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Makeup primer

We Ask the Experts Whether Makeup Primer is Ever Really Essential

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Main image – Jodiejohnsonphotography/Stocksy

We’ll be honest. Sometimes in beauty, products arrive on the scene and then leave it again as quickly as you can shout “DD cream”. (Remember those?)

Brands often feel they need to stay fresh by re-inventing the wheel, which occasionally goes too far. This is when gimmicks are invented, and consumers’ money is wasted. 

Then there are products that stick around but no one quite knows how to feel about them. And this is often the case with the makeup primer, which you might (or may not) be surprised to hear splits many experts down the middle. 

Oh we do love a healthy debate, and ones like this crop up time and time again.

So, do makeup primers actually work? Do we really need to add yet another product to our already bursting routines? And equally, is it ok to ignore any negative expert advice if you’ve found one that, actually, you really like? 

In the spirit of fair debate, we asked celebrity aesthetician Ian Michael Crumm and expert makeup artists Janelle Thomason, Gabrielle Devine, Nyssa Green and Monina Wright whether they think makeup primers are really worth the hype (and your hard-earned spends). 


Woman with makeup on

Image – Victoriachudinova/Adobe


What does makeup primer actually do?

It’s applied before your makeup base to help it stay on for longer. Makeup primers often help to blur imperfections and fill in lines and pores too.

“Think of your skin like an orange peel,” says Monina. “When you apply primer, you fill in all those little pores and divots. Now your skin looks like an apple, a smooth canvas to apply your foundation.”

And some have the added bonus of containing skin benefits too “Some primers provide hydration to the skin, preventing makeup from settling into dry patches,” explains Ian. “Others are formulated to control excess oil, making them suitable for those with oily skin.”

Many primers are silicone based, meaning they come in a gel-like form. You can also get liquid primers that don’t contain silicone which have a more serum-like consistency.


Do you really need a makeup primer?

Monina thinks so. “Without a primer, your makeup does not have anything to adhere to, leading to a shorter wear time,” she says. 

“As your body temperature goes up, your makeup starts to emulsify and starts to move around. [If you don’t wear one] you might notice your makeup fading, creasing or settling into fine lines more quickly.”

However, if you invest in a good skincare regime you may agree with Nyssa. “In my opinion, if you do proper skin prep, you don’t need a makeup primer,” says Nyssa. 

This is something I can personally vouch for as I have discovered that if I cleanse with water in the morning and stay consistent with my skincare regime, my makeup stays on for longer. If I were to skip my morning skincare altogether, knowing my skin and how it behaves, I would definitely notice a lack of makeup longevity and all-round glow.

Janelle adds, “Primers are for products that don’t work! If a product performs well, it doesn’t need something else to make that happen.”

Ok, ok hold up. You’ve heard what the experts think (we told you it was 50/50!). Now let’s get back to you.

If you notice that your makeup isn’t lasting, your skin looks uneven or you need a bit of oil control, a makeup primer might be exactly what you need.

Equally, if you don’t usually use one but the seasons have changed and you’re producing more sweat, you may want to introduce one into your regime at certain times of the year.

If you do a consistent morning skincare regime and everything with your makeup is tickity boo, you’ll probably get away with not needing to invest in a primer.

Whatever the outcome, it’s up to you whether you think a primer would enrich your skin for better or for worse. And even if this expert or that influencer disagrees, your opinion is final.


Compact bronzer for face

Image – Mariarom/Adobe


Top primer picks from the experts

  • Milk Makeup Hydro Gel Primer (£18/$21.87) – “It’s great for oily skin,” says Gabrielle.  The price isn’t too much of a shock to our wallets either.


What are the alternatives?

If you’ve decided to give your primer a rest, you’ve run out or you don’t want to invest in one just yet, have no fear; you can just try a setting spray (which should help keep your mascara in place throughout the day too). 

These help with makeup longevity, you can keep topping it up throughout the day and some contain SPF too. We love Kate Somerville Uncomplikated SPF 50 Soft Focus Makeup Setting Spray (£36/$44.34).

Or what about skincare and makeup products that already have priming properties? For example, a moisturiser and primer in one, like Bobbi Brown Vitamin Enriched Face Base (£52/$63.17). Or Max Factor Face Finity All Day Flawless 3 in 1 Vegan Foundation (£13.99/$16.99).


Woman holding mascara

Image – Prostock/Adobe


The takeaway

It’s not unusual to come across makeup debates like this. And we think questioning whether you need to spend your hard-earned cash on certain beauty products is actually very sensible.

Our advice? Listen to all sides, do your research and make your own judgement based on your lifestyle, budget and current regimes.

There is no right or wrong. If you’re spending a fortune on skincare products and you’re consistent with your regime, you could probably skip primer. But if you’re needing more makeup longevity and could do with a few extra skin benefits, then give it a go.


Meet the experts

Celebrity aesthetician and beauty expert Ian Michael Crumm is co-host of the BeautyCurious podcast with Dr Elyse Love.

Ian is known for his passion for skincare and sun safety and is actively involved in philanthropic efforts to promote skin cancer awareness, and believes that #ProtectedSkinWins.


Janelle Thomason is an Emmy Award Winning Makeup Artist and CEO of The Makeup Loft and clean cosmetics line, Cosmakery Cosmetics.


Gabrielle Devine is an Emmy-nominated makeup artist based in Atlanta, Georgia. With a diverse client base spanning various industries, she has established a reputation for her exceptional artistry and passion for bringing out the best in every individual she works with


Nyssa Green is the Owner at The Green Room Agency. She has been voted “Best Makeup Artist” in Atlanta 4 times, and has has more than 15 years experience in TV, film, and print. Nyssa’s clients include  USA Today, MTV, CNN, Fox 5, NBC, Bravo, and E! News.


Monina Wright is a licensed aesthetician and professional makeup artist in the Bay Area. She is the founder + CEO of Moderne Beauty & Esthetics where she works and mentors aspiring makeup artists while helping women achieve their natural glow through individualized skincare.


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Beauty Editor

The former Beauty Editor of Glamour UK, Philippa has been a beauty and lifestyle journalist for over 16 years, picking up countless tips and tricks from makeup artists, hair stylists, dermatologists and celebrities. In that time she’s written for names like Cosmopolitan, The Sunday Times Style, The Telegraph, Grazia, Refinery 29 and Byrdie. Philippa lives in the UK with her husband, two children and their hyperactive cockapoo, Paddy.

Expertise: Makeup, hair care
Education: Oxford Brookes University

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