Makeup Primers Lock Foundation in Place—Here’s How To Choose the Best One for Your Skin Type

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With warm weather comes humidity and while we love the hydration for our hair and skin, it can create some challenges for our makeup. The extra moisture in the air causes us to sweat more, which makes it difficult for makeup to stay in place. The hot temperatures can also cause extra oil production in the skin, which creates the familiar afternoon shine that can destroy even the most perfectly applied foundation.

Experts In This Article

But, fear not: We tapped celebrity makeup artists who shared how they make makeup last all day long. And their number one trick of the trade is primer, a skin-prepping solution that smoothes out the skin, holds makeup in place, and keeps it on throughout the day.

Benefits of Makeup Primers

According to Lori Taylor Davis, the global lead artist at Smashbox, makeup primers are “designed to extend the wear of makeup and improve skin over time.” Depending on the formulation, primers can be used as a two-in-one product that both holds makeup in place and addresses skin concerns.

While primers are beloved for their ability to keep makeup on all day long, Davis says that you can find formulas that also work behind the scenes to improve skin concerns. Depending on what you’re looking for, she says you can find formulations that “mattify to control oil, help create radiance and a brighter complexion, minimize pores to smooth texture, plump skin, and moisturize."

What's more, a primer can also add a sort of lit-from-within radiance to your look. "An illuminating primer can make a nice difference in the appearance of dull or sallow skin," says Jenny Patinkin, makeup artist, beauty expert, and author of Lazy Perfection. "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 also notes its smoothing prowess: "Primers have a very silky consistency that can blur the appearance of lines and pores," she says.

When Should You Use Makeup Primers?

“Summertime is the best time to wear primers,” says Davis. “They can help keep makeup in place from the summer humidity and heat.” By adding this step to your makeup routine, you’re helping skin prepare for the makeup and hold onto the products, resulting in a look that lasts all day long.

But, according to celebrity makeup artist Delina Medhin, you don’t have to say goodbye to your primer as the weather cools down. She says primers can be used year-round, and her clients typically request them for special occasions and events where they need their looks to last for hours.

How To Choose a Makeup Primer

When it comes to picking a primer to meet your needs, the first step is understanding your skin type and knowing what will best work to keep products in place. “Think about what your skin needs to help your makeup stay on longer,” says Medhin. “If your skin is dry, you want a hydrating primer. If your skin is oily, you want a mattifying primer.”

The Best Primers for Dry Skin

For those of us with dry skin, it’s all about hydration. Davis says to look for primers with one of our favorite hydrators, hyaluronic acid, to give your skin the extra nourishment it needs to hold onto makeup.

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."

Heir Atelier Face Primer — $42.00

“Heir Atelier is a beautiful, demi-matte formula, that increases hydration as well,” says celebrity makeup artist Mary Irwin. It helps your makeup glide on without balling or caking and stay looking fresh for longer.

Glossier Priming Moisturizer — $22.00

“I’m a fan of Glossier Priming Moisturizer,” says Irwin. “The fatty acids and ceramides really increase hydration and lock foundation in.” The creme visibly evens out skin texture, and minimizes the look of pores, while an anti-redness complex soothes your skin.

Bobbi Brown Vitamin Enriched Face Base Priming Moisturizer — $60.00

This formula combines shea butter with vitamins B, C, and E, to keep your skin moisturized and looking its best. It helps your makeup go on smoother and last longer.

First Aid Beauty Hello FAB Coconut Skin Smoothie Priming Moisturizer — $29.00

Lightweight and oil-free, this moisturizing primer contains coconut water for hydration and quinoa protein to help protect, nurture, and support the skin barrier.

Touch In Sol Pretty Filter Icy Sherbet Primer — $20.00

This editor-favorite primer is made with sodium hyaluronate, a derivative of hyaluronic acid, which is great for hydration. It’s oil- and silicone-free, so it’s great for sensitive skin. As Well+Good beauty writer Kara Jillian Brown describes it, “It starts out as a cloud-like whipped gel and smooths into your skin effortlessly. It dries down quickly, leaving a smooth finish that’s still a bit tacky to the touch, but not overly sticky.”

