Face Primers: What to Know Before You Cover Up

Painting your face isn’t that different from painting your nails. Or even painting a house. Sponged or brushed on, pigment is layered to give rich, long-lasting coverage—and most of them need some sort of primer to look their best. They’re must-haves on our walls and nail beds, yet so many forego them on our own faces. When building a personal makeup routine for yourself, or even selecting the right products for your professional kit, face primers are often the overlooked base to your makeup regime.

Back from the golden age of Hollywood to the dawn of reality TV, makeup artists didn’t have high-tech face primers capable of amazing effects. It was only recently that companies began launching primers that could work magic tricks on your skin: refine texture, color-correct the complexion, minimize fine lines and pores, mattify and prevent fading, and serve as the 24-7 holding agent to your foundation. And contrary to popular belief, it’s not only oily skin that can reap from a primer’s capabilities—in fact, all skin types stand to benefit in some way. “Depending on the formula, primers can add a bit of moisture on dry skin, can even out textured skin, and help acneic skin with added skin care properties,” says renowned makeup artist James Vincent, who believes in using primer on a case-by-case basis.

Selecting the right primer is as hard as choosing your perfect shade of foundation. It takes trial and error to find something that feels weightless, doesn’t clog your pores, and gives your skin just the right texture. How do you navigate the overwhelming world of makeup prep? It’s easy if you ask yourself the right questions first.

Why do I need primer?

Think about how your primer can help you or your client’s skin. Will it be used for high-definition or bridal makeup, where camera-ready durability is priority? Or maybe you want an everyday base with a bit of SPF? “Look at the job at hand first,” advises James. “A primer with a bit of silicone is great at keeping the skin fresh-looking, but it may show shiny hot spots on the face in photography.”

Anyone with coloring issues can enlist the help of color-correcting primers. A light purple or mauve will cancel out sallow tones, a hint of green evens out ruddy tones from rosacea, and a subtle pink can brighten a dull complexion.

What kind of face makeup do I have already?

When pairing your foundation with a new face primer, remember that like attracts like. If you use a water-based foundation, it’s best to opt for a water-based primer. Same goes for silicone- and oil-based products. “It just makes sense for durability,” says James. Oil and water can break down silicone, so be sure to check the ingredients label before you purchase.

Can my moisturizer substitute for primer?

Many save that extra step in the morning and use moisturizer as face primer, but both products bring different valuable qualities to the table. Primers are formulated to smooth uneven skin texture, whereas a moisturizer’s main purpose is to bring hydration, protection, and polish to the skin. Of course, with today’s hybrid BB and CC creams (and maybe someday even DD creams), there’s overlap to both. “I think they can be both used together, but it really depends on the client,” weighs James. “Primers might make it easier—you might skip it in winter and layer a moisturizer instead, but it could help your foundation stay on in hotter weather as an extra barrier.” If you say the more steps the merrier, remember to layer your moisturizer underneath your primer first.

If you’re ready to take the extra step in your makeup routine, browse some of the best face primer picks for every skin need below.


Face Primers: Tarte Cosmetics Clean Slate Flawless 12-Hr Brightening Primer

Tarte Cosmetics Clean Slate Flawless 12-Hr Brightening Primer, $30

Lightweight and hydrating, Tarte’s formula works on all skin types. “I love that this doesn’t change the texture of your foundation, and it works really well for getting rid of fine lines,” says Vincent.

Face Primers: Benefit Cosmetics “That Gal” Brightening Face Primer

Benefit Cosmetics “That Gal” Brightening Face Primer, $29

This silky-smooth texture and sheer pink tint are ideal for livening up dull skin throughout the day. “I even love putting a little of it on the collarbone for a subtle sheen,” suggests Vincent.


Face Primers: Smashbox Photo Finish Color Correcting Foundation Primer

Smashbox Photo Finish Color Correcting Foundation Primer, $38

Considered the grandfather of face primers, Smashbox’s wide range of silicone-based primers (including green, lavender, and apricot color-correcting formulas) work well to even out complexions.

Face Primers: NYX Cosmetics Studio Perfect Primer

NYX Cosmetics Studio Perfect Primer, $12.99

One of the better formulations we’ve come across at the drugstore, NYX’s line of primers is an ideal inexpensive color-correcting option, and the lavender tint is amazing on sallow skin.


Face Primers: Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentrè

Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentrè, $28

Makeup artists have raved about this skin care/makeup hybrid for years, and with good reason—it’s a primer all-in-one. Dehydrated skin will will stand to benefit its simple yet emollient formula.

Face Primers: Korres Face Primer

Korres Face Primer, $28

For those sensitive, allergy-prone complexions who have hopped on the silicone-free bandwagon, Korres has your alternative—a primer made with jojoba oil and without any potential irritants. A pro favorite for men’s grooming.


Face Primers: Too Faced Primed  & Poreless and Primed  & Poreless Pure, 

Too Faced Primed & Poreless and Primed & Poreless Pure, $30

A Beautylish community favorite that leaves skin silky soft and minimizes the appearance of pores. The non-greasy formula ensures all-day wear with any silicone-based foundation on top.

Face Primers: Laura Mercier Foundation Primer - Oil-Free

Laura Mercier Foundation Primer – Oil-Free, $32

Laura Mercier’s oil-free must-have has long been the standby solution for oil slicks and makeup meltdowns. Acne-prone complexions will love this!


