If I’m wearing primer, I guarantee I mean business. In this post I’ll go in depth about what makeup primers are, give some suggestions on how to choose a makeup primer based on your skin type and the effect that you want, and of course, I’ll tell you which are the best makeup primers for different skin types and purposes. Make sure to read until the end, for some bonus makeup primer hacks!
As I said, primer is not a permanent fixture in my makeup routine. I’ll skip it on most days when I’m just going to work, or seeing friends. However, there are days when I want my makeup to look its maximum best, and I find that slowing down my routine and adding luxurious steps like primer both helps me relax and seriously ups my makeup game.
What’s a Makeup Primer, Anyway?
Primer is cream that is usually (but not always, I’ll get more into that later) colorless, which is meant to bridge one’s makeup and skincare routine. Makeup primers will create a barrier between the skin and the makeup, create a smoother skin surface for a nicer makeup application, prolong the makeup’s wear, and improve its overall appearance.
If you find almost all foundations have a tendency to oxidize and change color after coming into contact with your skin, you may find that primer creates that barrier that will prevent the foundation from coming into contact with your sebum and oxidizing.
What’s extra cool is that different makeup primers have different functions, so no matter what you think the best effect would be, there’s a primer out there that can give you that effect. Some primers will brighten the skin and give a dewy effect, while others will mattify it.
Some makeup primers can color-correct, and others will blur imperfections. Primers often also have skincare benefits: they can moisturize, provide sun protection, or contain anti-aging and anti-acne ingredients.
How to Choose a Makeup Primer, Based on Your Skin Type
The same primer won’t look the same way on every skin type, so to make your makeup look seamless, you need to know what makeup primers to choose according to your skin type.
Makeup Primers for Normal Skin
If your skin is normal, which means that your pores are not too large or too small, and that your skin doesn’t get too oily or dry throughout the day, you have a few primer-options. You likely don’t want a primer that has a mattifying effect, but rather you just want a primer that’ll do an awesome job prolonging your makeup, and will have some additional benefits like SPF.
Since a dewy finish is really trendy right now (no surprise! It’s gorgeous!), you might really like an illuminating primer. Normal skin types often don’t have any problems like redness or blemishes, so a simple pore-blurring primer can even fully substitute foundation for you.
Makeup Primers for Oily Skin
If your skin is oily, it’s pretty obvious that you’ll need a mattifying primer. A mattifying primer will prevent your skin from becoming shiny and greasy throughout the day.
Since people with oily skin normally have larger pores, a primer for oily skin types will also have a pore-minimizing effect. Lastly, since oily skin-types are more acne prone, there are some makeup primers out there with anti-acne ingredients that will help keep your breakouts at bay.
Makeup Primers for Dry Skin
Dry skin is a little complicated to prime. You want a primer that will moisturize your skin and give you a dewy finish. However, often the word “dewy” is just a substitute for shiny. Unfortunately, shimmer can emphasize flakiness.
Dry skin types have the hardest time finding a great makeup primer, so it’s really important to ask for a sample before purchasing a product. Your goal is to find something that is hydrating and creamy, but with a very light texture.
Makeup Primers for Combination Skin
Ahh, combination skin types! The worst of both worlds – I would know, this is my skin type. With combination skin types there are two options: either choose a neutral primer that won’t overly mattify, but won’t make you look shiny either. It’ll just make your foundation go on smoother and last longer.
Alternatively, you can choose a mattifying primer for the parts of your face where your skin gets oily, and use a different kind in the dryer areas of your face.
Makeup Primers for Mature Skin
Primers are excellent for mature skin types, because they can fill in and blur wrinkles. Look for a lightweight, moisturizing primer without shimmer. A lot of makeup primers are made with sunscreen, which is the strongest anti-aging product out there, as well as with antioxidants, so they can actually have a positive impact on the health of your skin. You can also use a firming makeup primer that will tighten your skin up a bit and create a facelift effect.
Makeup Primers for Sensitive Skin
Makeup primers are excellent for sensitive skin, because they give an extra layer of protection from the environment. Make sure your primer is low on fragrance, so it doesn’t cause any irritation.
If your sensitivity manifests itself as redness, you might prefer a green-based primer to neutralize the red tones in your skin. This way, you’ll find yourself needing to use less foundation. You can also look for soothing ingredients in your primer, like green tea extract or niacinamide.
How to Apply Makeup Primer?
1) Start with well cleansed skin. Makeup looks better when the skin is hydrated, so avoid an overly drying face wash, and instead opt for a creamy cleanser like Clinique Take the Day Off Cleansing Balm.
