Everything You Need to Know About Makeup Primers

Nothing says “high maintenance” quite like a face primer. But then again, there’s nothing that says “Hot damn, your skin looks good” as quickly, either. And the case for revisiting this often neglected makeup step just got a lot stronger. The new generation of primers are smaller, lighter, better, and faster—all you need to do is brush up on how to use them.

Why You Need a Primer

The newest primers don’t just smooth skin, keep makeup in place, and blur pores to near invisibility; they also brighten, fight aging, target acne, and add tons of hydration. Some can even give skin a temporary face-lift, all without feeling heavy. (To find the best one for you and your specific skin issue, check out our comprehensive guide.)

When to Use Them

Primers fall somewhere between skin care and makeup, so it follows that you should apply them after your skin care and before your makeup.

How to Use Them

The best way to apply primers is with your fingers. “A makeup brush will just drag the primer around,” says makeup artist Mary Phillips. If you’re a germophobe, you can use a slightly damp [Beautyblender] sponge. Then don’t go rushing right into your foundation. Give the primer a full minute to dry before layering anything on top. If you’re applying liquid foundation or tinted moisturizer afterward, finish with a dusting of translucent powder. “Otherwise,” says cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson, “the water in your makeup and the silicones in most primers repel each other. If you touch your face, both will come right off.” You can use primer after foundation, too. Sheer pearlescent primers create a more natural-looking glow than shimmery powders (try Charlotte Tilbury Wonderglow Instant Soft-Focus Beauty Flash Primer). Tap it onto the high points of your face—the cheekbones and the bridge of your nose—after foundation.

Makeup artist Vincent Oquendo says to start small. Put a dime-size amount on your nose and blend it outward. Extremely dry skin that “tends to absorb makeup” can handle as much as a quarter-size blob, says Oquendo. Once you get into half-dollar territory, you’ve gone too far and your foundation could start to pill. If all you’re after is covering wrinkles and pores, then use primer just on the spots that need it. Squirt a pumpkin-seed-size dollop on the back of your hand, and dab it on with your fingers. Use a foundation brush to fill deeper wrinkles.

See Also

  • The Best Primers for Every Skin Issue Imaginable

  • 10 Under-$20 Skin-Perfecting Face Primers

  • The Ultimate Guide to Color-Correcting Primers