ends up looking smooth and flawless for many hours.
So while I do not think makeup primers are a mandatory makeup step, it is totally up to you to decide for yourself. You should definitely add a primer to your makeup routine if any of the following applies to you:
• Your foundation doesn’t last as long as you would like it to, despite setting it with powder.
• Your skin texture is uneven either due to large pores, fine lines and wrinkles, scarring, dryness, or any other reason, and you find it difficult to apply foundation over it.
• Your skin produces a lot of oil, and gets shiney throughout the day even with face powder.
• You find that most foundations oxidize (i.e. become a different shade, normally a little more orange or a little darker than what it was in the tube) after being applied to your skin.
You might also consider using a primer if you simply like the luxury of it, if you find other benefits to it (like sunscreen or color correction), or if you find that it makes your foundation application a little bit easier, and don’t mind taking the extra time to apply it.
Like any other makeup product, makeup primers also come in a myriad of forms and formulas, trying to cater every skin type and issue. These are the basic types of makeup primers you might want to go for!
The Average Foundation Primer
Many makeup brands only release one primer that is meant to be simple and suitable for all skin types. These kinds of makeup primers are almost always either polymer- or silicone-based, with formulas that give the skin a diffused, smooth finish that minimizes the look of both pores and wrinkles, but without the mattifying effect.
They’ll keep foundation lasting longer and make sure applying it is a total breeze, and will work for almost any skin type including dry, normal, combination, and oily. They are a good place to start if you are not 100% sure what kind of effect you want to achieve with your primer.
Mattifying Makeup Primers
Those with oily and combination skin can seriously benefit from oil-control makeup primers. These are almost always silicone-based, with cyclopentasiloxane being by far the best mattifying, pore-filling silicone.
In addition to minimizing the look of pores, mattifying makeup primers also help prevent the skin from becoming shiny throughout the day, regardless of whether you do or don’t wear foundation. It is possible to only use them on the parts of the face that become oily or greasy.
Strobing/ Illuminating Makeup Primers
For an ethereal, glow-from-within type of look, strobe creams are absolutely mandatory. They create a slightly reflective finish below the foundation that attracts light and illuminates the skin.
Some strobe creams have a more subtle shine, and can work with all skin types, but some are super glowy and shimmery; they have a gorgeous effect on those with smooth, normal skin, but for those with larger pores, wrinkles, or uneven texture they don’t work, because the shimmer draws attention to the imperfections.
Silicone-Free Makeup Primers
Silicones are responsible for the velvety feeling many makeup primers have, but they are not the end-all-be-all! While silicones are fairly mild and safe, some people’s skin does not tolerate them. For others, silicones don’t seem to play nicely with the skincare products they wear below.
Thankfully, there are many silicone-free makeup primers that work beautifully with polymers, waxes, or oil-derived emollients. These are often a better choice for those with dry skin, as well.
Color Correcting Makeup Primers
Color correcting makeup primers move a little closer to the makeup side of things, but they still have all of the benefits of other primers. They have a very light tint of a color like green, yellow, peach, or lavender, in order to neutralize unsavoury skin colors.
A spin of the color wheel will tell you that green neutralizes red, yellow neutralizes purple, peach controls blue, while lavender brightens up sallow skin. It’s a great way of killing two birds with one stone, by both improving the wear of your foundation and also reducing the need for large amounts of it.
Anti-Aging and Hydrating Makeup Primers
Sometimes these also fall into the silicone-free primer category, but no matter the base, there is no reason why your primer can’t also include fabulous anti-aging and hydrating ingredients. Many brands add vitamins, essential fatty acids, and antioxidants to their makeup primers to upgrade them into anti-aging treatments that also make foundation look better.
To make the best of your makeup primer, you need to know how to choose one exactly for your skin type. The same makeup primer that your friend is obsessed with might not work for you, so make sure to follow our tips and choose the right makeup primer for your skin.
