An Expert-Approved Guide to Makeup Primers

An Expert-Approved Guide to Makeup Primers featured image
Photo Credits: Matteo Valle / Contributor/ Getty Images | Image Used for Illustrative Purposes Only

Unsure where primer comes in when it comes to your makeup routine? Not sure if you even need to be using one? Let us break it down for you. From smoothing your skin for a more even foundation application, minimizing the look of fine lines, de-slicking oily skin and allowing your makeup to last longer, there’s not much primer can’t do. Ahead, we tapped celebrity makeup artists for the lowdown on everything to know about makeup primer, including how to select which is best for your skin type.

What does makeup primer do?

Essentially, primer works to prep the skin for the next step, whether it’s foundation, tinted moisturizer or BB/CC cream. Depending on your skin type and the result you’re after, primer makes life a little bit easier by smoothing out the skin’s texture (i.e. filling pores or blurring lines), absorbing excess oil and shine, and, our personal favorite, helping makeup to last a little bit longer. Below, celebrity makeup artists answer our most pressing questions.

Does makeup primer go on before or after moisturizer?

Which step does primer come in? “After moisturizer, but before foundation,” says celebrity makeup artist Mai Quynh, noting that ensuring your skin-care products and primer work well together—and better, yet, with your skin type—is key. “Layering a moisturizer, primer and foundation may work really well on normal to dry skin, but it might be too much for oily skin types,” says celebrity makeup artist Sonia Deveney. If this is the case for you, experiment. “Try skipping the moisturizer altogether and just use a serum with the primer,” suggests Deveney. “Remember, the end makeup result will only be as good as the skin underneath,” says Temptu global educator and artist Tanya Deemer. “If the skin is not properly prepped, the makeup won’t look as flawless as it should.”

How much makeup primer should I use?

It depends on the formula. For liquid primers, Quynh recommends a dime-sized amount; for thicker formulas, Deveney says a pea size will do the trick.

Are primers with silicone better?

Silicone is great for smoothing the surface of the skin and creating an “airbrushed” finish, which is exactly why you can find it in a lot of makeup primers.  However, Quynh says that using too much silicone can start to be an issue. “If you’re applying skin care that has a lot of silicone and then a primer that also has silicone, they may not work well together and end up pilling or rolling.”

How should I apply makeup primer?

It’s up to you whether you apply with your fingers, brush or a sponge, but there are a few guidelines. “A dry beautyblender would just soak up the product, not leaving a lot to actually apply,” says Deveney. “And a damp beautyblender would thin the product down. So if your specific primer is quite thick and you intend on thinning it out, go ahead, but I usually us a foundation brush or my fingers or both.” On the other hand, Deemer says she’s a big fan of applying most primers with a synthetic bristle brush. “It allows me to really work the product into the skin so that it actually works the way it is meant to.”

Where do I apply primer?

It depends on the purpose of the primer. If your primer’s main intent is keeping makeup in place, it can be used all over the face to help your foundation adhere better. However, if the bottle mentions pore-smoothing or line-blurring, read on. “For pore-blurring primers, I would concentrate on areas where large pores are prominent,” says Quynh. “Usually that’s the T-zone, but sometimes it also includes the cheek area.” For line-blurring primers, Quynh suggests applying around the eyes, forehead and laugh lines.

Which primer should I use?

Like all things in beauty, the primer you should use is based on preference. However, depending on your end goal, this guide to our favorite primers might help steer you in the right direction.

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For smoothing wrinkles:

Victoria Beckham Beauty by Augustinus Bader Cell Rejuvenating Priming Moisturizer ($100)

If you’re trying to minimize the look of wrinkles, try a smoothing makeup primer. Packed with hydrating and plumping ingredients, this skin care-makeup hybrid is a must for any mature makeup routine.

Size: 1.01 oz | Key ingredients: avocado oil, glycerin, TFC8® technology | Finish: natural, radiant

BUY NOW – $100

victoria beckham primer
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For blurring pores:

Rare Beauty Pore Diffusing Primer ($28)

If enlarged pores are your biggest gripe, this primer instantly blurs, nixes excess shine and “fills” the look of pores while extending the wear of your makeup.

Size: .94 oz | Key ingredients: hyaluronic acid, green tea extract, vitamin E | Finish: matte

BUY NOW – $36

rare beauty primer
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For hydration:

REFY Glow and Sculpt Face Serum Primer with Niacinamide ($34)

There’s a reason this roll-on primer has been all over TikTok. The cooling applicator helps de-puff and sculpt the face while hydrating actives help plump the look of dry, dull skin.

Size: 1.4 oz | Key ingredients: niacinamide, glycerin, vitamin E | Finish: radiant

BUY NOW – $34

refy primer
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For a glow boost:

Charlotte Tilbury Hollywood Flawless Filter ($49)

Available in 12 shades, this cult-classic primer-meets-highlighter sinks right into the skin for an ethereal glow when worn alone or under makeup.

Size: 1 oz | Key ingredients: porcelain flower extract, glycerin | Finish: radiant

BUY NOW – $49

charlotte tilbury flawless filter
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For reducing redness:

Make Up For Ever Step 1 Primer Redness Corrector ($40)

The green tint of this hydrating primer counteracts any redness in the skin for a more even tone and makeup application.

Size: 1.01 oz | Key ingredients: ginseng, glycerin | Finish: natural

BUY NOW – $40

make up for ever primer
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For a bronze glow:

L’Oreal Paris Makeup True Match Lumi Glotion ($17)

Beloved by names like Alix Earle, Martha Stewart and Eva Longoria, these best-selling bronzing drops (one sells every 20 seconds!) double as a hydrating primer, too. Win-win.

Size: 1.35 oz | Key ingredients: glycerin | Finish: radiant, bronze

BUY NOW – $17

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