A primer on primers

To prime or not to prime, that is the question. Let’s help you answer it with a handy guide to primers covering, pun intended, all the bases.

Woman applying primer

Primers have been generating a lot of buzz in the makeup world for a while now. With so many out there, you may be asking yourself if they really work and which one is for you.

First up, they really do work. You don’t realize it until you’ve used one. Is it an extra step in an already busy morning? Yes. Do I use one every day? I freely admit no. But whenever I do use one, I am reminded why I shouldn’t skip this step.

Primers used after skin care products are the base of makeup and what your foundation goes over. They improve makeup wear, smooth skin, add moisture, fill in lines and pores, reflect light, correct color and more. Many do several of these things. Some specialize in one or two. Let’s break them down and show what works for various skin types and concerns.

Beauty balms

Beauty Balms or BB creams are newer and not simply a primer, but being a primer is one of their functions. BBs are also perfectors, have skin treatment ingredients, lightly hydrate skin and provide SPF, usually 35 or higher. Two standouts in this category are MAC Prep and Prime Beauty Balm SPF 35 ($30) and Dr. Jart Premium Beauty Balm SPF 45 ($39). Both have a light, sheer tint that’s invisible on most skintones. What is visible is your “you but better skin.”


While most primers add some moisture, Laura Mercier, who created her first primer in 1995, has one specifically for dry, dehydrated skin. Hydrating Foundation primer is a creamy gel with glycerin along with vitamins A, C and E. Another hydrating choice is Korres Vitamin E Face Primer which packs jojoba and sunflower oils, is silicone-free and eco-certified.

Oily skin

This is the trickiest of all since us oily gals have a fear of moisture, but want our skin to look perfect, too. Cover Fx Clear Prep ($39) is a mattifying primer that helps to absorb oil. It also contains acne fighting ingredients like one percent salicylic acid and willow bark extract as well as anti-aging ingredients and line fillers. You can beat the oilies and acne without totally stripping your skin. It also mattifies really well, extending the time before oil breaks through even on the T-zone.

Color correcting

MAC released several new primers this year to address redness, sallowness and brightness. Their Fortified Skin Enhancer ($30) in Illuminating adds the tiniest bit of sheer glow to skin to give it that lit from within look while Neutralize’s ($30) yellow tone helps to reduce blotchy skin. Bonus — these also have SPF 35.

Back to our initial question — to prime or not to prime? I think you know the answer now.

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