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A Guide to Makeup Primer

A makeup primer is a lightweight product applied to your skin before applying any makeup. It creates a base that helps keep your makeup products and colours looking fresher and smoother for longer. Here we look at what a primer is, the different types available and how to apply it.

The purpose of a makeup primer is to help makeup last longer. It also helps it stay fresher looking by reducing the chance of streaks, creasing and fading.

Primers can also have other benefits, depending on their design and ingredients. So, there is a primer that will do whatever you want it to do. For example, a primer can:

  • Even out skin texture and reduce the appearance of pores and fine lines, providing a smooth base on which you apply your foundation.
  • Remove excess shine and oil from the skin – look for “matte” or “mattifying” on the packaging.
  • Add a dewy glow – primers that brighten the skin or add illumination.
  • Hydrate or moisturise, which is good for drier skin.
  • Have an SPF (sun protection factor) element.
  • Even out skin tone – some primers have a slight tint to them or come in a corrective shade (like lilac or green) to even out minor pigmentation variations.

When Do I Apply a Primer?

A primer is applied AFTER skincare (like cleansing, toning, moisturising and applying sunscreen), but BEFORE applying any of your makeup. Some other things to consider include:

  • Match the primer’s formulation to your foundation – for example, use a water-based primer with a water-based foundation. Likewise, oil-based products should be used together. Silicone primers can cause problems for some types of foundation – and work great with others. Ultimately, test the primer with your foundation in-store before you buy.
  • Apply primer to a clean face.
  • Allow skincare products to really soak in first. Wait for moisturiser or sun protection to be touch dry before applying any primer. Be careful as some of these products may not go well with a primer and cause pilling and slippage. Therefore, use skincare products that soak into the skin.
  • A light application is all you need. For example, a pea-sized blob is all you need for the face. Too much primer can cause slippage or product pilling, so apply it sparingly.
  • Primer is not moisturiser – even if it has a hydrating property, primers have a different purpose to moisturiser.
  • You do not powder a primer.
  • Let the primer be touch dry before you apply the rest of your makeup.

Types of Makeup Primer & Application

Foundation Primer

  • Foundation primers come mainly in liquid or gel formulations. Some go to a soft powdery finish and feel very smooth on the skin.
  • Comes in small bottles or tubes.
  • Primers tend to be clear, though some products have a slight tint or come in a corrective shade (like lilac or green) to even out minor skin tone differences.
  • Some primers are made to go under certain types of foundation or for using on a particular skin type. So look at the labels and try different products in-store to find the one that works best for you. No one product suits everyone’s skin type.
  • Primers can be mixed with a thick foundation product to create a thinner foundation that gives more sheer coverage.


Apply primer before any foundation. To start, take a pea-sized blob of primer and simply dot this all over your face. Then, work the dots onto your whole face using either your fingers or a medium-sized flat brush (like a foundation brush). Fingers tend to work best as you can really smooth the primer out. Allow it to dry for a few minutes before applying any foundation or other makeup.

various types of makeup primer
A variety of foundation primers. Some are matte, others add a sheen.

Eye Primer

  • This primer is designed to be used on the eyelid and upper eye area.
  • It helps eyeshadow adhere to your skin better. This results in the colour being locked-in to your skin, making the final colour more intense.
  • Helps prevent creasing, fading and smudging. Basically, the oil on the eyelids, along with eye movement like blinking, contributes to that annoying creasing. Also, the oil can cause eyeshadow to fade or move to where you don’t want it.
  • Eye primers tend to have a little pigment in them to even out the skin tone, resulting in a more consistent base on which to apply eyeshadow.
  • Eye primers come as a liquid in small tubes or as a cream in a little pot.


You only need a tiny amount to cover the eyelid area – a rice grain-sized dot is enough. Use a small flat brush to apply it to the whole upper eye area. Be gentle – eyelid skin is thin and delicate. Allow it to dry for a few minutes before applying any eye makeup.

Eye primers can come with applicators, in tubes and as more solid cream products.

Lash Primer

  • This is a base coat for mascara that can help protect lashes, as well as add length and volume.
  • A lash primer can make coloured mascaras stand out more.
  • Helps prevent mascara from smudging and flaking off.
  • Some people find wearing a primer makes removing the mascara easier.


Lash primer comes in a tube with a wand and is applied just like mascara, but use sparingly. Allow it to dry thoroughly before applying mascara. It is often white in colour, though some products dry to a semi-clear colour.

Lash primers – use before you apply mascara.

Lip Primer

  • A colourless product that provides a smooth foundation for your lipstick or gloss.
  • It helps the lip colour apply more evenly, resulting in a more colour-true finish.
  • Also helps to prevent feathering, bleeding, creasing, and smudging, meaning that lipstick looks better for longer.
  • Can help prevent lips drying out – something often associated with long-lasting lip products.
  • The primer creates a little barrier between your lips and the lipstick product, so it can help prevent lip staining.


Lip primers come in either stick form just like a lipstick or a tube with a small applicator (like a gloss). Basically, you just apply a thin layer to your lips. There are also lip primer pencils which are designed to line the edge of the lips to prevent colour bleeding.

Lip primers to keep your smackers lovely.

Do Makeup Primers Really Make a Difference?

Yes! We think they do. As pros, we often use foundation and eye primers when working. For example, filming conditions really test makeup and it often has to last all day.

Primers are also great for bridal work. They keep the bride’s makeup looking fresher throughout the day – important as they are often under duress! In fact, a makeup primer is good for any social event or night out where you want to look your best for as long as possible.

We did a quick non-scientific experiment with Cinema Secrets eye primer. The picture below shows the same eyeshadow colours applied without (left side) and with (right side) eye primer.

(Left): No primer. (Right): Eye primer used first.

With primer, the colour is grabbed quickly and looks more intense. The colours on the non-primed skin look more wishy-washy, meaning it would take more time and effort to get the same intensity as the right side.

We didn’t apply any more product to the primed side – the primer simply grabbed the eyeshadow really quickly, so nothing was wasted.

In summary, a primer will really enhance your makeup colours and help it last longer.

Skin Types

Lip, lash and eye primers can generally go on anyone, while a foundation primer is likely to be designed for a specific skin type:

  • Oily skin – look for a matte finish or an oil control aspect.
  • Blemish-prone skin – primers with salicylic acid absorb excess oil. Avoid products with oil and fragrance or anything that could aggravate the skin.
  • Dry skin – choose a primer that provides hydration or leaves a dewy finish. Look for descriptions like “hydrating”, “soothing” or “replenishing” on the product.
  • Sensitive skin – look for fragrance-free or preservative-free formulations.
  • Skin pigmentation – look for colour correcting primers. For example, a green tinted primer will reduce redness. A lilac tinted primer will correct yellow tones. A peach tinted primer will help with dark circles under eyes.

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