How to Pick the Best Makeup Primer for You and Apply It Like a Pro

September 01, 2020
By: Tembe Denton-Hurst | by L'Oréal
How to Pick the Best Makeup Primer for You and Apply it Like a Pro

A great base is the beginning of any great makeup look, whether you’re rocking a full face or just a few dabs of concealer. And while a great skin-care regimen can work wonders for making sure your makeup wears flawlessly throughout the day, primer is the real key to getting your makeup to perform the way it should. If you’re not familiar with makeup primers, let us give you a, um, primer. These silky, soft creams and gels are meant to be applied underneath your makeup to guarantee perfect foundation application by filling in fine lines and smoothing out uneven skin texture. Plus, they also keep your makeup looking fresh throughout the day.

Primers have come a long way in the past decade, moving from the makeup artist’s kit to your vanity, and they come in a mind-boggling array of formulas. Keep reading for everything you ever wanted to know about makeup primers, including which one is right for you and how to apply them for maximum benefits.

What Primer Does and How to Pick the Right One

Primers are sort of like insurance for your makeup. Although they often wear many hats — smoothing, concealing, protecting and prepping — their main roles are to keep your makeup on longer and give your skin a smooth, flawless finish. Any fading, bleeding or blotchy behavior that can occur throughout the day can usually be prevented with the use of a little bit of primer under your foundation (just make sure the ingredients play well together!). Better yet, many primers now are also infused with SPF, so they help keep your skin protected from UV rays while lending radiance. 

For application, try a priming brush like the NYX Professional Makeup High Glass Face Primer Brush that can help you evenly distribute the product all over the face. 

nyx professional makeup high glass face primer brush

Don't Forget the Eyes

Now that your skin looks like it’s been through an Instagram filter IRL, where else should you be using the magical potion that is primer? Why, your eyes, of course. Think about it: What’s worse than creating a perfect masterpiece on your eyes, only to have it crease, fade or smudge just an hour or so later? Nothing. Eye primer is quick and easy to swipe on and makes a world of difference in the pigment and longevity of your shadow. 

What Exactly Is Eye Primer?

In a nutshell, eyeshadow primer is a liquid- or cream-based product that is applied on the eyelids to make shadows and eyeliner go on smoother and last longer. It serves as a double-sided tape of sorts that grips to your eyeshadow and makeup, making it last longer and ensuring it sticks to your lids and doesn’t stray. It can also help enhance your makeup hues and make them even brighter. 

Here’s Why You Need It

Primer creates a base for the eyelids, absorbing excess oil and allowing for an even surface on which to work. Without primer, greasy eyelids can cause shadows to get that “creased” effect throughout the day, or have patchy and uneven application. Those with dry, primer-less eyelids, on the other hand, will have shadow pigment disappear entirely in a matter of hours.

Also, just like lips, eyelids often can have a slight natural pigment or tone to them that can make it difficult for certain shadow colors to pop. Primers, especially those with nude or white tones to them, serve as clean canvases that allow any and all shadow colors to come through. Heck, if you doled out big bucks for those shadow singles and palettes, you should get your money’s worth with solid makeup looks, right?

How to Apply Eye Primer

STEP 1: After applying your daily eye creams and facial moisturizers, squeeze a tiny bit of primer (we stan the OG Urban Decay Eyeshadow Potion)onto a flat eyeshadow brush, like the Giorgio Armani Beauty Concealer Brush, or your fingertips.


STEP 2:The layer should be thin and absorb quickly so it can make the skin smooth and shadow-ready. Just a mustard seed-size amount for each lid will do the trick.


STEP 3:Use rapid, gentle tapping motions to blend the formula into the skin. Start at your lash line and work all the way into the brows (yes, the brows — this will make your brow products last longer, too).


STEP 4:  Remember to apply primer under the bottom lashes as well if you intend to use shadow or liner there. Allow about a minute for the formula to dry.