2) If your skin is oily, you might be able to skip the moisturizing step since your primer can provide some hydration. However, if you have dry skin or your primer is very mattifying, moisturize your skin with a light, fast absorbing, oil-free moisturizer like Lancome Bienfait Aqua Vital Creme.
Some moisturizers and sunscreens don’t play nicely with primers, and may cause pilling, so it’s important to use products that the skin will fully absorb.
3) With primer, a little goes a long way. Squeeze out a pea-sized amount, and dot it over your forehead, nose, chin, and if necessary – cheeks and jawline. I find it’s a lot easier to get a smooth, thin application when you use your hands, rather than a brush or a sponge.
4) In downward motions, so as not to disturb the fine hairs on your face, lightly rub the primer into your skin, so it fills in all of the pores and smoothes out the skin evenly. The thinner the layer, the better, but you also want to be careful not to work at the product for too long.
5) Wait 3-5 minutes to allow your primer to set.
6) You are now ready to have the smoothest foundation application ever! Apply foundation using your favorite method. For some people, foundation won’t even be necessary, because the primer will have blurred away all of their imperfections.
7) Do the rest of your makeup as you normally would – but seeing as you took the extra primer step, you might as well go all out!
Best Makeup Primers
As is often the case with skincare and makeup, there is no one best product. Instead, depending on your skin type and desired effect, you will find that there is one primer that is truly perfect for you. I’ve compiled all of the best makeup primers – the ones that truly exceed in priming every skin type and creating an incredible finish!
Best Primers For Everyone
1. BareMinerals Prime Time Foundation Primer
Available at Sephora, this primer is awesome for almost all skin types, but it’s especially excellent for normal, dry, and mature skin types. Because this primer was made to go with a powder foundation, it had to be extra moisturizing – otherwise, powder foundation has a tendency to look cakey and dry. This means that it doesn’t emphasize dry patches the way many other makeup primers do.
It has a velvety finish, it minimizes the appearance of both pores and wrinkles, and seriously extends the life of foundation. It’s also loaded with antioxidant vitamins and soothing plant extracts, to give some nice anti-aging benefits.
2. Diorskin Forever & Ever Wear Extreme Perfection & Hold Makeup Base SPF 20
Available at Nordstrom, this is another excellent primer for almost all skin types! If you choose to wear it with foundation, you can rest assured that your foundation will stay looking awesome for hours upon hours, thanks to a holding polymer.
Its blurring effect hides everything from fines lines and pores to blemishes and redness, making it excellent for mature, sensitive, and oily skin types. The finish is a little on the mattifying side, but not extremely so – just enough to keep any excess oils from seeping through.
3. CoverFX Anti-Aging Primer
This primer selling at Sephora is unique because, while its expressed purpose is to be anti-aging, it still manages to blow most other primers out of the water on all other effects. It boats CoQ10 and a selection of antioxidants, so it’s certain to help fade fine lines and wrinkles over time.
However, this elegant formula also works instantly to smooth out any skin imperfections, including large pores, blemishes, and lines. It creates a satiny finish to the skin, allowing foundation to go on smoothly and last all day.
It controls oil without creating a matte finish, but it also doesn’t emphasize dry spots. This one is definitely a primer to watch out for.
Best Illuminating Makeup Primers
1. MAC Strobe Cream
MAC’s creation is the original highlighting primer. It leaves a gorgeous sheen behind, without any glitter. Just a touch of light reflection that will give a glow from within effect, especially once foundation is applied.
It’s lightly moisturizing, and ideal for normal and dry skin types. A touch of silicone will ensure an extended foundation wear, and a selection of soothing and anti-aging ingredients will make your skin look better and healthier over time.
You may choose to apply this primer only on the highlight points of the face, and use a different primer (or forego primer altogether) on other parts of the face. It also blends really nicely with liquid foundations, making for a sheerer, more dewy finish. Get yours at Nordstrom!
2. Becca Backlight Priming Filter
This highlighting primer is an excellent silicone-free option for anyone with normal-dry skin that wants a gorgeous illuminated effect to their skin. This formula suits both fair and dark skin tones, giving an opalescent shine.
It goes on the skin a little moist, so it’s definitely better for dry and normal skin types, but it’ll in turn make your foundation look that much more dewy and healthy. Use it all over the face for a glowy look, or only apply it to the high points of your face for a subtle highlight.
Like with the Strobe Cream, this one also blends really nicely with foundation.
Best Oil-Control Makeup Primers
1. Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer SPF 15
This lovely silicone-based primer is just the perfect level of mattifying. It leaves the skin feeling satiny-soft, and the pores virtually invisible. Because of its oil-absorbing capabilities, it prevents your face from getting shiny or oily as the day goes on.