Face Primers: Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer SPF 15

Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer SPF 15, $52

A little goes a long way with this velvet-textured primer. A small dose of SPF in a waterproof formula makes this an ideal option for outdoor makeup.

Face Primers: MAC Prep + Prime BB Beauty Balm SPF 35

MAC Prep + Prime BB Beauty Balm SPF 35, $30

Another fantastic option for the open air (but not the camera), MAC’s high SPF hybrid makes a solid tinted mattifier for oilier complexions.



Combat Dry Skin with These Tips for Ultimate Hydration

Dry skin is probably one of the most unpredictable complexion types out there. Some days you might have minimal flaking and others you’ll be wrestling with all-out alligator skin.

As someone with skin that becomes parched whenever it pleases, I’ve researched and sampled countless moisturizing products. Here’s a basic dry skin regimen complete with my favorites, so you can enjoy more supple skin days.

Reach for an ultra-hydrating cleanser

Face feeling chapped or tight after washing? It’s time to switch up your soap. Go for a moisture-inducing, pH-maintaining cleanser that gently cleanses without stripping your skin of necessary oils.

My recommendation: Avène Ultra-Rich Cleansing Bar , $10

I recently ditched my facial wash for Avène’s moisturizing bar and I’m officially hooked. Made with healing thermal spring water, this miracle soap infuses skin with a wave of deep hydration while thoroughly cleaning pores. I like to suds up a loofah pad, gently exfoliate, and watch as dryness virtually disappears.

Don’t skip out on toner

If you think toners further exacerbate flakiness and irritation, you haven’t met “the one” yet. As long you avoid drying ingredients like alcohol, toners can be great skin hydrators. After cleansing, swipe on water-based toners that remove leftover debris and moisturize dehydrated skin.

My recommendation: Bioderma Hydrabio Tonic Lotion , $14.90

Formulated with skin-balancing niacinamide and nutrient-rich apple extract, this soothing toner keeps skin hydrated and radiant-looking.

Pat on a reparative eye cream

Stick with eye creams packed with essential fatty acids such as avocado oil as well as nutrient-rich ingredients like moisturizing argan oil and skin-repairing echium. These healing components will delicately treat dehydration, fine lines and wrinkles.

My recommendation: Pai Skincare Echium & Argan Gentle Eye Cream , $54

This is my Holy Grail of eye creams. Pai Skincare’s feather-light formula quickly absorbs onto my eye contour without that greasy residue that makes your concealer slip and slide. The silk-textured formula is packed with essential fatty acids for comfortable nourishment that lasts all day.

Add hyaluronic serum to the mix

Hyaluronic acid is a dry skin savior, plain and simple. It’s best known for drawing moisture into the skin to protect against dryness, plumping the outer layers of skin, and offering long-lasting hydration—so definitely make this ingredient a staple in your routine. Add it to your daily moisturizer or apply directly for softer skin.

My recommendation: Good Molecules Hyaluronic Acid Serum , $6

I’m still shocked that this super potent hyaluronic serum only costs six dollars. Great skin takes time, but after just a couple days of use, my skin felt softer, plumped and hydrated. Instant results at that price? I’ve definitely found my go-to serum.

Consider using a moisturizer/sunscreen hybrid

Dry skin needs both SPF protection and a rich moisturizer to help combat dryness throughout the day. But layering foundation over heavy lotions and SPF might set you up for a makeup meltdown. Go for a lightweight moisturizer that contains skin-saving ingredients like essential fatty acids, phytosterols, vitamin E, and SPF to avoid foundation fails.

My recommendation:COOLA Classic Face Sunscreen Moisturizer SPF 30 , $32

Infused with vitamin E-rich safflower oleosomes and anti-aging açaí oil, this SPF 30 moisturizer quenches extremely parched skin while delivering UVA/UVB protection. The sheer, weightless formula makes it great for wearing underneath makeup without ruining foundation.

Wear a rich facial oil to bed

Pick a moisturizing facial oil and apply directly to your skin before catching some Z’s. This overnight treatment will quench thirsty skin, so you can wake up to a soft and hydrated complexion. So start incorporating facial oils into your nightly routine—it’s a dream come true.

My recommendation: Good Molecules Ultra-Hydrating Facial Oil , $10

Made with a highly concentrated blend of antioxidant-rich camellia oil and nourishing sea buckthorn oil, this fast-absorbing potion revives parched skin while you rest for a dewy glow come morning. Did I mention it’s only $10?

Use a weekly hydration mask

At least once a week, make sure that you treat your complexion to a moisture-replenishing facial mask. Think of this as your time to relax and deeply rejuvenate your complexion so you can start over with a clean slate. Much like those deep conditioning hair formulas, complexion-conditioning treatments improve texture, prevent dryness and strengthen skin against damage from free radicals.

My recommendation: Farmacy Honey Potion Antioxidant Hydration Mask , $38

This massage-activated formula nourishes and repairs skin in just fifteen minutes. Infused with a healing cocktail of locally sourced honey, royal jelly, and potent antioxidants, the gel-to-cream mask warms up when gently massaged into the skin (that’s how you know it’s working) for hydrated radiance after rinsing.