Makeup Primers for Normal Skin
If you have medium and small sized pores, and your skin doesn’t tend to get either dry or oily, doesn’t break out often, and does not become easily irritated, then you have a balanced, normal skin type. For those with normal skin, a makeup primer should simply create a smooth canvas and help foundation last longer. Almost all companies create this kind of primer for all skin types that may be crafted with or without silicone.
You might also want to experiment with makeup primers that have other properties – perhaps they are rich in antioxidants to keep your skin young and healthy, perhaps they will have a protective SPF and can substitute for sunscreen, or perhaps they will have an illuminating effect that will give your skin a dewy, strobed finish.
Makeup Primers for Dry Skin
Recognizing dry skin is pretty easy – it is marked by smaller pores, the occasional dry patches, and it rarely becomes greasy or shiny. Dry skin is much more prone to becoming dull, sallow, and irritated than other skin types.
Those with dry skin should definitely be using makeup primers with more emollient ingredients that will help reduce the look of dry patches and will also help moisturize the skin a little bit.
You want to avoid makeup primers with very mattifying ingredients like cyclopentasiloxane at the beginning of the ingredients list. Instead, look for reflective primers that will give your skin a dewy, diffused finish. Avoid primers with a ton of shimmer, though, since shimmer tends to emphasize the look of dryness.
Makeup Primers for Oily Skin
Oily skin tends to have larger pores (especially in the T-zone), and it very quickly becomes oily as the day wears on. Foundation tends to oxidize quicker when it sits on top of oily skin.
Those with oily skin are best off using silicone-based makeup primers, assuming they work well for their skin. Silicones – especially cyclopentasiloxane and dimethicone, have an ability to minimize the look of pores, and give the skin a matte finish. They also create a barrier between the oils the skin produces and the foundation, thereby preventing oxidization and helping the foundation last long.
Makeup Primers for Combination Skin
Those with combination skin have areas of their face that are drier, and others that are oilier. The division is most frequently an oily T-zone, and drier cheeks.
Those with combination skin can go in two routes: they can choose a simple, balanced makeup primer, or they can use two different types of makeup primers: a mattifying one for the oily areas of their face, and a more moisturizing one for the dry parts.
Makeup Primers for Acne-Prone Skin
Having acne doesn’t necessarily mean having oily skin. All skin types can suffer from breakouts, and a primer can definitely help.
A yellow or green tinted primer could help cover the redness caused by acne and keep foundation from fading away over it. Some makeup primers also include ingredients that help combat acne, like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.
Makeup Primers for Mature Skin
A primer is an excellent choice for those whose skin is starting to show a bit of fine lines. It helps feel in any crevices into which foundation might settle. Makeup primers also diffuse imperfections, helping to make the skin seem more even.
The best choice would be a more hydrating primer, perhaps with some anti-aging ingredients. Much like when choosing a makeup primer for dry skin, it is best to avoid shimmer or sparkly primers, since they emphasize unevenness, including wrinkles.
Makeup Primers for Sensitive skin
Makeup primers are an excellent option for those with sensitive skin, because they provide a cushion to the skin from the onslaught of makeup. If your skin becomes easily red or irritated, you should opt for primers with simpler formulas, and shorter ingredient lists.
You can also choose makeup primers with skin-soothing ingredients like green tea extract or allantoin. Lastly, since sensitive skin can easily become red, a primer with a green or yellow tint can do a great job of providing color correction, thereby reducing the amount of foundation you have to wear.
Applying a makeup primer is easy as pie, as long as you follow these steps:
• A clean canvas is key, so make sure to use a gentle face cleanser to remove all impurities from your skin. A full cleansing is rarely necessary in the morning, so swiping a cotton pad saturated with micellar water (La Roche Posay Micellar Water, available at Ulta, is an excellent choice) in upward, circular motions will more than suffice.
• If your skin leans towards oily you might find you don’t need to moisturize before applying a primer, but for most people it is a good idea. Choose a light moisturizer that will be quickly absorbed by the skin, like the Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Gel, from Sephora. Apply it to the skin in circular, upward motions, and then wait 5-10 minutes for it to fully absorb.