Types of Face Primers

Blurring Primers

Blurring primers — like the YSL Beauty Touche Éclat Silver Blur Primer — use light-reflecting technology to create a soft-focus effect that airbrushes out flaws, making them easier to cover. We also love the Maybelline New York Face Studio Master Prime Blur + Smooth, a drugstore beauty buy that holds up all day and won’t break the bank.

ysl blurring primer, maybelline master prime blur

Color Correcting Primers

These rainbow shades erase problems by using the concept of the color wheel — where shades on the opposite side of the wheel cancel each other out — to craftily conceal your complexion issues. NYX Professional Makeup Color Correcting Liquid Primer comes in five shades, including green to combat redness, pink to revive a tired complexion and blue to remove sallow tones. We also recommend LA Girl Pro Prep HD Color Correcting Face Primer, a lightweight, paraben-free drugstore primer option that’s enriched with vitamin B3.
nyx color correcting primers

Anti-Aging Primers

Primers that are anti-aging have both protective and reparative qualities. Many feature SPF to protect against UV damage and other skin-healthy ingredients — like the IT Cosmetics No.50 Serum Anti Aging Collagen Veil Primer — that work to improve skin texture and tone.
tula brighten up primer, nyx professional makeup bare with me jelly primer

Illuminating Primers

One surefire way to make your foundation look like skin and not makeup? Primers with illuminating properties like the NYX Professional Makeup High Glass Face Primer. Apply them on bare skin, all over the face or on the high points of it (nose, brow bone, cheekbone, Cupid’s bow) to add life and dimension to your complexion. If you’re having a good face day and don’t want to wear foundation, you can still use a highlighting primer to liven up your skin. If you’re willing to splurge a little we recommend the Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Hydrating Primer, a holy-grail face primer that works particularly well for dry skin. 

nyx professional makeup high glass primer, giorgio armani illuminating primer

Pore Minimizing Primers

If you’re sick of your pores dominating your face, try a pore-minimizing formula. These oily skin savers, as the name suggests, blur pores to make them less noticeable. An added bonus? They also mattify, so you can get rid of shine and greasiness in one swipe. We love the Dermablend Pore Saver Matte Makeup Primer for its lightweight feel and smooth finish.
dermablend pore saver matte primer

Mattifying Primers

For truly oily babes, we recommend a primer that’s downright mattifying, like the Urban Decay All Nighter Face Primer. It’s long-wearing and gives skin that blurred, filtered effect. We also swear by the IT Cosmetics Your Skin But Better Oil-Free Primer for an ultra-lightweight formula that oily beauty lovers rave about.

it cosmetics your skin but better primer, urban decay all nighter primer

Hydrating Primers

Dry, dehydrated skin can make wearing foundation a challenge — it settles into rough patches and gives your complexion a flaky appearance. If that sounds like you, try using an ultra-moisturizing primer like the Urban Decay All Nighter Ultra Glow Face Primer. This formula combines hyaluronic acid and agave extract for a moisturizing finish that lasts up to 12 hours.
urban decay all nighter glow primer

How to Apply Face Primer

Once you’ve found your ideal primer, you need to master the fine art of application. The first rule of primer? Always apply moisturizer before priming, as it makes your primer application even. Two of our favorite moisturizers that always get the job done are Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream and SkinCeuticals Daily Moisture. Wait a few minutes after your application before priming and take makeup artist Elle Leary’s advice and “start in the center of the face and work your way out — you want a light coverage, not heavy.” Giorgio Armani Celebrity Makeup Artist Tim Quinn recommends applying primer with your fingertips or a sponge and avoiding the eye area. Once your primer is on, allow a few minutes for it to set before applying foundation. 

STEP 1: Start with a cleansed and moisturized face. Apply sunscreen of your choosing, and then you’re ready for primer.

STEP 2: Squeeze out the primer on the back of your hand, mix it with your finger to warm up the product and then dab it all over your face.

STEP 3: Gently rub the primer in. Make sure to get every area and crevice of your face — from your cheeks, to around your nose, temples, forehead line and chin.

STEP 4: Once the primer absorbs, you’re ready to apply your foundation.
Photo: Chaunte Vaughn

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