It’s excellent for sensitive skin types, because it’s fragrance free, and uses mineral sunscreen ingredients to protect from the sun, rather than potentially irritating chemicals.
Those with fair skin can wear it on its own, although it does have a tendency to make things a little “ghosty” for anyone whose skin is darker than medium.
2. Benefit The POREfessional
Matte is the keyword with Benefit’s pore-erasing primer. Benefit’s is probably the first primer that comes to mind when anyone thinks about pore-minimizing. This formula seriously controls oil and shine, which makes it perfect for even the oiliest of skin types!
Normal and mature skin types should definitely stay away – this is not the product for you. If you’re combination, you might want to only apply this mattifying primer in the spots where you need oil-control and blurred pores.
It’ll also help your makeup last much longer (especially on a hot day), and will make the initial foundation application very smooth.
3. Smashbox Photo Finish More Than Primer Blemish Control
This is everything you need out of a mattifying primer: it’ll help your makeup last forever, make your pores tiny, and prevent your skin from getting oily throughout the day.
The texture is light, and is absorbed into the skin super quick. Lastly, this primer has a secret: it boasts 2% salicylic acid, one of the most powerful anti-acne ingredients out there. It acts as an antibacterial agent, and also exfoliates lightly to keep your pores clear and blemish-free.
Since oily skin types are often blemish-prone, this kills two birds with one stone: it keeps your skin looking good day to day, while also combating pimples and blackheads. Get yours from Sephora!
Best Color Correcting Primers
1. Make Up For Ever HD Microperfecting Primer in Green
If you look at a color wheel, you’ll see that the color green is directly opposite red. What does that mean? It means that if you suffer from red skin, whether due to sensitivity or to acne, a touch of green will totally neutralize it.
This primer from MUFE will eliminate any redness in your skin, allowing you to apply a lot less concealer, and preventing a cakey foundation application. Additional benefits from this primer include a light mattifying effect (best for normal, combination, and oily skin types), as well as pore and wrinkle-blurring.
2. Stila One-Step Correct Primer
This is my favorite “foundation? Who needs it?” primer. It has a triple-color helix, with green to neutralize redness, peach to brighten, and blue to eliminate sallowness.
The effect is incredible, with the skin looking even, and smooth. It’s a lightly hydrating primer that can work for all skin types (oily skin types can forego moisturizer). If you do choose to apply foundation on top, rest assured that the application will be flawless and long-lasting. You can buy one from Sephora.
Best Tightening Primers
1. Guerlain L’Or Radiance Concentrate with Pure Gold
This is probably the most luxurious primer on this list – the gold flakes in it provide a touch of glow, but not enough for this to fall under the “illuminating” type. Instead, this makeup primer has a light skin firming effect, which makes it excellent for mature skin or anyone who feels like they’d like a boost.
This is one of the few silicone-free makeup primers on this list, so it doesn’t minimize pores. It does seriously extend the wear time of any makeup placed on top of it, and will also lightly hydrate the skin to allow foundation to just glide over dry patches.
2. Beauty Flash Balm Clarins
Whereas the L’Or primer is lightly firming, this primer from Clarins is straight up tightening. All you need is a thin layer, and it’s like a mini facelift. Just be careful not to work the product into the skin too much, or else you won’t get the full effect.
In addition to that, you’ll get the usual primer effect – your foundation will last much longer, and go on much smoother. The finish to this product is brightening yet velvety, or in other words, very natural and healthy.
This is great for mature skin, or anyone who would like a pick-me-up.
Extra Primer Makeup Hacks
1) If you’re having a really good skin day, or accidentally bought a foundation that’s just too pigmented, your primer is here to help! Mix an equal amount of foundation and primer, for a more natural, sheer finish.
2) Is your lipstick having a hard time staying on? A primer can act like an invisible lip liner. Simply apply lip primer along the lip line to prevent feathering. For super long-lasting lipstick, apply primer all over the lips before putting on your lipstick.
3) It seems like too much of a hassle to apply primer everywhere? Well, you don’t have to. You can concentrate a mattifying primer on your oily T-zone, or keep your brightening primer on the high points of your face that you would normally strobe.
4) Are your brows super unruly, and you don’t have clear mascara sitting around? After filling in your brows, you can set your brow hairs in place with a dab of primer – just make sure it’s not one of those luminizing ones!
Leave a comment, and let me know what your favorite primer hacks are, and if you think I left one of the best makeup primers out of this list!
Photos courtesy of @diormakeup, @makeupforeverus, @benefitcosmetics