• If it is daytime, and your primer does not have an SPF, apply a sunscreen and went 20 minutes for it to sink into the skin. Waiting ensures that your primer will not disturb your sunscreen and water down its SPF.
• Squeeze out a pea sized drop of your primer into your hand. Using your fingers, dot it along your forehead, cheeks, nose, and chin.
• With smooth motions, use the palm of your hand to smooth the primer all over your skin, in downward motions, beginning at the center of the face and working outwards. You want the primer to be spread as thinly over your skin as possible, but you also want to work fast, because the primer won’t blend nicely once it starts to dry.
• If you are only using primer, without foundation, then you are done!
• If you do intend to wear makeup, wait 5 minutes to allow the primer to fully settle. Then finish off with a buttery-smooth foundation application, and any other makeup steps you normally follow.
• Makeup primers can help sheer out almost any cream or liquid-based foundation. If you have a full-coverage foundation that you want to turn into something lighter and more natural looking, simply blend it with a few drops of foundation right before applying.
• Primer can double as a very light brow pomade, if you happen to be out of eyebrow wax. Apply a tiny drop with a clean spoolie brush, and it will keep your brows from becoming unruly.
• If you are using makeup primers for oil control or for strobing, you don’t have to apply them all over the face. You can reserve illuminating primers for the high points of your face where you want extra shine, and only apply mattifying primers to areas like the forehead and nose, where you want to control excess oil production.
• Mattifying makeup primers can mattify more than just your skin. To make any lipstick matte, apply a few drops of mattifying primer over it.
• For a longer lasting lipstick application, you can even apply primer all over the lips before putting on lipstick. You can also skip the lip liner, by applying a touch of makeup primer along the edges of your lips.
• If you already have fairly even toned skin, a primer will be more than enough to diffuse imperfections like large pores or fine lines, so you can confidently go out makeup-free!
Best Makeup Primers for Every Need and Skin Type
Last but not least, here we have compiled a list of the best makeup primers for every skin type and concern to help you choose the best one for you!
1. MAC Prep + Prime Face Protect Lotion SPF 50
A high SPF is something I always find intriguing, so it was lovely to find out that MAC flawlessly combined it here with a really effective priming formula. Just a hint of silicone makes this light lotion glide on the skin easily, where it seriously boosts the application of any foundation. It diffuses imperfections well, and works with almost any skin type. You can pick it up at Nordstrom.
2. Dior Diorskin Forever & Ever Wear Makeup Primer SPF 20
This light, liquid makeup primer perfects the skin by blurring any kind of imperfection or rough texture. It goes on light and easy, and yet seriously extends the wear of any foundation you might have. A 20 SPF and some skincare ingredients help keep your skin looking healthy and smooth. This primer is available at Neiman Marcus.
3. CoverFX Anti-Aging Primer
This is a two-in-one primer and serum that combines the best elements of makeup primers and anti-aging products, and yet it works beautifully for just about any skin type. It is loaded with some extremely effective antioxidants, as well as the pore- and wrinkle-blurring silicones. It has a smooth finish that is not overly matte, but is not dewy either. You can pick up this lovely choice from Sephora.
1. Benefit The POREfessional Face Primer
This primer gets mixed reviews, but that’s because it’s really not a one-size-fits-all. This is a true moisturizer for oily skin, because it mattifies and totally hides the look of pores. For those with dry skin this silicone-based formula is quite likely to cling to dry patches. It is available for sale at Sephora.
2. Dr. Brandt Pores No More Pore Refiner Primer
This cult-followed primer also doubles as an acne treatment, thanks to a touch of tea tree oil. Being a silicone-based primer it mattifies for days, not allowing even a touch of oil to peak through throughout the day. You can feel confident with this on, assuming your skin isn’t even close to being dry. You can find this primer at Sephora.
3. Hourglass Mineral Veil
Just because you have oily skin, it doesn’t mean that you have to give up on luxury. Few things are as luxurious as Hourglass products, and this silky mattifying makeup primer is no different. It mattifies while also hiding redness, large pores, and fine lines, plus it has a 15 SPF to protect your skin! It is up for sale at Nordstrom.
