You already know the benefits of face primer: blurs imperfections, makes foundation last longer, and even corrects discoloration and dullness before you put on any other makeup. But there’s just so many options. It’s hard to pick the best makeup primer for you, and even harder to apply it correctly. Because yes – professional makeup artists say that most women aren’t using primer the right way.
Here’s everything you need to know about face primer, so you can get the best one and make it work for you.
What is Face Primer?
It prepares your face so that it’s the perfect canvas for any makeup you’re going to apply. A silicon foundation primer will typically fill in pores and blur imperfections. Others will control oil (which prevents blotchiness) or hydrate dry skin. Green face primer neutralizes redness, while purple or pink face primer will add radiance. To add to the confusion, some face primers are called “skin boosters” and can be worn under makeup or on their own. There’s just so many options!
There are also a special category of face primers: eye primers that brighten eyeshadow and make them last longer, and lip primers that moisturize and prep you for lipstick. There are also mascara primers that coat the lash so that you get thicker and longer strands.
But in this article, let’s just focus on primer for the face (aka foundation primer).
How do I pick the best makeup primer for me?
Start by thinking about where your makeup usually goes really, really wrong. Does it melt in the middle of the day? Do you get oily on the T-zone so your powders look blotchy and cakey? Do you have large pores?
Some face primers will claim to do it all, but there’s always going to be one thing they do really well. That’s how you start searching the reviews: “best makeup primer for oily skin” or “best face primer for redness”, or “primer to make my makeup last the whole day.”
Makeup artist Therese Gordon says that looking for face primer is a lot like looking for skincare.
“You have to factor in skin type and your main skin concern. For example, primers come in different formulas. I would recommend a creamy primer for someone with dry skin that needs that extra moisture. I use a lighter silicon primer for someone who is acne-prone, since silicone is very good at filling in pores and creating an even base for makeup. For normal or combination skin, I often use a water-based formula.”
How do I test different makeup primers?
If you’re sick of trial and error, or just don’t want to buy a product that will rot in your makeup drawer, here is a really fool-proof way of testing makeup primers.
Go to the store without any makeup at all — or bring a makeup remover wipe with you. Test the primer on bare skin. Does it absorb quickly? Are you comfortable with the texture and the way it feels on your skin?
Apply primer on a section of your face and then apply your foundation on top of it. (We recommend the T-zone, since that’s where most makeup tends to fade fast.) Now roadtest it for the rest of the day.
What’s the best way to apply face primer?
Apply after your last skincare step – typically a serum or a facial mist. Just make sure your face isn’t too damp, or your primer will slide off or absorb unevenly. You can blot off extra moisture with one-ply tissue just to make sure.
Then, apply with fingers. “Makeup brushes just drag makeup around,” says makeup artist Mary Philipps. “If you’re a germophobe, you can always use a slightly damp Beautyblender sponge.”
Apply just a dime-sized amount and blend it in well. Wait for a minute to dry before applying any other makeup. “The biggest mistake women make is applying foundation before the face primer sets.”
Vince Oquendo also says it’s important to not apply too much primer. He says dry skin absorbs primer faster than oily skin, so adjust the amount based on your skin type.
“Too much primer under your makeup can also look unnatural. Experiment and see how much your skin really needs.” He adds that face primer shouldn’t substitute for skincare. Hydrate your skin before you apply primer so you don’t end up applying more than you need to get the effect you want.
Do I always need to apply primer before foundation?
It depends on the primer. Some products will say they can be worn underneath or on top of makeup (like Charlotte Tilbury’s Wonderglow Instant Soft-Focus Beauty Flash Primer). These add radiance and are formulated to mix well with foundation. In a way, they’re like a primer-liquid highlighter hybrid.
However, color-correcting face primers or pore-filling primers are meant to be worn under makeup. They’re meant to work on their own, like an initial layer that sets before you apply anything on top. Unless your primer’s product description specifically says they can be mixed into foundation or applied on top, assume that you have to apply it first.
What’s the biggest mistake people make with face primer?
Applying too much, and applying too many products. Don’t do a moisturizer + primer + color corrector + contouring + luminizing + full coverage foundation.
All those layers are a recipe for a makeup meltdown.
Remember that what looks good on Youtube beauty tutorials may not work in real life. In hot climates like Singapore’s, less is more. Apply your skincare and sun protection, blot off extra moisture, then use a damp sponge to apply foundation only where you need it. Think of thin, well-set layers – this helps your makeup last longer, and also feels lighter on your face.
If you want luminizing and contouring, use powder instead of cream products. You have enough oils on your face thanks to your skincare, primer and foundation – powders are more likely to set better and not slide off your face.
Another option is to skip a moisturizer and use a hydrating face mist (just do your major skincare at night). Or apply your skincare, go have breakfast or something, then do your makeup when your skin has fully absorbed it.