The Summer Primer Primer: How To Use BBs, Blurs, & Everything In Between

Photo: Courtesy of Smashbox.
The first few days of a hot summer are typically accompanied by instances of your makeup melting off your face as your shocked, sweating skin tries to cope with the heat. Or, at least they used to be. In the past few years, tinted moisturizer, BB cream, CC cream, primer, and now blur cream have arrived to help provide SPF coverage, even out skin tone, and hydrate your complexion. More importantly, they do all that as one product, so you don't have to worry about spackling layers of makeup on your face only to have it all slide off as the day progresses.
But, that's not all they do. “Primers help you not wear your makeup off throughout the day or sweat through it,” says Whitney Welch, a makeup artist for both Smashbox (a brand beloved for its primers) and MAC. “All three of these — BB cream, CC cream, and tinted moisturizer — can technically be used as a primer.” So, for those of you who wish for a bit more coverage, you can actually use a BB, CC, or tinted moisturizer under your foundation, and it will be just as effective as a base.
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If adding this layer seems counterintuitive, Welch offers up this explanation: “If you paint your walls, what do you do first? Prime them,” she says. “Why? Because the paint needs something to stick to so it isn’t see-through and you won’t need as many coats. You want your walls to be nice and even. That is exactly what a foundation primer’s job is: to help give you more even coverage, use less foundation, and — here’s the best part! — your makeup stays on all day long.”
But, there are many options out there, and it can be a little overwhelming trying to figure out which of them is right for you. So, if you still don't know your BB from your blur, we've gone ahead and broken it all down for you. Ahead, five of the most common types of long-wearing, multitasking face bases, plus tips on how to best use them.
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Photo: Courtesy of NARS.
Tinted Moisturizer
As the name implies, tinted moisturizer gives skin a sheer wash of coverage blended with moisturizer, which, even in the humidity of summer, is still something skin needs. It’s good for two different kinds of women, Welch says: those who aren’t big on makeup and those who consider putting their face on a must-do — even for the gym.

“Tinted moisturizer is what I tell people to use if they literally never wear makeup or have clear, perfect skin. I also refer to it as my brunch or running-to-the-grocery-store makeup,” Welch says. “It’s also [something] you can throw on to go to the gym if you are a girl who refuses to go bare-faced anywhere, and if it mixes with sweat, it still won’t look like you have makeup running down your face at the end of a workout.”
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Photo: Courtesy of MAC.
BB Cream
First off, the initials stand for “beauty balm,” or what Welch calls “tinted moisturizer on steroids.” It first became popular in Japanese and South Korean markets in the mid-‘80s, where it’s known more realistically as “blemish balm." Then it took off, stopped over in Europe to create a fuss in 2011, and finally arrived on American shores.

It’s a step above tinted moisturizer and a step below foundation, meaning you’ll get light to medium coverage. Depending on the brand, there’s usually some SPF in there as well as some anti-aging benefits. The difference between this and tinted moisturizer isn’t just coverage, though: A lot of BB creams are actually meant to help repair and protect the skin with antioxidants and other regenerating additives. (The product was originally designed in the ‘60s to help laser-skin-surgery patients recover.)

After many consumer complaints about the lack of shade diversity, many BB creams now come in light, medium, or dark, as opposed to the initial one-shade-fits-all. The coverage is still a bit light, so if it’s still not enough for you, go ahead and utilize its talent as a primer, then add your foundation over it. “I wear BB cream every day and typically only wear foundation for evening dinners, events, and interviews,” Welch says.
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Photo: Courtesy of Clinique.
CC Cream
For girls who need a little more coverage than what BB cream offers but hate the feel of foundation, CC cream is your skin pick. The name gives its purpose away: Color-correcting formulas work to help yellow-toned complexions get a little more peachy, red skin to be neutralized, and gray-toned visages to brighten up. “It’s typically for dark-spot correcting, and as a makeup artist, I choose this product over BB for middle-aged women,” Welch says. Extra doses of hydrating ingredients boost your normal moisturizer’s powers over time, too.

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Photo: Courtesy of Kiehl's.
Blur Cream
For all you high-tech makeup girls out there, the latest primer craze is blur cream, which is one step above CC cream. You know how actresses’ faces in old films always had that obviously filtered-but-radiant quality? That’s the kind of effect blur cream’s trying to mimic, only instead of smearing Vaseline on a lens, they are using the latest light-reflecting technology. It's been described by many editors and bloggers as Instagram for your face. Blur creams reduce the appearance of wrinkles, lines, pores, and uneven skin. Like the other types of creams outlined in this post, it’s interchangeable with primer, or it can work on its own as your primary base makeup.
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Photo: Courtesy of Smashbox.
Primer
If you're not looking for all those added benefits and just want something that is going to suction-cup your foundation to your face in the most oppressive heat, then your best bet is going to be a primer. Purpose-built primers are actual superheroes for your skin. “I just worked out and rode my bike all day after putting my makeup on at 9 a.m.,” Welch says (10 and a half hours later). “And, because I used a primer, [my foundation] is still here.”

So, how to decide? Welch has one starting place in mind, and it’s not just because she’s a makeup artist for them (she promises!): “There are so many choices, but as far as primers go, Smashbox is what I like to refer to as the primer authority,” she says. “There is literally a type for every skin.”

While primers may seem like a magical makeup solution, Welch says there's one important thing to keep in mind: “Primers don’t replace moisturizer — and neither does a BB, CC, or tinted moisturizer.” Yep, you read that right. Even if you’re using a tinted moisturizer, you still need to use a plain old moisturizer first to keep skin looking its best. “You should still continue to use your regular skin-care regimen to ensure clear, hydrated skin,” Welch says. Because, hey, that’s important, too.
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