4. Jouer Anti Blemish Matte Primer
This silicone-free primer may not be as mattifying as its silicone-containing cousins, but it definitely overshoots as a primer for acne-prone skin. It is formulated with blemish-busting salicylic acid and pore-tightening witch hazel, which come together to make a product that looks a lot like great skincare.
Choose this if you suffer from acne without overly dry skin, and want something that won’t over-mattify you. You can pick up this primer at Nordstrom.
1. Too Faced Hangover Rx Replenishing Face Primer
This silicone-free formula makes foundation go on smooth and dewy, in a way that is flattering to anyone with dry, dull, or mature skin. It also has a ton of beautiful skincare ingredients like willow bark extract ferment and coconut water to nourish the skin. This phenomenal primer can be found at Sephora.
2. Guerlain L’Or Radiance Concentrate with Pure Gold
Light and luxurious, this makeup primer feels gorgeous on the skin. A touch of gold gives a very lightly illuminating effect, while a collection of anti-aging ingredients helps to firm up the skin and reduce the look of fine lines and wrinkles.
It is a silicone-free makeup primer that will work beautifully for mature and dry skin, for gorgeous makeup that will look hydrated and stay put. This primer is up for sale at Nordstrom.
3. Clarins Beauty Flash Balm
Like an instant face lift, this unique makeup primer from Clarins doesn’t blur wrinkles – it simply tightens them out of existence. This anti-aging primer is excellent when you really have to wow, and is also an excellent choice if you have oily yet mature or sagging skin, since it does have a semi-matte finish. Pick up this wonder-cream at Nordstrom.
1. Becca Backlight Filter Face Primer
Trust the highlighting pros to create the perfect illuminating primer. It gives a healthy glow to the skin that isn’t shimmery or sparkly – simply dewy. This makes it perfect even for those with mature skin, although it truly works for almost any skin type. What’s more, it is a silicone-free formula! You can pick it up at Sephora.
2. L’Oreal Studio Secrets Magic Lumi Light Infusing Primer
This should be your go-to if you have always wanted to be a glowy goddess. This makeup primer gives a shimmery glow that, when applied below a foundation is fairly subtle, but can also be layered on top of foundation for a more extreme strobing effect. This gorgeous primer can be found at Ulta.
3. Laura Mercier Foundation Primer Radiance
This moisturizing primer gives the skin a wet-looking glow that is perfect for those with dry or dull skin, or simply anyone that needs a glowy pick-me-up. This gel formula is super light, but it is enriched with moisturizing ingredients like castor and jojoba oils.
This lovely primer is excellent for all skin types, except for the very oily. It is available for sale at Sephora.
1. Urban Decay Optical Illusion Complexion Primer
This primer brightens the skin and eliminates sallowness thanks to a pale pink tint. It has a thicker texture than many other makeup primers, and it gives a beautiful finish to foundations. It works well to blur pores and fine lines, control oils, and increase makeup’s longevity. You can find this gorgeous primer for sale at Sephora.
2. Make Up For Ever Step 1 Skin Equalizer in Yellow
MUFE has a few excellent color correcting primers, but I am personally a fan of yellow color correctors the most, especially for reducing redness in the skin (especially for those who have yellow undertones in their skin). If you have pale or cool-toned skin, you might prefer their green color corrector instead.
Either way, this covers all the bases, because it also increases foundation longevity and provides a lit-from-within glow. If you want to pick it up for yourself, look no further than Sephora.
3. Clinique Redness Solutions Protective Base SPF 15
To hide redness when you have pale skin, a green corrector is key. Clinique’s hit formulas are always a good choice, but here the skin-smoothing, mattifying goodness of the primer was combined with that wonderful tint. Clinique also has yellow and peach primer options. You can grab it for yourself at Nordstrom.
Do you use primer every day, or just for special occasions? Which do you think is the best makeup primer? Let us know!