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 • Makeup  • Makeup Guides  • Here’s (Literally) Everything You Need to Know About How to Use a Makeup Primer

Here’s (Literally) Everything You Need to Know About How to Use a Makeup Primer

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Main image – Ohlamourstudio/Stocksy

What is it about makeup primers?! They seem to cause much confusion and debate amongst anyone from makeup addicts, experts and beginners. 

Some can’t do without one. Some swear they don’t need one. And some keep one in their makeup bag with an unbroken seal because they have no idea what to do with it.

In fact, they cause so much debate we have a whole article about whether you actually need a makeup primer here.

But if you’re in the pro-primer camp, how you apply it can make a real difference, according to the pros. 

Here, we ask makeup artists Monina Wright and Azesha Ramcharan how to get the most out of your primer.


What is a makeup primer?

“Makeup primer can help smooth the surface of the skin before applying foundation,” explains Ramcharan. “It can help makeup last longer and there are many formulas to address specific skin concerns.”

While not essential, they can help to tackle specific skin concerns and can be useful if you find your makeup doesn’t generally last all day. Some are hydrating, others are blurring, shine-reducing and pore-minimising.


Image – Adobe


Some contain silicones (you’ll find the texture usually feels soft and slightly slippery and might be squeezed out of a tube). Whereas silicone-free primers might be of a more runny consistency and will be dispensed a bit like a serum through a pipette. 

Aside from classic face primers, there are also different primers for different parts of your makeup routine (if you feel like over-complicating things a little further).  Here are the main ones you’ll find in store.

  • Eyeshadow primers:

Designed specifically to keep your eyeshadow in place longer, these primers generally come in smaller tubes and are applied to lids.  And while I’m not normally one for adding more steps into my routine, or a beauty gimmick, I can genuinely say my Urban Decay eye makeup primer means my eyeshadow basically never budges until I remove it. 

Particularly useful for those with oily lids who may find their eyeshadow slides around, an eye makeup primer can be a good option if you don’t want to put a primer over your whole face.

  • Lash primers:

Lash primers are definitely a product I’d put firmly in the gimmick camp though.

Designed to condition your lashes, they often contain fibres that help to make them appear fuller and longer too. 

Don’t get me wrong, they can be useful if your lashes are on the shorter, sparse side.  But I’ve personally always found eyelash primers fiddly to use and I can generally mimc the effect with a good mascara and a  pair of eyelash curlers instead.

  • Lip primers:

Generally designed to create a smooth canvas to stop your lipstick from settling in creases, lip primers can also help to make your lipstick last longer.

To be honest, if I’ve bought a lipstick that doesn’t last at least a few hours after application, I won’t be buying it again anyway, so for me a lip primer shouldn’t be a necessary step if you’ve found the right lip colour formula.

If you find creasing is your problem though, a primer can help to create a smoother surface (especially helpful for more mature skin).


How do you apply primer?

Wright says you should apply both your regular and eye makeup primer with a brush. “Anytime you use a wet or cream based product, you should apply with a synthetic brush,” she explains. And watch where you’re putting it too.

“A primer is not a foundation, or a moisturiser, so application of a primer should be minimal,” she adds. “Just apply enough to the areas that you are trying to address, like the T-zone for oily skin or larger pores.”


Image – Adobe 

Ramcharan continues, “alternatively, a hydrating primer can be applied to dry areas of the face.”

Lip and lash primers, meanwhile, will generally come with their own application wand and coat your entire eyelash or lip area.

Whichever primer you’re using though, you’ll want to wait a few minutes to allow it to dry before applying the rest of your makeup.


Should primer go before or after your moisturiser?

Makeup primers are applied after moisturiser. Think of your primer as part of your makeup regime. You would always do your skincare routine first, which includes your moisturiser. Then your primer would be the first step in your makeup regime. 


Do you need a moisturiser too?

A primer isn’t a moisturiser and vice versa – the two do very different things, so it is advised to use both. “The moisturiser helps prevent dehydration while a primer creates a smoother, more even texture to the skin before the application of a foundation,” explains Wright.

“So a moisturiser is always needed to maintain a healthy skin barrier, but a primer is only needed to address texture or skin issues like oiliness or if you need to minimise the appearance of larger pores,” she says.


Image – Irina/Adobe

Can you wear a primer even if you’re not wearing makeup?

Of course! Especially if you’re wanting to go makeup-free but still want to mattify oily skin (with an oil-reducing, mattifying primer). Or, you find one that blurs lines and large pores well enough that you don’t need makeup.

My advice though? If you don’t have a reason to wear one (i.e oily skin), other than keeping your makeup in place then it probably isn’t worth wearing a primer on a no-makeup day. “A primer is not absolutely necessary if you do not have other issues to contend with like textured skin, large pores or redness,” says Wright

Planning to wear makeup today? Then go for it. “Even if you do not have these skin issues, a primer does create a nice smooth canvas which allows your foundation to go on much more evenly and appear more flawless.”


How do you pick the right primer for your skin type

Image – REN

“Choose a primer that addresses the skin issues you seek to prevent,” says Wright

  • Oiliness: Choose a mattifying primer with ingredients like charcoal or zinc oxide to absorb excess oil, blur imperfections and reduce shine.
  • Redness: Try a primer with a green tint to counteract red tones.
  • Large pores: Most primers should be able to help here as they generally provide a blurring effect which will disguise larger pores.
  • Dry skin: Choose an illuminating skin primer with hydrating ingredients like glycerin or hyaluronic acid.

My personal favourite primer – and the only one I wear – is silicone-free as I don’t like the feel of silicones on my skin.

Ren Clean Skincare Face Perfect Canvas Clean Primer (£44 from Boots UK /$49 from REN US) is slightly runnier than a serum but it feels like I’m just adding another step to my skincare regime when I use it because it’s so hydrating yet totally lightweight. 


The takeaway

A primer is definitely an acquired taste. The question of whether you introduce one into your makeup routine or not depends on certain stars aligning:

Can you afford one? Do you have specific skin issues that could benefit from using one? Would your makeup longevity and quality improve if you used one? Do you really need one?

Once you’ve answered the right questions using this article, you will know whether wearing a primer will really benefit your overall skin and makeup finish. If the answer is “yes” then I hope the tips in this article help you to figure out which one to go for and how, when and where to apply it. Happy priming!


Meet the experts

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 individualised skincare.


Azesha Ramcharan is a makeup artist based in NY’s Hudson Valley region. Clients have included NBC, The Juilliard School, Hessel Museum of Art, Craftsy, and VOZ.


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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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