Makeup Tips

Real Talk: Makeup Artists Say This Is How to Know Which Primer You Need

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Photo: Stocksy/Alberto Bogo
I wear makeup every. single. day. I'm really into playing with different eyeshadows and mascaras and highlighters and approach makeup as if my skin is my own artiste palette. And yet: I've gotta admit that I've never once even touched a makeup primer. To me, the world of primers is like the wild, wild west.

I've always thought that wearing an added layer on top of your skin and underneath your foundation—one that you can't even see—is like wearing clear nail polish. What's even the point? So, I sought out advice from makeup pros and it turns out that, while totally optional, makeup primers can work some re-texturizing, skin-blurring magic. "There are some instances in which primers can be helpful," says Jenny Patinkin, makeup artist, beauty expert, and author of Lazy Perfection.

Looking to upgrade your makeup regimen? Keep scrolling for the perks of primers, when to use them, and what ingredients to look for, along with expert-approved options to add to cart.

The benefits of wearing a primer

If you have oily skin, listen up. "A silicone primer attracts and soaks up oil like a sponge," says Patinkin. "It creates a barrier between your skin and your makeup, so the oils can't surface, shine is reduced, and wear time is improved."

Besides soaking up shine, primers can make your skin look more radiant than it may actually be. "An illuminating primer can make a nice difference in the appearance of dull or sallow skin," she says. "You use it under your makeup, but it gives enough radiance that you can skip applying highlighter or shimmery makeup on top."

Also a perk? Primer can make your face smoother in appearance. "I find that they're useful for those who don't necessarily want coverage but want a smoother complexion," says Molly R. Stern, a celebrity makeup artist. "They're great for people who have big pores and find their foundation settling into the skin." Patinkin agrees about its smoothing prowess: "Primers have a very silky consistency that can blur the appearance of lines and pores," she says.

What to look for in a primer

You can't just slather on any primer though and expect a flawlessly blurred, non-shiny face—it's key to look at the ingredients in what you're buying. One thing to be aware of is silicone—even though it soaks up oil, it can irritate some skin types. "The problem is that silicone can be irritating to the skin, clogging pores, and potentially triggering breakouts," explains Patinkin. "It also doesn’t play nicely with water-based products, causing them to pill on the skin. Hourglass Mineral Veil Primer ($54) is the one I keep in my kit, but I only use it if my client is truly oily."

If your skin's on the dry side, it helps to choose a primer that's boosted by hydrating ingredients. Patinkin recommends using one with antioxidants, fatty acids, and brightening ingredients such as lightweight jojoba oils or hyaluronic acid. "If you're using nourishing ingredients like that, it'll help to prevent makeup from sinking in and fading during the day, and it keeps makeup looking freshly applied because it doesn't evaporate as fast as a water-based moisturizer does."

Other key ingredients are vitamins A, C, or E, according to Stern. "I also like to use a primer with sunscreen for added protection on the skin," she says.

Shop makeup artist-approved fave primers, below

For the rest of your beauty look, here's how to curl your eyelashes without a curler. And how to make your lipstick really last. 

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