What Is Primer? Here’s What You Need To Know

Julia Sachs

Tags Primer

pores no more primer

With dozens of primers to choose from on the beauty market--each with different finishes, benefits and promises--it can be hard to understand what a primer is and why you should use one. This must-have base product comes in all shapes and sizes, offering different formulas and finishes to perfect your makeup from top to bottom.

On top of all of your other skin care products, though, is a primer really all that necessary? What are the benefits to adding this product to your makeup routine? We understand if you’ve got a lot of questions about primers, with so many options it can be overwhelming! We’ve put together this guide to teach you everything you need to know about primers and how to choose the best one for you. So let’s get into our Primer Primer.

What Is Primer?

Firstly, we should probably clarify what a primer is before we start talking about how to choose the perfect one. This makeup product is pretty self explanatory; at its most simplistic, it primes the skin before makeup is applied to enhance the appearance and staying power of makeup once it’s applied. Primers also create a barrier between your skin care products and your makeup so that makeup doesn’t clog pores or cause other irritation.

best primer for dry skinApplying a layer of primer before your concealer and foundation can make a massive difference in how your makeup looks. If you think about the face like a canvas, a primer is what you put on the canvas before you begin painting to make the paint show up exactly how you intended. Primers help bind makeup to your skin, smooth over the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and pores. Moreover, primers adjust the overall finish of foundation and concealer to help it appear exactly as natural or heavy as you want it.

Obviously, the foundation you use also impacts how your makeup looks after you put on the final touches. If this all sounds like it’s just going to make your face feel like its got a pound of makeup on, it shouldn’t. Most primers don’t feel like much once they’ve been applied, because the point of a primer is to make your other makeup look better, not weigh it down or make it look caked on.

More than altering the look of your makeup, primers can also be part of your skincare routine. Some primers contain skin protecting SPFs or are fused with hyaluronic acid to replace your moisturizer and save you a step in the morning. Depending on the ingredients used in the primer, it will do much more than simply cover blemishes, pores, and wrinkles or change the finish of your foundation and concealer. So how do you know which one to choose? We’re so glad you asked.

Choosing the Right Primer

Before you grab the first primer you find or run out and buy the primer your BFF recommended, it’s important to understand what you want to get out of it. Like every other skin care and makeup product on the market, finding a product that works for you is more important than finding the most popular one or the one Refinery29 says is best this month.

First, ask yourself what it is you want to improve when it comes to your makeup routine. For some, a pore and wrinkle refining primer may be the best product. Other people may want to brighten, while still others may wish to create a matte or dewy finish for their makeup lewk.

For a primer that blends into the skin to smooth over fine lines and blur pores, we recommend the classic Photo Finish Primer from Smashbox. There’s a reason this primer has been a favorite for decades now. Smashbox was born as a photography studio back in the 1990’s, and ventured into the makeup and beauty industry when it created this iconic primer to give skin a perfectly blurred, photoready effect--before Facetune was even a thing.

If you’re looking for a primer that you can substitute for another skincare product, companies like Glo and Nuface have exactly that. Glo’s Tinted Primer SPF 30 does a great job of smoothing over the skin without making it feel heavy. Since it’s an SPF it also does a good job of absorbing into the skin without feeling greasy or hard to blend.

If hydration is more your concern, NuFace makes a Hydrating Gel Primer that’s loaded with hyaluronic acid and phytomoist complex to help water molecules bind and absorb into the skin, making it appear plump and more radiant.

Choose Based on Skin Type

smashbox photo finishPick your primer based on your skin type. People who struggle with oily skin will get the most out of a primer that gives a matte finish, as it will add a layer that can absorb the oil in your skin without blocking the pores to create acne. Photo Finish primers are created to blur and matte the skin, so most of the Smashbox primers will be a good choice for anyone with oily skin.

Smashbox sought to help these people with a primer for oily, sensitive, acne-prone, or combination skin. Their Photo Finish Foundation Primer Light is enriched with Vitamin C and a peptide blend is perfect for these skin types. Together they to boost collagen production, reverse cell damage, and help to fade and prevent brown spots and pigmentation.

Reversing issues with redness and blemishes will require some color correcting, so go for a green tinted primer to correct red spots, or a yellow or pink tinted primer to combat dark circles. Over the years, Smashbox added varieties to their award winning primers so there were options for everyone. Their Photo Finish Reduce Redness Primer is a green tinted primer perfect for people who are looking to fight redness, uneven skin tone, and dullness or uneven texture. Plus, with an antioxidant blend of vitamins E and A, it evens helps protect your skin from damage, stress, and environmental pollutants.

Alternatively, those suffering from dry skin or who have more mature skin will want to opt for a primer that hydrates, brightens, and illuminates. Mattifying primers may be able to smooth over fine lines, but will only enhance the look of deeper wrinkles to create that dreaded “caked on” look. Combination skin will also get the most out of hydrating primers. We recommend checking out the Photo Finish Primer Oil from Smashbox or a bottle of Hydrating Leave-On Gel Primer from NuFace.

How to Apply Primer

The best time to apply your primer is just before you begin your makeup, but after you’ve completed your skin care routine. Unlike with foundation and concealer, the best way to apply a primer is with your fingers instead of a brush or sponge. This will help control where the primer goes and how it gets blended into the skin. Think of primer as more of a skin care product than a makeup product, so apply it as you would a skin care product in order to get an even application. (Pro Tip: Keep your primer with your skin care so you apply it with clean hands after you finish your skin care regimen.)

Ever the primer savants, Smashbox knew that your foundation wasn’t the only thing you need a primer for. So they introduced one of our all time favorites, the Photo Finish Hydrating Under Eye Primer in addition to their Photo Finish Lid Primer for making your eyeshadow and eye makeup survive all day. In fact, we suggest that on makeup free days you use the Hydrating Under Eye Primer instead of eye cream and watch your eyes brighten and sparkle. We won’t leave the house without it!

Using a couple of different primers can also help you get different results. For example, an eyeshadow primer can help create a canvas that will make eyeshadow appear more vibrant, while helping it stick to the lid to last longer and blend more easily. If you find that certain eyeshadows swatch well on the skin when you wipe them on your arm but don’t look quite the same once they make it onto your lid, try applying an eyeshadow primer before you begin. Another eyeshadow primer we like is this one from Blinc. It has a great formula that helps prevent creasing throughout the day, keeping your shadow looking fresh even after long periods of time.

Once you’ve finished applying your primer, wait at least one full minute before beginning your makeup application. This will give the primer ample time to fully absorb into the skin and set on the face. After you’ve applied your primer, apply your makeup as usual. Then voila! A radiantly beautiful face that stays where you put it!

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