Photo: Lawless
LAWLESS Set The Stage Hydrating Primer Serum — $48.00

Equal parts makeup and skin care, this primer transforms from an oil to a soap to a gel before melting seamlessly into skin. According to the brand’s founder, Jennifer Lawless, the formula functions as pre-makeup serum, primer, and moisturizer all in one, and can cut multiple steps out of your morning (and evening) routines. Its clean, water-based formula includes Pentapeptide-59 (a synthetic ingredient designed to fight redness and protects sensitive skin), rosehip seed oil (which reduces the appearances of acne scars), and sea buckthorn oil (another ingredient that protects you body’s largest organ from environmental threats).

Smashbox Photo Finish Primerizer + Hydrating Primer — $39.00

A primer/moisturizer hybrid, this “Primerizer” is Davis’ top pick for clients with dry skin. It contains three kinds of hydrating hyaluronic acid and redness-reducing niacinamide. Its hero ingredient, though, is “silk screen complex” made up of vitamins, antioxidants, and probiotics that defends against damage from blue light and environmental stressors. It creates a smooth, seamless canvas to apply makeup on top of, and will leave your complexion looking dewy and fresh. mi

Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Hydrating Makeup Primer — $34.00

Another one of Davis’ go-tos, this formula features a triple hyaluronic acid complex and niacinamide to hydrate, plump, and nourish the skin underneath makeup.

The Best Primers for Oily Skin

“If you have oily skin, skin primers can be a great product to help your makeup last,” Medhin explains. Her recommendation is to look for primers that mattify the skin... that feature glycerin to help strengthen the skin’s barrier and reduce oil production.

"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."

However, one thing to keep in mind is that even though silicone is great for soaking 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." If you have sensitive oily skin, you'll want to choose a water-based primer instead.

Isla Face Base Priming Moisturizer — $42.00

This formula feels like a moisturizer but works like a primer, simultaneously working to nourish skin while also prepping it for makeup. It hydrates, protects against blue-light damage, and smooths fine lines and wrinkles. It’s so good for your complexion, you’ll want to wear it even on days you aren’t applying foundation.

IT Cosmetics Your Skin But Better Makeup Primer+ — $40.00

This oil-free primer is made with a trifecta of good-for-skin (particularly oily skin) ingredients: Glycerin, which helps to retain moisture; Bark extract, which improves skin texture; and Ginger root extract, which offers smoothing benefits. Not only will it blur your pores immediately after you apply, but it will also help improve their appearance over time.

Bite Beauty Changemaker Skin-Optimizing Primer — $38.00

This primer is great for oily and acne-prone skin, as it uses willow bark powder (an ingredient you’ll often find in pimple-fighting products) to control shine. According to fans of the formula, it goes on smooth, feels weightless, and won’t ever pill under your makeup.

tatcha liquid canvas
Tatcha The Liquid Silk Canvas: Featherweight Protective Primer — $52.00

This primer has long been a celeb favorite, and it’s even been recommended to us by Daniel Martin, the makeup artist responsible for Megan Markle’s wedding day glam. “If it’s humid, you have oilier skin, and are wearing a lighter weight or oil-free moisturizer, reach for The Liquid Silk Canvas,” he says. The lightweight, liquid formula is oil-free, and made with silk powder extracts to smooth out pores and wrinkles, as well as a blend of botanical and antioxidant-rich extracts that protect and nourish the skin.

Fenty Beauty by Rihanna Pro Filt'r Instant Retouch Primer — $34.00

Rihanna is truly a formulations wizard, and this oil-free primer is just as good as everything else Fenty Beauty puts onto the market. It leaves behind what the brand calls a “soft matte” finish, which will never make your skin look (or feel) chalky or dried out. It absorbs shine to leave skin smooth, and melts seamlessly into all skin types and tones.

Urban Decay All Nighter Face Primer — $36.00

Medhin recommends this smoothing primer, which hydrates skin but doesn’t leave behind any excess oil. Its claim to fame is its ability to grip onto foundation and make it last “all night.”

Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer — $56.00

One of Patinkin’s favorites, she notes that she keeps this primer in her kit and uses it “only if my client is truly oily.” In addition to smoothing skin and locking makeup in place, it offers physical UVA and UVB protection with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

e.l.f. Cosmetics Power Grip Primer — $10.00

A true drugstore diamond, this $10 pick has hundreds of five-star reviews. It’s beloved for its staying power, non-sticky finish, and how effectively it holds onto makeup. It goes on clear to give skin a “soft focus” effect.

The Best Primers for Dull Skin

Illuminating primers offer an easy, one-step way to brighten up dull skin. They add a luminescent glow underneath your foundation without making your complexion look sparkly or shimmery—almost as if you're radiating light. There are options in this category for both oily and dry skin, so you can follow the directives from makeup artists above to find your perfect formula.

Neutrogena Healthy Skin Radiant Primer + Serum — $17.00

This primer-meets-serum is infused with peptides, which boost your skin’s plumpness and overall health in the long term, and pearls, which add an instant boost of radiance. It can be layered under makeup, but also looks gorgeous when it’s worn on its own.

Saie Głowy Super Gel Lightweight Dewy Highlighter — $28.00

Though this is technically a highlighter, it’s the perfect level of luminescent to layer under foundation for the ultimate dewy finish. It comes in two shades—champagne and bronze—each of which delivers a candle-lit glow. Plus, it’s made with vitamin C and rosehip oil, which will brighten your skin’s natural appearance over time.

Rare Beauty By Selena Gomez Always An Optimist Illuminating Primer — $26.00

This silicone-free, gel-texture primer calls on ultra-fine pearls to give it its gleam. It’s great for dull, dry skin, and contains a blend of skin-soothing botanicals (namely lotus, gardenia, and white waterlily) to calm stressed complexions. Though it looks shimmery straight out of the bottle, when you rub it into your skin it offers a gorgeous, glassy finish.

Laneige Glowy Makeup Serum — $32.00

Nothing says “luxe” like diamonds, which is exactly what this formula uses to create its translucent glow. It feels like a serum (really, you can think of it as both a part of your skin-care and makeup routines), and includes ceramides to strengthen the skin barrier and lock in moisture. It’s made with makeup-locking technology, so works well under foundation, but is also great for days when you want to go makeup-free but are still looking for a little skin-enhancing boost.

Charlotte Tilbury Wonderglow Face Primer — $55.00

From a dullness-combatting standpoint, this formula does it all. It’s made with light-reflecting microspheres to give skin an instant boost of brilliance and blurring, and contains collagen-stimulating peptides and anti-wrinkle ingredients that smooth and brighten dull, dehydrated skin over time.

Yves Saint Laurent NU GLOW IN BALM Face Priming Moisturizer with Shea Butter — $36.00

Well+Good’s senior beauty editor Zoë Weiner swears by this priming moisturizer to prep her dry skin for makeup. In addition to hydrating ingredients like glycerin and shea butter, it’s got light-reflecting pearls and roast extract. The pearls give skin a gleaming glow immediately after application, and the rosat extract helps to boost the skin’s natural radiance over time to deliver glazed donut skin in a single step.

Milani Prime Light Strobing + Pore Minimizing Face Primer — $7.00

The brand describes this primer perfectly: ” It’s like walking around with your own flattering lighting everywhere you go.” It’s made with soft-focus pigments that blur the appearance of pores and add radiance to the skin, giving you a smooth, even complexion with the perfect amount of incandescence. While it doesn’t offer any long-term skin-boosting benefits, it’s great for days when you need an instant pick-me-up.

Laura Mercier Illuminating Primer — $40.00

Like many of the other illuminating primers on this list, this Laura Mercier formula contains pearls, which brighten complexions, and is ideal for someone with dull skin who wants to add to their skin’s luminosity. It’s also made with light-reflecting technology, which ups that glow factor even further, and porcelain flower extract, which enhances natural skin radiance over time.

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Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.

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