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A Guide to Makeup Primer

A makeup primer is a lightweight product applied to your skin. It is designed to create a base on which you apply your makeup. It helps keep makeup looking fresher and smoother for longer.

The main purpose of a makeup primer is to help makeup last longer and stay fresher looking by reducing the chance of streaks, creasing and fading. Some primers can also have other benefits, depending on their design and ingredients. 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 from the skin – look for “matte” or “mattifying” on the packaging. Likewise, you can get primers that brighten the skin by adding a dewy glow.
  • Hydrate or moisturise – good for drier skin.
  • Have a 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, whatever the brand or formula, is applied AFTER skin care (like cleansing, toning, moisturising and applying sunscreen), but BEFORE applying any of your makeup.

Some other things to consider:

  • Apply primer to a clean face.
  • Allow any moisturiser or sunscreen products used to really soak in and for skin 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 products that really go into the skin.
  • A light application of primer is all you need. Therefore, apply it sparingly, as too much primer can cause issues like slippage or product pilling. 
  • Primer is not to be confused with moisturiser – even if it has a hydrating property, primers have a different purpose to moisturiser.
  • You do not powder a primer.

Types of Makeup Primer & Application

Foundation Primer

  • Foundation primers come mainly in liquid or gel formulations. Some go to a soft powdery finish.
  • 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 thicker foundation product, creating a thinner product that gives a more sheer coverage.


Apply primer before any foundation. A pea-sized blob will cover the whole face. Dot this all over your face and work it down your face using your fingers or a medium-sized flat brush (like a foundation brush). Fingers (clean ones of course!) tend to work best as you can really smooth the primer out. Allow it to dry for a few minutes before applying any makeup.

A variety of foundation primers. Some are matt, others add a sheen.

Eye Primer

  • For using on the eyelid and upper eye area.
  • Helps eye shadow, especially powders, adhere to your skin better.
  • Locks eye shadow colour in, making it more colour-true and intense.
  • Helps prevent creasing, fading and smudging. Eyelids can be quite oily, and it’s the oil (along with eye movement like blinking) that contributes to that annoying creasing, or causes eye shadow to fade/move.
  • Eye primers tend to have pigment in them to even out the eye area skin tone to get a consistent base on which to apply your eye colours.
  • Eye primers come in liquid form (in small tubes) or as a cream in a pot.


You only need a tiny amount to cover the eyelid area – simply, a rice grain sized dot. Use a small flat brush to apply to the whole upper eye area. 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

  • A base coat for eyelashes, designed to be worn under mascara.
  • Lash primer can help protect lashes, add length and volume.
  • Can make coloured mascaras stand out more.
  • Helps prevent mascara from smudging and flaking off.
  • Some people find having a primer on makes removing the mascara easier.


Comes in a tube with a wand and is applied just like mascara, but use sparingly. Allow it to dry thoroughly before apply any 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.
  • Helps the lip colour apply smoother, be more colour-true and last longer.
  • Helps to prevent feathering, bleeding, creasing and smudging.
  • Helps prevent lips drying out, something often associated with long-lasting lip products.
  • Can help prevent the lip colour staining the lips, as the primer creates a little barrier between your lips and the lipstick product.


Lip primers come in either stick form in a tube (just like a lipstick) or with a small applicator (like gloss). You simply 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 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, as filming conditions really test the makeup and it often has to last all day. Also for bridal work primers are great, helping to keep the bride looking fresher for the day, often under a little duress! They are also great for a night out or social event where you want to look your best for as long as possible.

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

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

With primer, the colour is grabbed quickly and looks more intense. The colours on the non-primed skin look more wishy-washy and would take more time and effort to get the same intensity as the right side. We didn’t apply more product to the primed right side – the primer simply grabs the eyeshadow really quickly and nothing is wasted.

Skin Types

Primers come for all skin types. While many primers can go on anyone, some foundation primers are designed for specific skin types, or simply work better for a certain skin type.

For example, an oily skin may prefer a foundation primer with a matt finish or an oil control aspect. Likewise, those with drier skins may prefer a primer that provides hydration or leaves a more natural/dewy finish. Fragrance-free formulations are better for sensitive skins.

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